Policy Transfer, an Effective Tool for Policy Makers

Policy Transfer, an Effective Tool for Policy Makers
Iraqi MPs are discussing some country level issues in Iraqi Parliament. Photo credit : Iraqi Parliament's website
:: PM:09:31:21/02/2019 ‌
Policy transfers affect various stages of the policy process when a governmental (or non-governmental) organization borrows a policy or an idea from another one. It has become an important and influential action in public policy. A stark example of this transfer in the Iraqi context is the educational reform that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) implemented after 2007.


Rebwar R. Salah
is PhD student at the University of Cambridge. His research focus is on Kurdish internal politics, governance and capacity building. He holds an MSc in Government, Policy and Politics from the University of London.
Like any other concept, a policy transfer has strengths and weaknesses: on the one hand, it is beneficial as countries and institutions borrow ideas and policies from each other when they face problems and pressures. On the other hand, differences in administrative structures and the way they operate may lead to failure. 

This article analyzes various types of policy transfers and compares them with other concepts such as “lesson drawing” and “advocacy coalition framework.” It provides cases that policy transfer could apply to in order to provide a clear sense of policy transfer and show why and how different institutions and policy systems could influence one another. It explains whether policy transfer should be followed as an only option for changes or whether other options should be pursued. 
Amid globalization and enhanced modern communication systems, policymakers should be open to all possible methods of policy change. Even international organizations such as the European Union (EU), the international Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, have pursued mechanisms such as policy transfer in various countries.

There are two types of policy transfer: coercive transfer (such as policies from the EU, IMF, and the World Bank) and voluntary transfers such as those from independent and non-governmental organizations.

Policy Transfer is not the only way

Policy transfer is not the only way to develop public policy, but it has been suggested that most changes in policy development in contemporary policies have been the result of policy transfer. The best example for this is Britain, where the Conservative Government transferred policies from the United States, similar to what the Blair’s government did latter. So, policy transfer plays a great role in developing public policy, and changes in policies should always be analyzed to discover if policy transfer has been involved.

Some scholars suggest another mechanism for changing policy -- “lesson drawing.” In some circumstances, a policy that is useful and effective in one institution can be transferred to another institution. However, it is not certain how practical or desirable transferring programs from one place to another can be, since every country has its own issues that require solutions tailored to its particular situation.

Moreover, when policy makers (at different city, regional, and national levels) face a similar problem, they can learn from each other’s experiences. They also need to understand and learn from their counterparts responding to that common issue elsewhere. For instance, the way civil unrests and protests affected government institutions in Basrah could be a great lesson for policy makers in Baghdad and the KRI.

The necessity for lesson drawing is greater if the policy makers feel pressured by a particular issue. This would lead historians to look at the past and learn lessons from it, or economists to use better logic in finding solutions from different models in order to make their economic system work effectively. 

Lesson drawing works this way: the first step is to look at a program and decide whether it can be transferred from one place to another. The second step is to look at any possible negative effects of the program rather than just looking at its successes.

 Another Mechanism to Policy Change 

In addition to policy transfer and lesson drawing, another useful theory is an Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF), which basically involves five basic steps: first, recognizing the role of technical information in policy change or policy process. This helps find the cause of the problem, and allows for analysis of the impacts of various solutions. This can help legislators in decision making and provide them with valuable knowledge regarding the cost-benefit analysis of any policy change. 

Second is understanding the changes in policy and the impacts of technical information. This could take as long as a decade, because a reasonable period of time allows for good research to find the best possible solution for the problem. Decisions cannot be made in the short term because policy makers might underestimate the importance of analysis that can lead to a proper change in the system. 

This could be the main challenge that the decision to implement the Scandinavian educational system in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq faced, because the conditions were not right to implement a new system. Although initially the plan faced serious challenges, later leaders managed to come up with a solution.

Step three is understanding that in modern societies the main focus is on the subsystem, which includes actors from a variety of private and public institutions and organizations, people who are normally concerned about changes in policy when they face difficulties or problems.  
Fourth, ACF argues that in subsystems, apart from interest groups, legislative committees, and administrative agencies, two additional categories of actors should be included: first, journalists, researchers. and policy analysts who play important roles in the generation, dissemination. and evaluation of policy ideas. The second category includes governmental actors (at all levels) who are active in policy formulation and implementation.

The last premise is important as the public policies incorporate different arguments to achieve the objectives. The main consideration in this stage would be perception of other states, value priorities, perception of important relationships, and the difficulties other policy instruments face. 

Considering these steps involved in an advocacy coalition framework, it can be assumed that this theory is the most important one, and it has been accepted by scholars and policy makers in places like Australia, Western Europe, Canada, Eastern Europe and many developing countries.

What Policy Makers Need to Know 

Empirical evidence and theoretical arguments show that recently policy transfer has become one of the important tools in public policy. It can always be an alternative for policy makers who are addressing a certain issue or changing policies. However, finding a suitable program that is working in one place does not guarantee that it will be easily transferred and have the same result elsewhere. Therefore, instead of policy transfer, it would be better to depend on the advocacy coalition theory, as it stresses policy expertise and policy learning structures.