Powering & Puzzling

Policy learning–when governments learn from policy experiences elsewhere–is an example of both self- and collaborative learning. 

Except the stakes are far greater. 

Policy learning changes public policy, and thus directly affects people in all aspects of their lives. 

My favorite definition of policy learning:  

“Politics finds its sources not only in power but also in uncertainty–men collectively wondering what to do… Governments not only ‘power’… they also puzzle. Policy making is a form of collective puzzlement on society's behalf; it entails both deciding and knowing… Much political interaction has constituted a process of social learning expressed through policy.” –Hugh Heclo

The first concept taught in political science is power. This is understandable since politics and policymaking are often contests for power. And I would not argue policy always results from careful dissection and analysis of policy experiments elsewhere. 

But sometimes it does! ‘Puzzling’ deserves more attention.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, policy learning is really easy to do poorly, and really hard to do well. 

Policy learning is particularly difficult when problems–and possible solutions–are so novel and complex that there are often few, if any models to learn from. And because the sample size is small, it is difficult to compare results and draw lessons. 

Imagine if policymakers became really skilled at drawing lessons?

Maybe we could actually become laboratories of democracy?

Idealistic? Yes. Worth striving for? Definitely. 


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