13. Study visits
Study visits fulfil a double mission: on the one hand, they provide a selected group of key stakeholders with first-hand insight on how policy implementation is being done in other countries while, on the other, they serve as a trust-building tool by promoting personal bonds among the participants through a shared experience in a foreign country.
Acquiring direct knowledge of how a given policy is being implemented in other contexts is one of the most effective ways of assessing the feasibility of the policy reforms that are being pursued through the dialogue process, as well as of devising implementation strategies that conform to the actual capacities of the public administration. In this sense, comparisons need to be nuanced and duly contextualized, as in almost every case the study visit will take place in a more developed country, which is presented to –and perceived by– the participants as a “model”. However, such models need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as the implementation of a given policy is always related to other policies, as well as political and cultural factors, that may differ strongly from those of the country in which the policy reform is being pursued.
Therefore, in order to avoid the participants to become frustrated or overwhelmed by the gap between their reality and the “model”, it is crucial to structure the visit in a way that goes beyond just showcasing the current state of affairs to provide the participants with a historic overview of the process(es) that led to the current situation. To that end, sound preparatory work needs to be done in advance to previously familiarize those officials from the hosting country with the reality of the partner country. In that same vein, the premises to be visited in the hosting country will need to be selected and presented following a contextual approach that goes beyond just showing the present situation and focuses on how things evolved in order to get there.
Regarding the trust-building component of the study visit, the facilitator will have to carefully plan the evening activities so as to promote joint activities and avoid the formation of separate groups, (with public officials or civil society representatives spending most of their leisure time by themselves). To this end, cultural activities should be designed from a team-building approach that promotes human contact in order to facilitate the kind of mutual understanding that will later be reflected in the dialogue table.
- Key stakeholders acquire first-hand insight on policy reform and implementation from other countries that have undergone similar reform processes.
- New ideas are triggered by exposure to other systems, feeding the deliberations with examples and models that could help structure the policy reform (and avoid reinventing the wheel).
- Personal bonds are developed among the participants in the study visit, which should bring together representatives from the different types of stakeholders engaged in the dialogue process.