Intra-crisis learning and prospective policy transfer in the Covid-19 pandemic

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Purpose: This article brings together the literatures on policy learning and lesson drawing with the intra-crisis learning literature in order to assess “learning lessons” in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design/methodology/approach: It carries out a structured review of articles that seek to provide lessons for the pandemic. It examines these articles using interpretative content analysis to apply the criteria of prospective policy transfer to the material.

Findings: Application of the criteria of prospective policy transfer suggests that lesson drawing was fairly limited. It is often not fully clear why nations were selected. Many articles were brief and provided limited detail, meaning that there was little depth on issues such as problems and goals and on policy performance or policy success or failure. There was limited discussion of transferability of lessons, and few clear lessons could be drawn. Finally, the extent to which it was possible to learn lessons in a “non-routine” or “less routine” crisis, under conditions of threat, uncertainty and urgency was generally not discussed.

Practical implications: The criteria within the framework of prospective policy transfer provide a template for policy makers to assess lessons.

Originality/value: This article indicates the problems of attempting to draw lessons from the past or from other nations to an unprecedented crisis, where decision-making is characterized by elements of threat, urgency and uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)877-892
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
Issue number9-10
Early online date2 Oct 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Oct 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Crisis decision-making
  • Lesson drawing
  • Literature review
  • Prospective policy transfer


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