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?

Suggested speakers for the working group are:

1. Olga Ulybina, Global social policy diffusion: Generating political will for child care deinstitutionalisation (discussing the cases of Georgia, Romania and Rwanda)

2. Lauri Heimo, talking about the global diffusion and domestication of conditional cash transfers

3. Hisayo Katsui, talking about disability inclusion in the social work teaching curriculum in Kyrgyz universities from the EU Social Protection System Programme

4. Timo Voipio, Social protection systems for Gender Equality

5. Mikko Perkiö, TBC

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