Building on the term 'isomorphic mimicry’, this background note explores different types of institutional imitation in relation to public financial management reform and institutional change in international development.
The distinction between mimicry and ventriloquism is important. For states that are able to adapt and change on their own, mimicry isn’t a problem, even if insincere mimicry is a problem for donors.
The development policy community should not completely dismiss the importance of countries learning from one another and imitating success, even as it finally consigns institutional copy–paste jobs to the dustbin of history. Instead, there should be two parallel efforts: first, to get rid of international development efforts that incentivise ventriloquism instead of adaptation, and second, to allow governments the space to experiment, including turning something that worked well elsewhere into genuinely local innovation.