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86 Working Paper

Continuity as the Path to Change: Institutional Innovation in the 1976 British Race Relations Act



Institutional innovation can, paradoxically, be a product of institutional continuity. New institutions often emerge in a bifurcated manner in which formal institutions (such as laws and written rules) are accompanied by informal institutions (such as ideas that motivate and help determine the precise nature of specific policies). When informal institutions include ideas that track policy developments in other spheres or other countries, they can influence innovations in formal institutions. The development of the 1976 British Race Relations Act illustrates this dynamic. When British race institutions were established in the 1960s, they reflected the prevailing idea that British policies should incorporate lessons learned from North America. When Britain revisited its anti-racism provisions in 1976, policy experts looked again to North America and found that much had changed there in the interim. They subsequently altered Britain’s formal institutions to include U.S.-inspired “race-conscious” measures.