Governance by diffusion – Exploring a new mechanism of international policy coordination

Busch, Per-Olof and Helge Jörgens 2012: Governance by diffusion. Exploring a new mechanism of international policy coordination. In: James Meadowcraft, Oluf Langhelle and Audun Ruud (eds.): Governance, democracy and sustainable development. Moving beyond the impasse. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 221-248.

International policy coordination, understood as the mutual adjustment of the interests, goals and actions of collective actors in the international system, is a key aspect of the scholarly debate on global governance. Basically, this debate centres on the potential, restriction and impact of coordination among independent actors in the absence of a centralized political authority. So far most theoretical approaches to the study of international relations focus on one or another form of centralized top–down coordination. By contrast, other theoretically conceivable and empirically observable forms of de-centralized or horizontal policy coordination have received surprisingly little attention in the international relations literature. This holds especially true for processes of cross-national policy diffusion where information on innovative policies is communicated internationally, leading states to adopt these policies voluntarily and without expecting any kind of quid pro quo. Coordination, in this case, does not result from international agreement, but emerges from the mutual adjustment of autonomous states to each other’s policy decisions. Although there is a growing body of literature examining processes of policy diffusion, the governance potential of these diffusion processes is still widely ignored.