Thinking Comparatively About Public Policy
Studies in comparative public policy typically emphasize how similarities and differences in broad variables such as ideas, institutions, norms, cultures, actors, etc. across countries shape particular policies or programs (Dodds, 2018; Wilder, 2017). This in turn, has contributed to debates on national ‘models’ of policy focused on broad generalizations around existing macro-level arrangements, but typically ignore how these arrangements shape specific policy outcomes. We argue that this is not entirely meaningful as it does not speak directly to advancing our understanding of success or failure. What is needed is a more nuanced understanding of how specific institutional constraints or design features shape policy outcomes (Howlett and Lejano, 2012). The paper has two goals. First, it provides a review of the extant literature on comparative public policy. This review is organized at three levels of analysis (macro focusing on ideas, actors, institutions, etc; meso focusing on policy tools and their calibrations; and the micro level focusing on implementation structures). The second goal of this paper is to connect these levels of analysis with existing frameworks on policy success and failure (Dunlop, 2017; Compton and ‘t Hart, 2019). It is argued that such an approach provides purchase from which comparative studies can better inform policy formulation and deliberation. The argument is illustrated with specific examples from health policy in Asia.