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Policy learning and the public inquiry


  • Alastair Stark

    () (University of Queensland)


Can public inquiries learn lessons in ways which can reduce the likelihood of future failure? Political science research has consistently stated that the answer to this question should be an emphatic no and defined the public inquiry as an ineffectual lesson-learning mechanism. This article, however, contends that this conventional wisdom needs to be revisited. Drawing upon policy learning research for its theory, and 100 interviews across four international cases for its evidence, this article returns to the question above and finds that inquiries regularly produce ‘instrumental’ and ‘cognitive organisational’ forms of learning, which propel substantive reform agendas. By contrasting these outcomes against the types of learning that inquiries struggle to produce, the article delivers a nuanced evaluation that indicates that we need to reconsider what we think we know about these important institutions.

Suggested Citation

  • Alastair Stark, 2019. "Policy learning and the public inquiry," Policy Sciences, Springer;Society of Policy Sciences, vol. 52(3), pages 397-417, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:policy:v:52:y:2019:i:3:d:10.1007_s11077-019-09348-0
    DOI: 10.1007/s11077-019-09348-0

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    6. Rose, Richard, 1991. "What is Lesson-Drawing?," Journal of Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(1), pages 3-30, January.
    7. Claire A. Dunlop & Claudio M. Radaelli, 2013. "Systematising Policy Learning: From Monolith to Dimensions," Political Studies, Political Studies Association, vol. 61(3), pages 599-619, October.
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