Expert-driven Policy Change: Policy Learning in 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic policy-making

Stream: Panel 53 - Australian Politics / Media & Politics: Policy Reform and Institutional Change 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm


When does new evidence induce policy change? A curious contrast between two most-similar states’ public health policy-making in response to a recent influenza pandemic offers an opportunity for answers. In-depth case studies by the author show that Dutch and Swedish 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic vaccination programs started off in the same vein, enabling general mass vaccination by ordering vaccines for all residents early on. In the face of new information showing that H1N1 was not a killer flu, the Swedes stayed on course, offering everyone vaccination when vaccines became available. In contrast, the Dutch changed course, offering vaccination only to at-risk groups. The more specific analytical question is: why did mortality make no difference to Swedish policy-makers and all the difference to their Dutch counterparts? This paper proposes and assesses explanations based on paradigm shifting, actor coalition frameworks, historical institutionalism and leadership blame-avoidance to develop an answer. It finds that neoinstitutionalism offers the most promising lead, with experts steering policy in both contexts. Dutch experts’ recommendations were sensitive to the actual mortality of 2009 H1N1 flu because Dutch pre-pandemic preparations had established mass vaccination as the appropriate response to killer flu only. In contrast, Swedish experts were insensitive to actual mortality because Swedish pre-pandemic preparations had established mass vaccination as the appropriate response to pandemic flu of any severity.


Erik Baekkeskov (Presenter), The University of Melbourne
PhD in political science from University of California, Berkeley (2009). Formerly Assistant Professor at Roskilde University and at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark (2011-2016). Focused on comparative politics and public policy-making, with research in infectious disease pandemic preparedness and response, crisis management and public sector reform. Publications in journals such as Public Administration, Journal of European Public Policy, Administration & Society, and Disaster Prevention & Management.