Policy Sciences

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 335–371 | Cite as

Learning our way out of environmental policy problems: a review of the scholarship

  • Andrea K. GerlakEmail author
  • Tanya Heikkila
  • Sharon L. Smolinski
  • Dave Huitema
  • Derek Armitage
Research Article


In acknowledgement of the complexity of environmental challenges, research on learning in environmental policy has grown substantially over the past two decades across a range of disciplines. Despite this growth, there are few comprehensive assessments of the literature on learning in environmental policy. This article fills this gap by providing insights on the overall coherence and impact of this body of scholarship. To do so, we analyze a sample of 163 articles from 2004 to 2014 using a standardized coding framework. The results provide an in-depth assessment of the status of the literature on learning in the context of environmental policy, as well as the quality of the literature. We demonstrate that despite the diversity in research questions and goals, the literature is lacking with respect to diversity in cases and context, theoretical development, clear conceptualization and operationalization of learning, and advancements in empirical approaches to study learning. From these insights, we discuss the challenges and opportunities for scholars in studying learning and provide recommendations for building the theoretical and methodological rigor of the field.


Learning Environmental challenges Governance Policy 

Supplementary material

11077_2017_9278_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (106 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 105 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea K. Gerlak
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tanya Heikkila
    • 2
  • Sharon L. Smolinski
    • 2
  • Dave Huitema
    • 3
    • 4
  • Derek Armitage
    • 5
  1. 1.Udall Center for Studies in Public PolicyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.School of Public AffairsUniversity of Colorado, DenverDenverUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)Vrije Universiteit AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Department of Science, Faculty of Management, Science, and TechnologyNetherlands Open UniversityHeerlenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.School of Environment, Resources and SustainabilityUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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