Alternative approaches to the comparative analysis of international health systems developments are reviewed in relation to the advent of new primary care organizations in countries with parallel ‘modernizing’ policies. A framework for transferable learning between these is articulated and its design described. This is derived from priorities defined by lead policy and practice representatives in UK primary care. It points to the benefits of examining the interaction of critical new public management and planning functions as an effective vehicle for identifying both individual country role models and shared international experiences. Illustrative examples are provided in five subject areas ranging from local engagement to multiple forms of financing. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.