Back to search

FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren

Policy Knowledge and Lesson Drawing in Nordic School Reform in an Era of International Comparison

Alternative title: Internasjonale sammenlikninger på den utdanningspolitiske dagsorden: hvordan innhentes og brukes kunnskap i nordiske skolereformer?

Awarded: NOK 11.9 mill.

The project seeks to examine how policy makers use evidence and expertise when setting reform agendas, developing new or modified policy options, or issuing reforms. In an era of international comparison, they are expected to learn from experiences from elsewhere and review "best practices" and international standards propelled by international organizations. The research questions therefore have become: Do they do so? What counts for them as evidence and expertise? And how do they reconfirm change and renew school reforms by building policy coalitions and learning from best practices? Concretely, the study examines whether and how policy makers and policy experts in Norway have learnt from experiences in other countries and how they have translated that knowledge into their own country with the intention of improving their national educational system. The findings from the comparative analysis are published in the book "Evidence and Expertise in Nordic Education Policy", edited by Berit Karseth, Kirsten Sivesind and Gita Steiner-Khamsi and published by Palgrave. Findings are based on bibliometric network analyses, content analyses of documents and interviews with experts. In addition, we have published a summary of the analysis in a policy report on the project's website. In the Norwegian part of the project we have carried out bibliometric and semantic analyses of documents across reform periods. The data material consists of a full-text archive of all white papers and official public reports written or referred to by the Ministry of Education in the period 1988 – 2018. We have examined the frequency of references to international organizations and to ILSAs (international large-scale investigations). The analysis shows how document groups that emerge through the bibliometric network analyses, construct word associations, narratives and discourses about the Nordics and the Nordic region. The discourses seem to become more differentiated in the 2000s in terms of references to other countries' education systems and which organizations that find resonance in the national documents. The analysis is published in the book: The Nordic Education Model in Context, published by Routlege. The study demonstrates that Norwegian education policy has become more international. We have also analysed the composition of expert groups and their use of international references. Based on bibliographic network analyses and 45 interviews, Chanwoong Baek has compared expertise-seeking arrangements in Norway with similar practices in South Korea and the USA. In a published article, he shows that Norwegian and South Korean reference practices are more internationally oriented than what is the case in the USA. Norwegian reforms are characterized by a social-corporate tradition where the state's decision-making processes are shaped in interaction with various interest groups and organizations. The reform process in South Korea is characterized by a state-regulated form of corporatism, in contrast to a far more pluralistic system in the United States. For South Korea, the USA and Finland are among the most important reference societies. Here, Finland is given increased attention due to their success in the PISA survey under the auspices of the OECD. In Norway, references to Sweden and Denmark are more important than to Finland. These differences are explored by drawing on interview data. In Norway, the experts have not had the same need to legitimize reforms with international knowledge as in South-Kora where references have been used to legitimize a foundational reform. In Norway, experts have been more concerned with seeking knowledge of relevance to certain policy areas. In cases where the experts miss Norwegian results in an area, they choose to refer to international knowledge. Furthermore, Saija Volmari has carried out a spatial-temporal reading of eleven interviews with experts involved in Finland's and Norway's latest curriculum reforms. She finds that experts exchange knowledge that does not appear in the written recommendations, but which nevertheless influences the content and focus. The author shows how experts translate policy knowledge in social meetings where educational policy processes are anchored nationally, but are increasingly influenced by international power structures. The author writes that international organizations exercise power not only through the data they produce, but the way they facilitate international communication. Who is invited to the international meetings is partly a question of geopolitics and partly a question of who is considered to be "at the forefront" of education reforms. In another part of the project, we found however, that experts behave differently in international forums compared to regional meeting places. In international forums, Nordic experts search together to create common strategies, while in a Nordic context the main point is to find national solutions to common problems.


In an era of international comparison, policy makers are expected to learn from experiences elsewhere and review "best practices." This project seeks to examine how policy makers use evidence and expertise when setting reform agendas, developing new or modified policy options, or issuing reforms for basic education. The research questions therefore are: how do they draw on regional and/or international knowledge in agenda setting or policy formulation; what counts for them as evidence and expertise, and how do they stabilize and change national school reform by building policy coalitions and learning from best practices? The study is designed as an integrated project and as a joint collaboration by researchers from one US and five Nordic universities. Four bodies of research have informed this study: first, the role of networks within the shift from government to governance; second, the study of "traveling reform," "diffusion" versus "reception" studies; third, the increased reliance on externalization for political coalition-building; and fourth, the use of evidence to reform and improve education. The study applies bibliographical, text-based network analysis to examine policy documents to compare the reception and translations of international, regional, and national policy knowledge and shifts in Norway (from 1988-2020) as well as in the four other Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden). The outcome of our study will enable both policy researchers and policy experts to understand changes in the use of policy tools, notably the use of systematic reviews, evaluations, sector analyses, and OECD- and IEA-type international large-scale assessments (PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS, etc.). The study will also contribute to foundational policy research on the nexus between local, national, and global policy actors and transnational policy shifts, such as the interpretation and translation of "accountability", "choice," "competency-based curriculum," and "equity."

Publications from Cristin

No publications found

Funding scheme:

FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren