Working Group 3: Global social policy: Critical perspectives on the theory and practice of global social policy diffusion

Chair: Dr Olga Ulybina, Marie Curie Research Fellow, University of Tampere (

With an unprecedented speed, countries around the world adopt similar social policies. Global policy diffusion scholars have extensively analysed transnational transfers of economic and governance policies, cross-border promotion of democracy and human rights for development. Social policy diffusion, however, has enjoyed significantly less attention. Our working group will critically discuss the recent patterns of social policy making around the globe, both in terms of how this new phenomenon can be better conceptualised and practical implications for development and cooperation programmes.

The most basic explanation for the global spread of similar social policies is globalisation and global governance of institutions like the World Bank, the UN, the EU and international NGOs. The growing policy diffusion scholarship has identified major high-level factors behind this phenomenon, such as coercion, learning, competition, and imitation. However, these factors account for policy change only at a high level of analysis, and our understanding of how policies are actually shaped on the ground remains very limited. To-date, the global ‘travel’ of social policy ideas and models has tended to be conceptualised as a top-down policy diffusion. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that the seeming convergence, or synchronization, of policies may in fact be driven by domestic developments rather than external top-down unification pressures, and bottom-up or horizontal policy synchronization may provide a more accurate conceptualisation of change. On the theoretical level, our working group will address questions like: What are the key mechanisms behind the increasing similarity of national public policies? How well do we understand the impact of development and cooperation programmes on social policy making and social welfare in different socio-political and economic contexts? How are global policy trends domesticated and turned into national policies?

These questions will be discussed using examples of child care de-institutionalisation, conditional cash transfers, disability inclusion and social protection systems for gender equality.

The working group will conclude with a critical discussion of the current practice of global social policy making by key development actors. To what extent do we understand the interconnections between different social policies, and how can we make them ‘talk’ to each other when designing and promoting new social policies in low- and middle- income countries?


1. Generating political will for child care deinstitutionalization, Olga Ulybina, University of Tampere.

Promoting social protection policies in low- and middle-income countries is a well-known challenge. Lack of policy change tends to be explained through lack of political will, poor governance and bureaucratic incapacity, corruption, state capture, undemocratic political regimes etc. Listing hindrances to reform, however, is not very helpful for understanding why and how policy reform happens when it does. Our paper uses the positive deviance approach to focus on factors of success rather than failure, by looking at the global diffusion of child care deinstitutionalisation policy. We compare three ‘success stories’ of child deinstitutionalisation – Georgia, Romania and Rwanda – and discuss this evidence in relation to the key models of policy diffusion.

2. Domestication of Global Policy Norms: Problematisation of the Conditional Cash Transfer Narrative, Lauri Heimo, Tampere University

Since the first evaluations of the Mexican social assistance scheme PROGRESA came out at the turn of the millennium; policymakers, academics, international financial institutions and the media turned their attention to the “novel and innovative” social policy framework, which came to be labeled conditional cash transfers (CCTs). By now CCTs have been established as one of the most well-known policy brands and since 1997 a variant of CCTs has been implemented in more than 60 countries. The chapter acknowledges that global proliferation of a policy is fundamentally linked with its story of origin. The chapter problematises the prevailing narrative of the CCTs, and critically assesses the origin and uniqueness of PROGRESA (later named Oportunidades and subsequently Prospera). The chapter argues that in a process of domestication global policy norms were encapsulated and codified in the PROGRESA program, which was then presented as a national innovation by omitting exogenous influences and actors from the official story of the program. This codification was then marketed to other countries by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank as a “model” to follow.

3. Disability inclusion in the social work teaching curriculum in Kyrgyz universities: experiences from the EU Social Protection System (EU-SPS) Programme. Hisayo Katsui, University of Helsinki.

This paper focuses on how the perception of disability, which is too often profoundly negative and charity-oriented, is challenged through the trainings of trainers (ToTs) under the framework of the EU-SPS Programme in Kyrgyzstan in 2017-2018. First, the historical background of the Soviet policy and practice is introduced to set the scene. Second, the EU-SPS is introduced that has implemented a few ToTs to university lecturers who are teaching social work discipline in Kyrgyz universities in Bishkek and Osh Cities. The EU-SPS was led by Kyrgyz and Finnish organizations of persons with disabilities where a Kyrgyz woman with a disability played the central role. The third and main part introduces discussions held and changes made towards disability inclusion in the Kyrgyz universities. For instance, after the exposure to different approaches to disabilities, the university lecturers realized that they had been reinforcing the social marginalization of persons with disabilities through their teachings. Today, they teach disabilities from many points of views including socially constructed aspects of disabilities and human rights of persons with disabilities using the newly produced teaching module. Last, the paper discusses on opportunities and risks of university teaching for disability inclusion more in general beyond the Kyrgyz context and link the findings with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

4. Social protection systems for Gender Equality Timo Voipio.

Social protection has been one of the success stories of international development cooperation recently. Social cash transfers have succeeded in what most other development projects have failed in – reaching and tangibly improving the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable households in low income countries, including the women, who are in several programmes the main recipients of the support. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is another high priority in development work, and the highest priority of Finland’s development policy. Until recently, the gender and social protection discourses have, however, not been talking to each other. This is now changing, interestingly: The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March-2019 is going to have “Social Protection Systems” as the priority theme. In the UN Commission on Social Development CSocD) in February-2019, the priority topic is going to be “Reduction of Inequalities, including through Social Protection Policies”. This is probably the first time ever that it is going to be possible to observe, side by side, how social protection is conceived by various governments and the professional communities of gender and social protection experts. Some gender experts view this as yet another opportunity for a ‘gender review’ of an established sector of overseas development assistance (ODA). International ODA on agriculture, water and sanitation, ICT-development, etc. have all been screened and ranked for their gender sensitivity, responsiveness and impacts. This paper argues that a mere ‘gender review’ of the existing social cash transfer projects would not be enough, or would miss the point to some extent…

5. Sustainability in international food-based dietary guidelines: creation of a systems thinking framework for developing food guidelines and policy Mazac, R.­­ MSc. Student, Faculty of Land and Food Systems University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


Sustainability in food policy and guidelines is increasingly a focus of researchers, international organizations, and governments. Currently, there is no federal or international sustainability framework to inform shifting development efforts for governments to integrate sustainability considerations into their national food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs). The UN FAO has asserted that FBDGs are a powerful tool with potential for moving diets towards social and environmentally just practices to facilitate locally-oriented, economically-viable consumption. Yet, many countries lack any food guidelines, with or without sustainability, especially developing countries. To understand how international dietary guidelines have framed sustainability, this study assessed current international FBDGs that have included sustainability concepts and suggests a framework to enable future development of national FBDGs with sustainability considerations.


This study analyzed 11 FBDGs or supporting documents encompassing 15 countries. A qualitative content analysis examined the framing and inclusion of sustainability concepts in international FBDG. Based on these analyses, a proposed framework was developed to examine how sustainability has been included in dietary guidelines.


Inclusion of sustainability concepts was more prevalent in FBDGs that focused more broadly on food-based rather than nutrient-focused dietary recommendations. All FBDG examined had a core focus on health but incorporated sustainability elements from myriad stakeholders. Analyzed documents informed the creation of a framework based on previous food policy literature to understand the interconnected use of sustainability concepts in FBDG. This framework has five core domains: health and nutrition, food security and agriculture, markets and value chains, sociocultural and political, and environment and ecosystems.


Several governments have expanded the scope of their FBDG beyond health and nutrition to include sustainability-related sociocultural, economic, and environmental concepts. The framework established in this study can serve as a tool for countries to develop FBDG to incorporate sustainable dietary recommendations, especially developing countries who are the demographic overwhelmingly lacking in existence of dietary guidelines. Future studies should assess how sustainability in FBDG influences eaters, food choice autonomy, and policy.

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