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The work that goes into policy transfer: Making the Dutch delta approach travel

Shahnoor Hasan
Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Water Governance Department, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands; s.hasan@un-ihe.org

Jaap Evers
Water Governance Department, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands; j.evers@un-ihe.org

Margreet Zwarteveen
Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Water Governance Department, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands; m.zwarteveen@un-ihe.org

ABSTRACT: The government of the Netherlands actively frames the country’s delta planning expertise as a must-have solution for sustainable delta management in other countries. Texts that explain or promote the transfer of delta planning expertise tend to portray it as something that happens because of the intrinsic qualities of this expertise. The starting point of this paper is discomfort with this portrayal. This discomfort importantly stems from the hierarchy it assumes between the country of origin and the country of destination, with the former ranking higher in terms of degree of development and technological advancement. We mobilise insights from the sociology of translation and from the anthropology of development cooperation and scholarship on policy entrepreneurship to explore how the story of policy transfer can be told in ways that are more symmetrical and which recognise the contributions of all involved. Empirical material about the travels of the Dutch Delta Programme to Vietnam and Bangladesh reveals that policy transfer in these cases mainly consisted of two types of work: maintaining or developing alliances and creating political buy-in. The effectiveness of the actors involved in the work does not so much depend on the technical planning or water expertise for which many of them are hired; rather, it depends on their salespersonship, diplomacy, and skills in negotiation and dialoguing. Recognising that this is so provides a good basis for rethinking how capacities for effective transfer can be developed and nurtured, and how these are and should be distributed. It also supports more dialogical ways of writing and talking about transfer, ways that foreground the mutual learning that occurs between 'initiators' and 'receivers'.

KEYWORDS: Dutch Delta Programme, policy transfer, policy translation, policy entrepreneurship, Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, Mekong Delta Plan