2: Pathologies of policy learning: what are they and how do they contribute to policy failure?

This chapter explores how dysfunctional forms of policy learning impact policy failure at the meso-level. Using the long-running policy failure of the management of bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in England, analysis focuses on negative lessons generated by the interactions of an epistemic community of scientific experts and civil servants charged with balancing the competing interest actors to craft a workable policy. The chapter then outlines the capacity challenges faced by decision-makers engaged in epistemic learning and the ways in which advisory relationships can go wrong and learning can degenerate. These degenerations are understood as rooted in failures in government's organisational capacities. Empirically, the analysis of BTB policy in England finds that epistemic learning degenerated as a result of weaknesses in the government's analytical and communicative capacities. The chapter concludes with some reflections on the value of learning theories as a conceptual lens for policy failure.

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