This article re-assesses the literature on policy transfer and diffusion in light of what constitutes failure or limited success. First, it looks at imperfect, incomplete or uninformed transfer processes. Second, it addresses the concept of 'negative lesson-drawing' as well as the role of interlocutors who complicate policy transfer processes. Third, the idea of 'transfer' as a neat linear transmission of an intact policy approach is criticised by drawing attention to hybridity, synthesis, adaptation and 'localisation'. Finally, policy 'translation' is a better conceptual framework for comprehending the learning and policy innovations that come with the trial and error inherent in policymaking.