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Policy Transfer

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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > P, Q > Policy Transfer

Policy Transfer

A process by which knowledge about how policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in one political setting are used in another political setting.

(Dolowitz & Marsh, cited in Stone 2004, 545)


Policy transfer is understood as a process by which knowledge about how policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in one political setting (past or present) is used in the development of policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in another political setting. Policy transfer can involve a number of processes. The objects of transfer can include: (i) policies; (ii) institutions; (iii) ideologies or justifications; (iv) attitudes and ideas; and (v) negative lessons. Transfer can take place across time, within countries and across countries. There are different degrees of transfer: straightforward copying of policy, legislation or techniques as well as various forms of emulation, synthesis and hybridization, and inspiration.

Unlike notions of ‘policy convergence’, transfer is about the process rather than the result. Transfer might lead to policy convergence, though it need not necessarily. (Knill 2005, 766) Stone also differentiates between the ‘hard’ transfer of policy tools, structures and practices and the ‘soft(er)’ transfer of norms and knowledge. (Stone 2004, 545-546)

Dolowitz and Marsh argue that governments borrow policies, institutions, etc., with the expectation that this transfer will lead to policy “success” rather than policy “failure.” The underlying assumption is that policies that have been successful in one country will be successful in another. However, that is not always the case. In particular, their research suggests that at least three factors have a significant effect on policy failure. First, the borrowing country may have insufficient information about the policy/institution and how it operates in the country from which it is transferred: a process they call uninformed transfer. Second, although transfer has occurred, crucial elements of what made the policy or institutional structure a success in the originating country may not be transferred, leading to failure: a process they call incomplete transfer. Third, insufficient attention may be paid to the differences between the economic, social, political and ideological contexts in the transferring and the borrowing country: a process they call inappropriate transfer.


Knill, Christopher. 2005. “Introduction: Cross-National Policy Convergence: Concepts, Approaches and Explanatory Factors.” Journal of European Public Policy 12 (5): 764-774.

Stone, Diane. 2004. "Transfer Agents and Global Networks in the 'Transnationalization' of Policy." Journal of European Public Policy 11 (3): 545-566.



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