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This book explains the causal pathways, the mechanisms and the politics that define the quantity and quality of policy learning. A rich collection of case studies structured around a strong conceptual architecture, the volume comprises fresh, original, empirical evidence for a large number of countries, sectors and multi-level governance settings including the European Commission, the European Union, and individual countries across Europe, Australia, Canada and Brazil. The theoretically diverse chapters address both the presence of learning and its pathologies, deploying state-of-the-art methods, including process tracing, diffusion models, and fuzzy-set techniques.



Chapter 1. Introduction: The Family Tree of Policy Learning

In this introductory chapter, we explain how the study of policy learning has evolved to the point where it is today, and show how the contributions to the volume provide empirical and conceptual insights that, help address four major questions. First, what exactly do we mean by learning in the context of comparative public policy analysis and theories of the policy process? Second, what do we know about the causes of learning, its mechanisms, how it develops in different policy processes, within and across countries? Third, what are triggers and hindrances of mechanisms of learning? Fourth, what are the consequences of different types of learning for the efficiency of public policy as well as for the normative criteria of the democratic theory we adopt?
Claire A. Dunlop, Claudio M. Radaelli, Philipp Trein

Chapter 2. Lessons Learned and Not Learned: Bibliometric Analysis of Policy Learning

Using a bibliometric analysis of 547 publications on policy learning and 956 publications on learning in public policy from the Web of Science database, we identify key publications and authors involved in research on policy learning, understand how they relate to one another and to the wider literature on the topic, and investigate how questions about policy learning have been explored until now. We find little collaboration amongst scholars, limited consolidation of knowledge over time, and inadequate integration amongst research areas, leading to fragmentation in its literature within and outside policy studies. This field would benefit from a theoretical framework to clarify key concepts, synthesise findings, and structure research activity, and a systematic research agenda to address gaps in existing research.
Nihit Goyal, Michael Howlett

Chapter 3. Learning in the European Commission’s Renewable Energy Policy-Making and Climate Governance

Learning is frequently regarded as facilitating factor for policy outcomes. Yet, it competes with other explanations for policy change such as bargaining and executing pre-set objectives. This chapter contributes to addressing the empirical question on what affects policy change in European Union policymaking processes by highlighting the importance of ‘reflection’ as pre-requisite for learning. It examines the learning of individual policymakers in negotiating the Renewable Energy Directive of the European Union. The findings illustrate that learning can be hindered from being translated into policy change as actors follow national interests and ‘traditional’ bargaining approaches on the organisational level.
Katharina Rietig

Chapter 4. Mechanisms of Policy Learning in the European Semester: Pension Reforms in Belgium

In response to the crisis of the Eurozone, the European Union has re-organized policy coordination with the European Semester. Today the Semester is the core EU fiscal and economic coordination mechanism. Its presence raises discussions over its capacity to foster knowledge, due to its structure and mechanisms of policy learning. More generally, since its launch in 2011, the European Semester has kindled a vibrant debate on its effects on national policy-making and in particular, whether it could promote policy learning among national actors. By analysing the case of pension reforms in Belgium, the author identifies the specific outcomes of the European Semester’s mechanisms of influence. We find learning effects at work in the European Semester, and qualify the conventional proposition that the strength of European Union policy coordination lies only in its coercive power.
Christos Louvaris Fasois

Chapter 5. Individual Learning Behaviour in Collaborative Networks

This chapter examines the conditions under which individuals are likely to engage with other participants in learning activities during collaborative processes of innovation in the public sector. Drawing on the statistical network methodology of Exponential Random Graph Modelling we show that the formation of tightly clustered learning alliances in collaborations is not something straightforward. Furthermore, the analyses demonstrate that the decision of an individual to show learning behaviour towards another actor in the collaboration mainly depends on whether this other actor shows good, and exemplary, collaborative behaviour or if the other actor sits in a position where his or her involvement accrues power within the collective.
Vidar Stevens

Chapter 6. Learning from Practical Experience: Implementation Epistemic Communities in the European Union

Literature on European Union (EU) policymaking has largely neglected how European institutions, such as the Commission, learn from experiences from the implementation of EU policies, and how this practical expertise enters the policy process. In this chapter, we explore how learning relationships between domestic implementing agencies and the Commission are shaped. The case of the 2013 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) shows that cooperation between implementing agencies in a network organisation contributed to their certification by the Commission and the establishment of a channel for frequent interactions. The following dynamic relationship was further deepened by the ability of the actors to find mutual objectives over time. It was most fruitful in fine-tuning newly introduced policy instruments, only after the finalisation of the content of the basic regulations.
Daniel Polman

Chapter 7. The Rise and Demise of Epistemic Policy Learning: The Case of EU Biotechnology Regulation

Epistemic policy learning is essential to provide policy makers with the requisite knowledge base to address technically complex policy problems. As the reach of regulatory policy making expands to cover newly emerging technologies and previously ignored risks to human health and environmental safety, the role of epistemic policy learning has become increasingly evident. Drawing on empirical analysis of over twenty years of EU regulatory expansion and reform, the chapter focuses on the rise and demise of epistemic policy learning in EU biotechnology regulation. The analysis reveals how the use of scientific evidence and technical expertise in the policy process can easily turn dysfunctional if policy problems are complex and cut across the organizational boundaries of policy authority.
Falk Daviter

Chapter 8. Public Versus Non-profit Housing in Canadian Provinces: Learning, History and Cost-Benefit Analysis

Over the past decades, many institutional changes have taken place in the low-income housing sector of numerous Western countries. Two major changes related to housing policy instruments are examined in Canadian provinces, focusing on the 1995–2015 period: (1) a move away from government-owned public housing; (2) a stronger support to non-profit organizations (NPOs) operating affordable housing. To open the black box of policy-making and tackle the ‘big’ question about its drivers, I draw on an inductive approach based on provincial archives and interviews with policy elites (n = 56). The mixed-methods analysis suggests that the two policy shifts are largely explained by the mechanism of instrumental learning. Yet, this chapter also contributes to the public policy literature by developing a new framework: the ‘historically-driven’ cost-benefit analysis.
Maroine Bendaoud

Chapter 9. Blocked Learning in Greece: The Case of Soft-Governance

We observe the effects of the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) in Greece to uncover the variables that block learning. Empirically, we find that specific endogenous administrative, institutional and sociopolitical features of the Greek state obstruct learning processes, even when delegates active in the OMC committees and processes individually learn. Indeed, learning remains trapped within specific groups of national actors involved with reporting exercises and peer review meetings. Methodologically, we draw on triangulation of a variety of Greek official OMC documents, interviews with key national actors—in the field of poverty and social exclusion—as well as secondary literature. By highlighting the importance which domestic features play with respect to policy learning processes, we contribute to our understanding of the complexity of policy learning via EU soft modes of governance at the national level. In conclusion, we reflect on the comparative extensions of our findings and on whether the hardening of EU policy coordination in the recent season of successive bail-outs of Greece may change the state of play.
Thenia Vagionaki

Chapter 10. Structure, Agency and Policy Learning: Australia’s Multinational Corporations Dilemma

The political advantages of policy learning are becoming apparent to public officials, who increasingly recognise the instrumental utility of using overseas policy experiences in mobilising domestic support, overcoming political or industry opposition and marshalling transnational coalitions, especially where policy challenges are transnational in nature. Yet, analysis of these phenomena poses particular conceptual problems since most prominent approaches privilege either agential learning or structural diffusion accounts of how and why policies transfer across borders. These can produce partial or sometimes contradictory accounts of why policies transfer between states occur. This chapter engages with this problem by appealing to political sociology insights around structure/agency metatheory and applying these to a case study concerning the diffusion of multinational corporations taxation policies between OECD and G20 states, and the transfer of Diverted Profits Tax between the U.K. and Australia. Developing the work of Margaret Archer, the chapter proposes an institutional morphogenesis of policy transfer, which circumscribes the scope of policy learning with respect to the structure/agency debate. Here it is found that policy transfer, especially in the context of transnational challenges, must be understood as a product of structural imperatives, institutional paradigms and policy learning.
Tim Legrand

Chapter 11. Median Problem Pressure and Policy Learning: An Exploratory Analysis of European Countries

This chapter takes a new look at the relationship between problem-solving-oriented (policy) learning and power-oriented (political) learning. I present the results of an explorative and comparative meta-analysis of case studies of social policy reforms in Belgium, Greece, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. I argue that problem-solving-oriented learning is most likely to occur in reforms that are carried out against the background of a ‘median problem pressure’. This implies that only if there is no urgency and it is politically too risky to ignore the policy problem for society, policymakers will learn in a policy-oriented manner.
Philipp Trein

Chapter 12. The Hard Case for Learning: Explaining the Diversity of Swiss Tobacco Advertisement Bans

Tobacco prevention is a hard case for policy learning. Despite clear evidence about the damaging effects on health since the 1930s, smoking prevalence remains high. Thus, what are the conditions under which we can observe diffusion of tobacco bans? The subnational units of Switzerland constitute an ideal-typical representation of the patchwork we see in global tobacco prevention. In the absence of national guidelines, some cantons have started introducing their own instruments, while others have remained largely passive. To explain this process, I combine the learning approach with the Multiple Streams Framework to examine tobacco advertisement bans. The merging of these theories allows for a deeper understanding of different mechanisms promoting or hindering learning, while controlling for the role of context. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) is a suitable method to put this theoretical approach into practice. While a variety of factor-combinations account for the adoption or rejection of the tobacco advertisement bans, the decisive roles of private interest groups and the specific form of the proposed bans stand out. Even though a generalization of the findings may be somewhat difficult due to the peculiarities of the Swiss system, in the conclusion I reflect on how policy-makers, activists and lobbyists can use the findings about different macro-level characteristics and possible interaction effects when they want to introduce new legislation in a political system against resilient and vested interests.
Johanna Kuenzler

Chapter 13. The Policy-Making of Investment Treaties in Brazil: Policy Learning in the Context of Late Adoption

Brazil has traditionally been one of the only major economies never to have committed to an international investment agreement, an area of global policy dominated by a specific type of agreement, the Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). This country changed its traditional stance only recently, due in particular to the interest of domestic stakeholders, who were increasingly investing abroad. But when Brazil decided to join the network of investment agreements, it did so on its own terms, employing a model agreement that significantly departs from the globally-disseminated BIT-format. We argue that the design of the Brazilian investment model agreement is the result of a policy learning process that draws extensively both from the experiences and foreign policy preferences of Brazil as well as from negative experiences of third countries with the traditional BITs.
Martino Maggetti, Henrique Choer Moraes

Chapter 14. Interdependent Policy Learning: Contextual Diffusion of Active Labour Market Policies

This chapter analyses in which ways diffusion based on interdependent policy learning explains expenditure on active labour market policies (ALMP) in the OECD countries. By applying error correction models using multiplicative spatial Prais-Winsten regressions for analyzing the diffusion of ALMPs in 22 OECD countries from 1991–2013, we find evidence of governments adapting labour market policy strategies that have proven successful, that is, perform well in increasing labour market participation in other countries. However, interdependent learning is conditional on the institutional framework: policy-makers rather learn from the experience of other countries in the same welfare regime. Even more importantly, the results point to the importance of the European Employment Strategy (EES) as an international coordination framework facilitating policy learning.
Jan Helmdag, Kati Kuitto


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