Policy innovation in unitary states relies heavily on the proclivity of local governments to identify and respond to emerging policy challenges. The article contributes by applying a framework for policy innovation normally used in federal systems to a comparative analysis of two unitary states – Poland and Norway. The analysis serves to highlight how the effectiveness of horizontal, non-coercive diffusion mechanisms relies on established norms and traditions for local political self-rule. A key finding is that the prospects of success for ‘soft’ central government steering seem to rely not least on the resourcefulness of the local units. The study furthermore highlights the importance of historical trajectories for internal as well as external determinants for policy innovation.
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