The Paradox of Public Policy Transfer

cloud_connect_network_ideasiStock-594911926.pngMagdaléna Hadjiisky, Leslie A. Pal and Christopher Walker examine the micro-dynamics of public policy transfer across regions, contrasting policy fields and multiple levels of governance.

Modern organisations face increasing pressure to innovate, adapt and respond to the changing world environment. They also face expectations to be responsive to the specific characteristics that define the local community within which they work and whom they serve. This is true for private, public and non-government organisations. The focus on innovation and reform means change is a constant characteristic of our work and impacts on a diverse range of social and economic aspects of our lives. Organisations operate with a view to improve what they do and in the process keep an eye out for how others might do the same thing better. The modern talk of organisational life is dominated by concerns for change, disruption, the need for empowerment of staff and clients, and the capacity to identify emerging trends and evolve with changing social attitudes.

Many individuals find that their expectations about the core foundations
of their daily lives are under threat

At the political level reactions to this ongoing process of social and economic change has, in most recent times, been one of resistance and general rejection. Dramatic electoral events such as Brexit and the rise of political parties across western democracies that reject the new global order and appeal to older more stable and predictable times, highlights the level of discomfort with contemporary social and economic change. Many individuals find that their expectations about the core foundations of their daily lives are under threat. The threat of economic downturn, disruption, competition from others, new outsiders and perceptions of declining personal security and community harmony are reshaping our world. It is now an accepted stance to reject the role of government and their agendas of economic reform. The paradox of this current climate is that despite the call to build walls, reject the outside and put our own self-interest first, governments and their agencies remain deeply embedded in a process of collaboration and exchange. Public sector agencies, businesses and community groups remain active in seeking to further harmonise systems, share innovations and support the implementation of new ideas, policies and systems that help states and governing systems be more effective and efficient at what they do.

So while at the rhetorical level national governments are claiming to return to local ways and the things that originally made them great, at the operational level governments and their agencies have never been more active in sharing ideas, testing and trialling new policy approaches and continuing the push to achieve a level of harmonisation in standards and practices in a range of industrial, agricultural and economic sectors. In fact it would be negligent of agencies and their governments not to look elsewhere to enquire if other states and countries have found a way to deal with a particular policy challenge in a more effective and efficient way. We see this happening in federal systems as ideas flow across levels of government and we see ideas travel across neighbouring countries and regions as responses to emerging policy problems and challenges calls for new and innovative approaches. This is why the study of policy transfer, the movement of ideas, administrative systems and regulatory approaches between states, continues to grow as an important research field in the social sciences. Much of this work occurs at the micro level, where industry and agency representatives interact and share ideas on how new approaches might be adopted elsewhere. International conferences, regional and global forums play a key role in facilitating the exchange of ideas and the development of collaborative relationships at the individual and agency level. Both in the real and virtual world there is a continuous process of interactions, engagement and the sharing of ideas between governments, industry and community groups and this helps drive innovation and the tailoring of policy responses to many of the challenges all cities, states and communities share. The key is to learn how local context can shape local policy responses. Our new book Public Policy Transfer provides an insight into the diversity of transfer activity that occurs between states and highlights what shapes success and engagement between states. The irony of our current contemporary political climate is that much of the demand for staying local and finding local solutions will only come about from searching abroad for better practices.


Public Policy Transfer edited by Magdaléna Hadjiisky, Leslie A. Pal, Christopher Walker is available now.

Read Chapter Three, From State to Market: Regulation of Road Transport in Australia and South Africa, by Christopher Walker free on Elgaronline.

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