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.
This chapter re-assesses some of the literature on policy transfer and policy diffusion, in light of ideas as to what constitutes failure, partial failure, or limited success. Rather than frame a policy transfer as a failure or success, scholars must recognise transfer (and so failure) as a messy process involving an array of meso-level actors. Two aspects are of particular note. First, the treatment of imperfect transfer as underscored by flawed lesson-drawing is useful as it takes one back to questions about the depth of learning. Second, the chapter highlights two aspects of learning that are often overlooked in mainstream accounts: ‘negative lesson-drawing’ and selective learning. Negative lesson-drawing is a quest to avoid policy failure where policy learning is not synonymous with policy adoption. Instead, policy lessons can help crystallise what ideas and policy paths decision-makers do not wish to follow.
in mainstream accounts: ‘negative lesson-drawing’ and selectivelearning. While we
think about learning in terms of updates, we should be forensic in our exploration
of the basics and, specifically, what is being updated.
Joshua Newman and Matthew Bird (2017) move us beyond a focus on process to
offer a much-needed analysis of policy failure as an independent variable. Comparing
two transportation cases – fast ferries in British Columbia and Sydney’s airport link –
the article adds to our knowledge of the impact failure on group dynamics in general
’ and secondary aspects. Core beliefs are the
least susceptible to change (akin to a religious conversion). Policy core beliefs may
only change following external ‘shocks’ to the system (such as sudden changes in
socioeconomic conditions). Secondary aspects are more subject to change following
policy learning. For example, coalitions may shift their beliefs about the best way
to deliver policy (note the ACF emphasis on selectivelearning; new information is
assessed through the lens of existing, firmly held, beliefs).
Advocacy coalitions compete for position
failure of it is rarely outright or settled. Rather than treat partial transfer as failure, this is a re-imagining of transfer where ‘failure’ and ‘success’ sit alongside each other, underpinned by ongoing and dynamic learning processes. Two aspects are of particular note. First, the treatment of imperfect transfer as underscored by flawed lesson-drawing is useful as it takes us back to questions about the depth of learning. Second, Stone highlights two aspects of learning that are often overlooked in mainstream accounts: ‘negative lesson-drawing’ and selectivelearning