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The Roots of Policy Incoherence: Domestic Policy, Global Public Goods, and International Development


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The Roots of Policy Incoherence: Domestic Policy, Global Public Goods, and International Development

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14th October 2021


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Governments make policy to affect three domains: domestic outcomes; outcomes in foreign countries; and shared global challenges. These policy domains are interconnected, but not necessarily in obvious ways, and few governments make policy across them in a rational manner. This note sets out how the conceptual and analytical incoherence of policy set in developed countries across these three domains undermines their own effectiveness—most notably on international development and shared global challenges. It sets out the incentives that drive this incoherence and the opportunities for greater impact being missed through it, and concludes with a brief consideration of how institutional reform can support better policymaking across these domains.

Most governments treat domestic policy as an isolated domain over which to pursue purely domestic priorities, while international development policy and global public goods (GPG) policy are barely distinguished from each other. Such a conceptualization of the policy space leads to incoherence: one domain undermining another, and opportunities for positive reinforcement left begging. Domestic policy is pursued without much thought to its effects on GPG and development policy, while the latter two are either an afterthought with respect to their impact on domestic policy or worse, treated transactionally. What’s more, action on international development and global public goods is too often considered interchangeable, a conceptual error that undermines both. These errors arise from a failure to adequately consider whether policy actions in different domains are complements, substitutes, or independent of each other. Treating them as independent when they are in fact complements, or treating them as substitutes when they are actually independent, leads to an inefficient policy mix, and ultimately muted impact.


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