A review of water policies on the move: Diffusion, transfer, translation or branding?

Farhad Muktarov
International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Hague, the Netherlands; mukhtarov@iss.nl; Institute of Water Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore; sppfarh@nus.edu.sg

ABSTRACT: This review provides a fresh look at the strengths and weaknesses of four distinct generations of research on water policy travels. Studies on policy diffusion explicate patterns of adoption across large-n units and are interested in tipping points, early and late adopters, and which policies spread more easily. Diffusion research privileges structural forces such as globalisation and competition over diffusion agents and national-level politics. Policy transfer scholarship is based mainly on small-n case studies and interrogates the 'what' and the 'who' of policy transfer as well as asks into what conditions a policy is transferred. The key premise of this school of research is that transfer decisions are made rationally based on voluntary learning, coercion, or some negotiated motivation. Policy translation scholarship developed as a critique of diffusion and transfer studies. It posits that policies undergo significant transformation when moving through various settings and that this process is intensely political and power-laden. Policy branding is an offshoot of policy translation research. It focuses on branding of policies and policy agents by establishing an explicit link with places and projects. The key focus is on the power of ideas and neoliberal underpinnings of policy travel. These four generations of research are based on contrasting premises about what travels, how and why it travels, and to what effect. The review offers an appraisal of this large and diverse literature and proposes potential complementarities.

KEYWORDS: Water policy, diffusion, transfer, translation, branding, review