Stuart M. Butler and David B. Mulhausen argue in National Affairs that exact replication of policies from one state or locality to another is rarely a wise approach. Rather, policymakers should apply broad goals and approaches of successful policies, attending to the nuances of the time, place, and circumstances in which they operate:
While the idea of replicating successful initiatives may seem like the epitome of empirical, social-science-driven public policy, replication itself actually has a fairly poor track record. In fact, the evidence suggests it does not work all that well.
This record does not mean, however, that policymakers should conclude that they cannot ever replicate success and should not try to learn from the achievements of others. Instead, they need to think about those successes, and about their own efforts to solve problems where they are, in experimental and incremental terms. They should see their work as a form of adaptive trial and error: Rather than simply try to mimic what worked elsewhere, they should strive to adapt successful strategies to their own situations. . .
The technocratic approach sees policy experiments as testing a concept that, once proven, can be broadly applied to solve a social problem. Adherents of this view are constantly searching for the recipe for the perfect program that will be as useful in Scarsdale as in San Antonio. But the world is too complicated for that. . .
The inadequacies of that approach point the way to an alternative: an evolutionary approach to policy experimentation that has lower expectations but therefore greater potential.
You can read the full article here.
What do you think? In your experience, is replication of successful policies or programs possible and laudable? Or is each situation and locality different enough that only broad principles and lessons can be applied one from one to the other?
Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15