Who Learns from What in Policy Diffusion Processes?


  • Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2008 MPSA Annual Conference, the 2008 APSA Annual Meeting, and seminars at Harvard University, the University of Zurich, and the University of Exeter. I thank the participants as well as Christian Bjørnskov, Ben Goodrich, Katerina Linos, Covadonga Meseguer, Beth Simmons, Duane Swank, Fabio Wasserfallen, and the AJPS editor and reviewers for helpful feedback. The bulk of this research was carried out while I was a visiting scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, which I thank for its support. The financial help of the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant no. PA001–115307/1) is also gratefully acknowledged. Replication material is available on the author's website (http://www.fabriziogilardi.org).

Fabrizio Gilardi is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and at the Center for Comparative and International Studies, University of Zurich, Affolternstrasse 56, 8050 Zurich, Switzerland (gilardi@ipz.uzh.ch).


The idea that policy makers in different states or countries may learn from one another has fascinated scholars for a long time, but little systematic evidence has been produced so far. This article improves our understanding of this elusive argument by distinguishing between the policy and political consequences of reforms and by emphasizing the conditional nature of learning processes. Using a directed dyadic approach and multilevel methods, the analysis of unemployment benefits retrenchment in OECD countries demonstrates that policy makers learn selectively from the experience of others. Right governments tend to be more sensitive to information on the electoral consequences of reforms, while left governments are more likely to be influenced by their policy effects.