1: Policy learning and policy failure: definitions, dimensions and intersections

This chapter provides an overview of policy learning and policy failure, both of which are classic topics of policy studies. The links between the two literatures appear obvious, yet there are very few studies that address how one can learn from failure, learn to limit failure, and fail to learn. This book offers a rare attempt to bring these two literatures together. The chapter then begins by defining policy learning and failure before organising the main studies in these fields along the key dimensions of processes, products, and analytical levels. Learning and failure studies are beginning to offer analysis in and for the policy process that concentrates on the prescriptive techniques that can help on the ground. Intellectual endeavours on the design implications of learning and failure are still in their infancy, but two streams of activity are making headway. For learning, analysis of international organisations makes particularly strong offerings on how governments should learn. Different instruments and methods for cross-national learning include: benchmarking, peer review, checklists, facilitated coordination, and extrapolation. Meanwhile, the prescriptive turn in failure studies is less concerned with how not to fail and more focused on its inverse — how to succeed in policy making.

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