Policy Sciences

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 275–294 | Cite as

The lessons of learning: Reconciling theories of policy learning and policy change

  • Colin J. Bennett
  • Michael Howlett


Several different explanations of policy change based on notions of learning have emerged in the policy literature to challenge conventional conflict-oriented theories. These include notions of ‘political-learning’ developed by Heclo, ‘policy-oriented learning’ developed by Sabatier, ‘lesson-drawing’ analyzed by Rose, ‘social learning’ discussed by Hall and ‘government learning’ identified by Etheredge. These different concepts identify different actors and different effects with each different type of learning. Some elements of these theories are compatible, while others are not. This article examines each approach in terms of who learns, what they learn, and the effects of learning on subsequent policies. The conclusion is that three distinct types of learning have often been incorrectly juxtaposed. Certain conceptual, theoretical and methodological difficulties attend any attempt to attribute policy change to policy learning, but this does not detract from the important reorientation of policy analysis that this approach represents.


Economic Policy Policy Change Social Learning Distinct Type Policy Analysis 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin J. Bennett
    • 1
  • Michael Howlett
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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