Portable Innovation, Policy Wormholes, and Innovation Diffusion

Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
Portable Innovation, Policy Wormholes, and Innovation Diffusion 737
Abstract: This article explores the effects of city managers’ career paths on the diffusion of climate policy innovation
among municipal governments in the United States. Using the agent network diffusion (AND) model, the authors
hypothesize that local climate policy innovations are portable and that cities may learn from distant jurisdictions
to which they are connected through the career paths of managers, a phenomenon termed the “policy wormhole
effect. Employing a dyadic panel data set of more than 400 Florida cities from 2005 to 2010, these hypotheses are
tested using dyadic event history analysis. The results support both the portable innovation hypothesis and the policy
wormhole hypothesis. Cities can facilitate the diffusion of policy innovations by paying special attention to the
recruitment process of city managers.
Evidence for Practice
The career trajectories of city managers matter for the diffusion of policy innovations across jurisdictions.
Cities can hire managers who will help them establish critical connections with innovative cities.
Cities can learn from innovative cities through their managers’ network embeddedness.
Hongtao Yi
Portable Innovation, Policy Wormholes, and Innovation
Wenna Chen
The Ohio State University City University of Hong Kong
Policy innovation and diffusion have been
studied extensively in public administration
and public policy (Berry and Berry 1990;
Shipan and Volden 2012). Most students of public
administration are familiar with the mechanisms of
policy diffusion through competition, learning, and
coercion (Shipan and Volden 2008). An interesting
yet understudied question remains relevant: what are
the roles of local managers in policy innovation and
In the literature on policy diffusion, very few studies
have examined the role of local managers. Teodoro
(2009) found that managers hired from outside the
organization were more likely to initiate innovations
than those promoted from within. Yi, Berry, and
Chen (2018) proposed the agent network diffusion
(AND) model to test how leadership transfer networks
facilitated the diffusion of energy performance across
jurisdictions with spatial regressions. However,
additional theoretical and empirical work is needed
to elaborate the impact of local managers’ career
trajectories on policy diffusion across U.S. local
To fill this lacuna, we develop and test hypotheses
based on the AND model by examining how
leadership transfer networks—that is, the career
trajectories of city managers—channel the diffusion
of local climate policy innovations. We test the
portable innovation hypothesis under the AND
model and propose a new hypothesis, termed the
“policy wormhole hypothesis,” to further elaborate
the pathways for policy diffusion through leadership
transfer networks. As we will demonstrate in detail, a
“policy wormhole” refers to a hypothetical connection
between remotely separated regions of space–time. A
policy wormhole is established when a change agent
moves from Jurisdictionj to Jurisdictioni, creating a
connection that potentially channels the diffusion
of innovations. To test these hypotheses, we design
a novel coding strategy that allows us to embed
leadership transfer networks in a panel data structure,
on which we conduct directed dyadic event history
analysis (EHA).
This study contributes to the literature on policy
diffusion by advancing the AND model in the context
of U.S. local policy innovation with a set of novel
testable hypotheses, operationalization strategies, and
empirical methods. It also contributes to the literature
on managerial mobility, policy transfer, boundary
spanning, and local sustainability.
In the next section, we review the literature on
policy diffusion and policy transfer, focusing on city
managers as active change agents in the diffusion
process. We then review the AND model and advance
Wenna Chen is a PhD candidate in
the Department of Public Policy at City
University of Hong Kong. Her research
interests include policy process, public
sector innovation, and performance
E-mail: wennachen2-c@my.cityu.edu.hk
Hongtao Yi is associate professor in the
John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the
Ohio State University. His research focuses
on network governance, collaborative
governance, policy process, and energy and
environmental policy.
E-mail: yi.201@osu.edu
Research Article
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 5, pp. 737–748. © 2019 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13090.

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