Policy design and transfer

Authored by: Anne Schneider

Routledge Handbook of Public Policy

Print publication date:  November  2012
Online publication date:  December  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415782456
eBook ISBN: 9780203097571
Adobe ISBN: 9781136223259


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Policy design, whether conceptualized as a verb referring to the process of formulating public policy, or as a noun describing the content of public policy remains largely uncharted territory. This chapter reviews what we know about policy designs and develops ideas about how the study of policy design can contribute to an understanding of policy transfer and diffusion. Policy scholars have long been interested in understanding how policies are copied, stolen, or diffuse across jurisdictions, but much of the attention has been on the politics and geographic proximity of the “innovating” states—that is, the ones that were early adopters (Walker 1969). The focus in this chapter is on what types of policy designs are most likely to transfer and which ones may be subject to truncated transfer or to not move at all (Schneider and Ingram 1988). Theories of policy invention and expert decision-making suggest that individuals search through large amounts of relevant information stored in memory, reason by analogies, make comparisons, and either copy or simulate patterns of information to produce desired consequences. These consequences may focus on “good” public policy that resolves important collective problems, or on gaining political capital, or a broad array of more narrow-gauged goals. On the other hand, social psychologists have documented that even experts are subject to a wide range of cognitive biases, and these biases find their way into public policy designs (Kahneman et al. 1982). Rather than simply a benign process of efficient decision-making, cognitive biases may operate at the expense of policy that would serve democratic ends. In the remaining parts of this chapter, I will first explore policy designing as it commonly occurs with an emphasis on the role of decision heuristics and cognitive biases, and then develop a framework for analyzing policy design—that is, policy content. From the analysis of the elements of design found in almost all public policies, it is possible to identify a number of commonly copied designs and their implications for democracy.

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