T02P11 - Policy Transfer and Diffusion: Looking at Policy Features and the Policy Process

Topic : Comparative Public Policy

Panel Chair : Michelle Morais de Sa e Silva - michelle.morais@enap.gov.br

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panel

Call for papers

Session 1


Michelle Morais de Sa e Silva - michelle.morais@enap.gov.br - ENAP - Brazil's National School of Public Administration - Brazil

Natalia Koga - natalia.koga@enap.gov.br - Enap - National School of Public Administration - Brazil

NEW PHILANTHROPIC AID AND SOCIAL POLICY TRANSFER. A Case study on the Gates Foundation in Tanzania

Roosa Jolkkonen - roosa.jolkkonen@jesus.ox.ac.uk - University of Oxford - United Kingdom

Traditional aid donors – commonly understood as the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), OECD-DAC, and some International NGOs, such as Oxfam – have largely dominated the agenda-setting for the Sub-Saharan African region since its independence (Chin and Quadir, 2012, p. 496). Such policy influence has been furthered by conditionalities connected to development assistance. This coercive mechanism of policy transfer (Drezner, 2004, 2001; Holden, 2009; Stone, 2010) has been a prominent instrument to influence policy directions particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, considered as the continent of ‘weak states’ and ‘bad governance’ without a credible domestic policy vision (Adesina, 2014; Khan and Gray, 2006).

Development aid continues to be a powerful vehicle of policy influence, but the donor landscape is changing. Beside the emerging Southern actors, a new brand of Western donors originating predominantly from Silicon Valley’s world leading tech-businesses such as Google, Facebook or Microsoft, are a key component of this change. This, what I call new philanthropic aid, represents a powerful group of donors with fresh ideas for development which they endeavour to spread globally. While private actors have been largely omitted in policy transfer study (Bender et al., 2014, p. 29), Stone has furthered that private philanthropies engage particularly in soft policy transfer, diffusing ideas, norms and knowledge through transfer networks (eg. epistemic communities, international organisations) providing leverage required by non-political actors (Stone, 2010, 2004). However, the empirical evidence on the mechanisms at play is currently quasi-absent, and further research focus on philanthropic donors is required to increase our understanding of contemporary transnational policy transfer in the context of aid.

This paper investigates the processes of social policy transfer initiated by new philanthropic donors within the health sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. More specifically, it examines the case of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s most powerful philanthropic foundation, in Tanzania – the continent’s third biggest aid recipient with a strong policy vision shaped by its past of African Socialism. The paper presents preliminary findings of the research, focusing upon the involved (i) transfer mechanisms (eg. coercive/voluntary, hard/soft), (ii) key instruments (eg. aid modalities, networks) and (iii) recipient perspectives. The data in question consists of a documentary analysis and elite interviews with representatives of the Gates Foundation and the government of Tanzania.

Participatory budgeting as an institutional innovation: a few hypothesis on PB expansion and difusion

Leonardo Avritzer - avritzer1@gmail.com - U.F.M.G - Brazil

The spread of institutional innovation in democracies in the North as well as in new democracies in the South made innovation a very trendy phenomenon. Some experiences such as participatory budgeting became world famous and are practiced in all parts of the world (Allegretti, 2013; Sintomer, 2007;2011). Other experiences such as mini-publics are in practice worldwide from Australia to British Columbia (Warren and Pearse, 2008). Even in the legal system, innovation has been introduced with highly ambiguous results (Avritzer and Marona, 2016). Thus, the issue in a moment of widespread diffusion of policy innovation is: are there limits to the positive aspects of political and institutional innovations or are innovations good per se? 

This paper will try to answer this question by differentiating types of innovation, reasons for introducing innovation and the timing of political innovation and innovation diffusion. The first issue is perhaps the most important. The differentiation of types of innovation, a work carried out by only a few scholars (Hevia and Isunza, 2010), is important in order to know whether innovation serves to strengthen participation, to empower citizenship or to empower specific groups or corporations. I will argue that in many cases innovation can play the role of cooptation and disempowerment.


The second issue is areas of innovation. Innovation started in areas of public policy both in Northern and in Southern democracies. In the case of public policies, I will argue that innovation is most of the time a positive phenomenon that produces results such as a larger citizenship engagement or a better deliverance of public good (Fischer, 2000; 2013; Pires and Cambraia, 2010; Wampler, 2014). In addition to that I will argue that innovation in public policy, even when it does not work well, never poses dangers to democracy.


The most important nstitution innovation in South America is participatory budgeting. I will use it to explain what is participatory innovation its potentials and problems. Participatory budgeting is a local practice of public deliberation on budget issues introduced in Porto Alegre in 1989 which was expanded first to  a 103 in 2003 and them to 201 cities in 2008 (Avritzer and Wampler, 2008). Most likely it is practiced in more than 300 Brazilian cities today. Participatory budgeting expanded to many parts of South America and generated a very successful case in Argentina in the city of Rosário (Annunziata, 2011, 2013). Participatory budgeting has been expanded to Europe and we see cases such as Portugal where the main phenomenon is the death of participatory budgeting. How can we evaluate the different experiences of PB? This is the question this paper will approach based on the experiences of Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Recife.



Explaining the dynamics and outcomes of policy transfer – development and testing of an integrative framework

Ellen Minkman - minkman@fsw.eur.nl - Erasmus University Rotterdam - Netherlands

Arwin van Buuren - vanbuuren@fsw.eur.nl - Erasmus University Rotterdam - Netherlands

Victor Bekkers - bekkers@fsw.eur.nl - Erasmus University Dpt. of Public administration and sociology - Netherlands

This study addresses the question which factors explain the dynamics and outcomes of processes of policy transfer, by developing a conceptual framework (based on systematic identification of empirical research findings since 1996) and applying this framework to an empirical case study in Indonesia.


Over the past decades, the body of literature on policy convergence has expanded enormously. In 2000, Dolowitz and Marsh (2000) provided a six-question framework on policy transfer that is frequently studied. However, their final questions (“what restricts or facilitates the policy transfer process?” and “how is the process of policy transfer related to policy ‘success’ or ‘failure’?”) have received limited attention. The lack of fundamental explanations of policy transfer’s process, success or failure is surprising given the crucial role played by various factors in policy transfer’s occurrence and degree of success. Such factors contribute or become decisive during different stages of the transfer process. Studies that address these questions usually focus on a single conceptual exploration, regularly illustrated with anecdotic material. Although such studies are interesting, they fail to provide a coherent explanation to why some policies transfer and others remain immobile.


To address the issue, we will answer the question how policy transfer and non-transfer can be explained. In this study we are interested in the ‘action-oriented intentional activity’ of spreading a policy, which we labelled policy transfer.


We compiled a dataset of existing empirical research between 1996 and 2016 using the method PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analysis). We included findings from over 200 empirical cases of policy transfer, which originated from nearly 180 peer-reviewed articles in policy mobility, policy diffusion and policy transfer literature.


Based on this dataset we developed a conceptual framework, which describes three phases in the policy transfer processes (being preparation, exchange and adoption) and distinguishes between voluntary and coercive mechanisms of transfer. These processes are linked to three forms of adoption, namely imitation, adaptation and inspiration, and the ultimate success or failure of the policy transfer. From existing empirical studies we extracted factors that influence these phases, mechanisms and adoption forms. These factors determine whether and why policies travel successfully and include detailed features of the external and internal environment, design of the transfer process and a policy’s transferability and adoptability.


The systematic mapping of empirical studies confirmed a bias towards qualitative research approaches and a focus on voluntary and successful transfer between developed, and more particularly, Anglophone countries. We therefore test the general applicability of our framework in a case of failed transfer of water management strategies in Jakarta, Indonesia.


This study contributes to the panel in two ways. First, our comprehensive framework adds to the theoretical debate about why policies transfer. Second, we demonstrate our argument in an empirical study on failed transfer in an underrepresented geographic area.



Dolowitz, D. P., & Marsh, D. (2000). Learning from abroad: The role of policy transfer in contemporary policy-making. Governance, 13(1), 5–24.

The Political Dynamics of Policy Transfer Related to Anti-Corruption Policies: A Study on the Changes in Institutions of Transparency in Brazil

Temistocles Murilo Oliveira Junior - temuju@gmail.com - Federal University of Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

This study analyzes how the political dynamics have forged policy transfers that produced formal changes in the institutions of transparency in Brazil. These dynamics represent polarizations and coalitions for power and legitimacy that involved the key actors that influence and participate in processes related to the anti-corruption policy in Brazil. Two premises guide it: policies and institutions have power-distributional implications and are inherently ambiguous, and policy transfers result from complex causality.

Since the 1990s, the anti-corruption policy in Brazil has been focused on the protection of public policies from politics based on strengthening accountability mechanisms. The mainstream on this policy points out that the institutions of transparency have been strengthened primarily through policy transfers driven by learning mechanisms. According to this view, the policy-making processes related to these transfers have been oriented for performance and have had as main inputs anti-corruption guidelines diffused by international organizations.

Preliminary research shows that domestic politics has affected these processes and that the mainstream perspective cannot adequately explain the following points: a) both the political context and the compliance level and positive feedbacks of the target transparency institutions matter; b) the rules and systems created or modified had mostly represented mimicries rather than results of rational learning; c) in general, the resulting changes have preserved or expanded the prerogatives of the actors with the greatest influence on policy processes, but it is not possible to state that these changes have also improved performance.

How have these processes taken place? What are the mechanisms that have driven them? How have the key actors acted? It explores these questions draws on works on public policies, international relations and historical and organizational institutionalism.

This study assumes a power-distributional perspective that considers the dialectic relationship between structure and agency on institutional change. It develops an analytical framework based on the idea that the key actors related to the institutions of transparency have largely competed and cooperated for power and legitimacy. Therefore, it presumes that isomorphic mechanisms related to the political dynamics have significantly driven the processes related to policy transfers that have produced changes in these institutions. The methodology is based on process-tracing combined with documentary and bibliographic techniques.

The empirical investigation focuses on the following changes, which are considered the most significant in the recent trajectory of the institutions of transparency: a) the amendment to the Responsibility Fiscal Law (in 2003), drifting the idea of transparency from the fiscal control to the corruption-preventing; b) the creation and “cultivation” of the transparency website (between 2005-2010); c) the enactment of the Information Access Law (in 2011).

The first results of this study suggest these formal changes represent partial refractions of transfers of international guidelines and success stories of other countries. The content and timing of these transfers have depended fundamentally on the strategies of the anti-corruption office (CGU) of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil. These strategies have enabled the CGU to become the protagonist in promoting transparency and gaining great positive feedback on its reputation for it.

Session 2


Michelle Morais de Sa e Silva - michelle.morais@enap.gov.br - ENAP - Brazil's National School of Public Administration - Brazil

FLAVIO FERNANDES - f.cireno@gmail.com - Escola Nacional de Administração pública - ENAP - Brazil

The Horizontal Diffusion of Policies for Urban Risk Reduction: Lessons on “Fungibility” from South-South International Municipal Cooperation

Kristoffer Besre - kbberse@up.edu.ph - University of the Philippines - National College of Public Administration and Governance - Philippines

This paper introduces the concept and practice of international municipal cooperation (IMC) as a modality for policy transfer in the area of disaster risk reduction (DRR). IMC is an emergent form of public-public partnership that primarily involves sub-State actors from two or more countries, a global phenomenon that traces its roots to the rise of transnational municipalism in the latter half of the twentieth century. The study specifically aims to shed light on the following questions: How does IMC facilitate the horizontal diffusion of local DRR policies across national boundaries? Why do urban policymakers and managers engage in policy transfer, both as a source and recipient? What forms of “translation” take place in the process of adopting these policies? What are the reasons for modification and non-adoption? To answer the above questions, the paper examines a multi-year South-South partnership involving three cities, namely, Makati (Philippines), Kathmandu (Nepal) and Quito (Ecuador). Findings suggest that while IMC has a lot of potential in promoting policy transfer and diffusion, the “stickiness” of good DRR policies is sensitive not only to the transfer process per se, but also to the characteristics of the policies themselves, particularly in relation to their “fungibility” or “goodness of fit” for “institutional transplantation.” The study hopes to contribute to ongoing discussions in comparative public policy, policy mobilities, and inter-local cooperation in the context of urban DRR.

Policy diffusion and translation.The cas of Evidence Based Health Agencies in Europe

Benamouzig Daniel - daniel.benamouzig@sciences-po.fr - CNRS / Sciences Po (CSO-LIEPP) - France

Patrick Hassenteufel - patrick.hassenteufel@me.com - University of Versailles - France

Health Technology Assessment (HTA) represents a set of clinical and economic methods now used worldwide to evaluate medical innovations, especially new medicines before market access. In a context of economic restrictions, scientific knowledge as well as policy reforms triggers the development of HTA in health care systems since the 1990s. Such methods have been implemented in many countries in similar independent agencies, working according to formal procedures and deliberative principles at arm’s length from ministerial departments. The rise of these “evidence based bureaucracies” represents a remarkable example of knowledge circulation and policy diffusion across nations.


Examined more closely, the rather uniform picture appears however different. In each national context, the development of HTA is embedded in specific institutions, with different requirements and opportunities. Based on a qualitative study, this paper compares the use of HTA in three key European countries: the United Kingdom, France and Germany. The creation of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) in London in 1999 is often considered as a major source of inspiration for similar agencies in other European countries, like France (Haute Autorité de Santé) and Germany (IQWIG). The role of stakeholders such as pharmaceutical firms and patient organizations in the UK, in particular, is considered closely by other countries along with the participation of more traditional academic scientists and administrative staff in public expertise. In France and Germany, evidence based agencies were from inception embedded in a more administrative pathway in the case of France and in closer relations with health professionals in the case of Germany. These respective positions crucially shaped and limited their own development.


As a conclusion, what appears at first sight as knowledge circulation and policy diffusion at regional or global levels owes also to be viewed as policy and knowledge translations, involving institutional settings and social stakeholders — such as the pharmaceutical industry, patients organizations and health professions — at local level to fully capture international dynamics of policy transfer.

Dnt Txt n Drv: Adoption of Distracted Driving Laws in the American States.

Alex Jorgensen - ajorgensen@winona.edu - Winona State University - United States

At any moment of any day approximately 660,000 drivers across America are using their cell phones while driving; in 2013 roughly 424,000 people sustained injuries from crashes involving distracted drivers (Distraction.gov). Faced with the seriousness of distracted driving on public safety, all states (except Montana) have adopted policies aimed at reducing the occurrence of distracted driving. Cell phone usage has grown steadily as new technology has become available, and many states have passed various policies aimed at cell phone caused distractions. This project seeks to understand state adoption of various distracted driving policies through Policy Diffusion Frameworks. The study employs cross-sectional data from the American states, ranging from the early 1990s until present. Internal and external factors are analyzed to explain why some states adopt more or less invasive distracted driving policies. Adoption of these policies is expected to follow a pattern similar to other regulatory policies.

Is Strengthening Families Program (10-14) relevant and feasible for Brazil? An analysis of its social validity and barriers to its implementation.

Sheila Murta - giardini@unb.br - University of Brasilia - Brazil

Even though decreased abuse of psychoactive substances has been observed in recent years among the Brazilian population of adolescents, the still high rate of psychoactive substances usage and the harm it has caused to health remains one of the main concerns regarding the health of Brazilian youths. In order to prevent drug abuse among Brazilian adolescents, the Ministry of Health adopted the Strengthening Families Program (SFP 10-14) directed to families and adolescents. Originally devised in the United States, the program has undergone successive adaptations and was later disseminated to European and Latin American countries. In Brazil, the program was named “Programa Famílias Fortes” [Strong Families Program] and was first implemented in 2013 in the Federal District (FD), when the need for a cultural adaptation was identified. Based on data from this study, a cultural adaptation was performed in the superficial structure, such as linguistic aspects, and the Program was then implemented in another seven Brazilian states with different socioeconomic and cultural characteristics from those observed in the FD. This paper’s aim is to examine the social validity of the Strengthening Families Program and barriers to its implementation in four states in the northeast of Brazil, recognized as the country’s poorest region. The objective is twofold: first, describe the social validity of the goals, activities and effects of the Strengthening Families Program from the perspective of the implementation team, and participating adolescents and parents. Second, identify the perception of the implementation team regarding the barriers identified in the pre-implementation and implementation of the Program, and challenges to its sustainability. Data were collected through quantitative and qualitative measures. A scale was used to assess social validity and the quality of implementation among group leaders; telephone interviews were held with group leaders and with mothers and fathers who dropped out of the program; focus groups were implemented with group leaders, outreach agents and facilitators, and parents and adolescents. Analysis of quantitative data was performed using descriptive statistics. Qualitative data concerning social validity were first analyzed using thematic analysis and were later grouped according to the SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) model. Qualitative data concerning barriers faced during pre-implementation and implementation and sustainability recommendations were first analyzed using thematic analysis and then compared with the program’s theory of action. Preliminary results indicate that the Strengthening Families Program is perceived by the various participants to be highly relevant, though incompatible with the infrastructure of the services in which it has been implemented and with the low educational levels of the participating families. Adaptation of the material and activities is necessary, especially due to socioeconomic reasons. Poor intersectoral cooperation and community mobilization was among the main barriers during pre-implementation, while the fact that the material and activities are inappropriate for illiterate parents is a crucial barrier during implementation. We discuss the implications of these findings to support studies assessing the program’s effectiveness, to promote intersectoral cooperation and community coalitions, and support the new wave of cultural adaptation of the Strengthening Families Program in Brazil.

Policy transfer in an unlikely policy sector in an unlikely case: regional development policy and Turkey

Ebru Ertugal - EBRUERTUGAL@YAHOO.COM - Baskent University - Turkey

This paper aims to contribute to the literature on policy transfer through an analytical focus on the mechanism of learning for explaining why and how regional development policies of the EU are transferred to a candidate country – Turkey - with no prospect of full membership. The export of regional development policy from one jurisdiction to another has not been the subject of much research except for Europeanisation studies of candidate countries. While the literatures on EU external governance and diffusion investigate how various EU policies are exported to other political jurisdictions in the EU’s neighbourhood, these policies typically concentrate on cross-border flows such as trade or financial regulation rather than on regional development, which is inherently inward oriented. Policy transfer offers a more fruitful conceptual framework for studying the dynamics involved in the export of EU regional policy instead of the rival concept of Europeanisation, which tends to attribute the cause of all policy change to the EU.  This paper adopts a within-case comparative design and draws on an extensive review of primary sources such as laws, parliamentary minutes, official reports and programming documents as well as three different rounds of in-depth interviews conducted with 45 officials in total at the national level. The concept of policy transfer allows a single framework to be applied to different time periods including pre- and post exposure to EU conditionality, which reveal different forces at work. Empirically, the paper focuses on six key dimensions of the policy transfer process across three time periods: key actors, actor motivations, elements of the policy deemed transferrable, source of the policy transferred, degree of transfer, and enabling and constraining factors (Dolowitz and Marsh, 1996, 2000). Conclusions reflect on policy success and failure. The overall argument is that it is the interaction between politics and policy learning that leads to policy transfer. While political will is a precondition for policy transfer, learning is conditioned by political interests and pre-existing domestic policy beliefs. Socio-economic development, in particular high levels of regional disparities, which have been present across all three time periods under study, do not appear to play a direct role in policy transfer.


Dolowitz, D. and Marsh, D. (1996) ‘Who Learns What and From Whom? A Review of the Policy Transfer Literature’, Political Studies, 44 (1996), 343–57

Dolowitz, D. and Marsh, D. (2000) Learning from abroad: The Role of Policy Transfer in Contemporary Policy-Making’, Governance, 13 (2000), 5–24

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