Policy Osmosis: Rethinking diffusion processes when policies have substitutes

Federica Genovese (University of Essex), Florian Kern (University of Konstanz) & Christian W. Martin (University of Kiel)

Existing analyses of policy diffusion operate under the assumption that diffusion processes can be observed by focusing on the diffusion of one policy. In this paper, we take issue with the notion that these processes entail only the same policy diffusing across units. Instead, we argue that interdependence can take the form of countries substituting a policy with different instruments that are still interrelated to that policy elsewhere. We call this ‘policy osmosis’ because the boundaries of political units can exhibit a certain degree of flexibility to accomplish the goal of the policy being diffused while staying open to the mechanisms that trigger the introduction of a different policy. Methodologically, considering just one policy that is diffused although alternatives are being implemented risks overestimating the one–policy diffusion and underestimating the overall range of interdependence. Substantively, we argue that strategic political considerations determine the degree to which interdependence results in policy diffusion (same policy) or policy osmosis (policy alternatives). We use the case of environmental policies to test our claim.

Policy Osmosis: Rethinking Diffusion Processes when Policies have Alternatives