by Stuart M. Butler, David B. Mulhausen
April 01, 2014
From time to time, a new idea in public policy will actually work. New York City might lower its murder rate. Wisconsin might move thousands from welfare to work. When these successes happen, the rest of the nation rightly takes notice. Yet, while the idea of replicating successful initiatives may seem like the epitome of empirical, social-science-driven public policy, replication itself actually has a fairly poor track record. This record does not mean, however, that policymakers should conclude that they cannot ever replicate success and should not try to learn from the achievements of others. Instead, they need to think about those successes and about their own efforts in experimental and incremental terms. Rather than simply try to mimic what worked elsewhere, they should strive to adapt successful strategies to their own situations.