Central to much thinking about the movement of policy from one domain to another is a residual assumption that some essential meaning of the ‘transferred’ policy remains, but is variously interpreted in different contexts. We argue that the new consensuses that emerge in the process of dissemination and implementation themselves (re)constitute policy. We stress both the open-ended nature and the constitutive power of the new knowledge that emerges from micro-processes of interaction in policymaking. Understanding social phenomena as underdetermined helps explain how and why the ‘translation’ of a policy developed in one context and implemented in another is inherently unpredictable. Processes by which a public sector capacity building program was discussed, developed, and implemented in Ethiopia illustrate this approach. Empirical discussion focuses on the ways in which international officials recruited senior Ethiopian support for their policy; how these policymakers rethought and shaped the policy in their own interests; and how the mixed understanding and reception of the policy in different parts of rural Ethiopia continued a process by which original outcomes were importantly transformed.