There is a difference between learning what to do, which depends on the accumulation and assimilation of knowledge, and learning how to do it, which generally comes through practice. Both are fundamental for successful policy implementation. If training programs and cross-country learning interventions could incorporate this conceptual difference into their design it could strengthen their impact.
Differentiating conceptually between policy learning and political learning is useful; but in reality, both occur simultaneously. Learning can be about policy instruments, goals, and ideas, but it is also about politics – such as policy processes, and knowing how to navigate the political arena. While learning about the technical and administrative aspects required to implement a reform is essential, we also need to learn how to implement the reform and how to get the political support that is required to make it happen.
The author uses an example of a Gates Foundation project in the Pacific that sought to better understand how countries learn from each other and how to translate that knowledge into action. Countries in the Pacific, for example, in spite of having similar levels of income and, arguably, similar constraints, often achieve very different outcomes. For example, Kiribati and Solomon Islands have similar GDP per capita, however Kiribati has an infant mortality rate of 41.2 deaths per 1,000 births while Solomon Islands has a rate of 17.1. The idea of our project with the Gates Foundation was that if countries with similar backgrounds and problems could learn from each other’s experiences and struggles, then this learning could facilitate the implementation of more effective public policies.