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- Author or Editor: Claire A. Dunlop x
First published as a special issue of Policy & Politics, this updated volume explores policy failures and the valuable opportunities for learning that they offer.
Policy successes and failures offer important lessons for public officials, but often they do not learn from these experiences. The studies in this volume investigate this broken link. The book defines policy learning and failure and organises the main studies in these fields along the key dimensions of processes, products and analytical levels. Drawing together a range of experts in the field, the volume sketches a research agenda linking policy scholars with policy practice.
We analyse policy failure as a degeneration of policy learning. Analytically, we drill down on one type – epistemic learning. This is the realm of evidenced-based policymaking (EBPM), where experts advise decision-makers on issues of technical complexity. Empirically, we present the management of bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in England since 1997 as a failure of epistemic learning. Drawing on elite interviews and documentary analysis, weaknesses in government’s management of its relationship with an epistemic community are analysed as problems of learning about different aspects of organisational capacity. We conclude discussing the value of learning theories as conceptual lenses for policy failure.
Policy failures present a valuable opportunity for policy learning, but public officials often fail to learn valuable lessons from these experiences. The studies in this volume investigate this broken link. This introduction defines policy learning and failure, and then organises the main studies in these fields along the key dimensions of: processes, products and analytical levels. We continue with an overview of the special issue articles, outlining where they sit in the wider literature and how they link learning and failure. We conclude sketching a research agenda linking policy scholars with policy practice.
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.
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.
Policy learning is an attractive proposition, but who learns and for what purposes? Can we learn the wrong lesson? And why do so many attempts to learn what works often fail? In this article, we provide three lessons. First, there are four different modes in which constellations of actors learn. Hence our propositions about learning are conditional on which of the four contexts we refer to. Second, policy learning does not just happen; there are specific hindrances and triggers. Thus, learning can be facilitated by knowing the mechanisms to activate and the likely obstacles. Third, learning itself is a conditional final aim: although the official aspiration of public organisations and politicians is to improve on public policy, policy learning can also be dysfunctional – for an organisation, a policy, a constellation of actors or even democracy.
The literature on policy learning has generated a huge amount of heat (and some light) producing policy learning taxonomies, concepts and methods, yet the efforts to demonstrate why we should think about policy processes in terms of learning have been rare and mostly in the past (Dunlop, Radaelli and Trein, 2018). Additionally, policy learning has progressed in different sub-fields, such as the study of diffusion, transfer, individual and collective learning, social learning, and knowledge utilisation (see the family tree of learning in Dunlop, Radaelli and Trein, 2018; and the fragmentation in sub-fields portrayed in Goyal and Howlett, 2018). This has discouraged the tasks of communicating, comparing and combining insights that, the editors of this special issue remind us, are fundamental to translate research to a wider audience, avoiding jargon and obfuscation.
We offer this chapter to both an audience of academics and to actors involved in policy-processes, be they elected politicians, public managers, activists or pressure groups. We address the academic audience made up of specialists in policy analysis by arguing that the quality of our findings should be judged in terms of ‘translation reach’. We set out to show how we can combine and integrate research on learning so that it can be translated to a wider audience of social scientists looking for cumulative findings, typical lessons, concepts that travel across fields.
This Special Issue makes a statement about the study of policy and politics, where it has been, how it is done, what it is, and where it is going. When addressing the question ‘who gets to speak for our discipline?’ we respond emphatically – many people, from many places, working in many ways. It comprises scholarship that has rarely been combined to explore some cardinal challenges about our scholarship: (1) How do we conceive of policy and political studies? (2) To what extent should our science be ‘normative’ or ‘objective’ or ‘positive’? (3) Who are our audiences, and how do we engage them? (4) Whose knowledge matters, and how does it accumulate? (5) How should we advance the study of policy and politics? We conclude charging the field to consider different ways of thinking about what we can discover and construct in the world and how we can conduct our science.
This article introduces the special issue ‘Transformational change through Public Policy’. After introducing the idea of transformational societal change, it asks how public policy scholarship can contribute to fostering it; the research questions we need to do so; what actors we need to study; who our audiences are; and how we need to expand our theories and methods. In our conclusion, we draw five lessons from the special issue articles. Transformational change (1) often results from many instances of policy changes over extended periods of time; (2) involves social movements that reconceptualise problems and possibilities; and (3) requires policy changes across sectors and levels of society, from local communities to national or global communities. As a field, Public Policy will (4) never offer detailed instructions to create transformational change in all circumstances, but (5) must involve scholars taking on different roles, from engaged scholarship to theory development that each provide unique contributions.