Actors involved in the policy transfer process can include governments officials, civil servants, pressure groups, policy entrepreneurs and experts, transnational corporations, international, regional and non-governmental organisations, think-thanks, and consultants. Approaches to policy transfer include ‘lesson-drawing’; ‘policy band-wagoning’; ‘emulation’; ‘harmonisation’; and ‘systematically pinching ideas’.
There is an important distinction between voluntary transfer, coercive transfer and policy ‘convergence’ or ‘diffusion’. Voluntary transfer usually occurs when a policy-maker looks to remedy a problem by looking outward for alternative solutions. Coercive transfer on the other hand, occurs when the political actors of a particular state or international organisation impact the policy-making of another country through, for example, aid conditionality. Policy ‘convergence’ or ‘diffusion’ is usually deemed to occur as a result of overarching, structural forces, and imputes a less active role to policy-makers.
Potential pitfalls of policy transfer include:
- unclear motivations for pursuing policy change
- uninformed adaptation of the new policy to a foreign environment
- failure to look beyond what is familiar.
Moreover, there is still limited understanding of what is being achieved by spreading policy ideas and good practice, and consequently, how to maximise benefits from the process.