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Bounded rationality in policy learning amongst cities: lessons from the transport sector


  • Greg Marsden
  • Karen Trapenberg Frick
  • Anthony D May
  • Elizabeth Deakin


The internationalization of policy regimes and the reorganization of the state have provided new opportunities for cities to bypass nation-state structures and work with other cities internationally. This provides greater opportunity for cities to learn from each other and could be an important stimulus to the transfer of policies across the globe. Few studies exist however which focus on the processes that shape the search for policy lessons and how they are affected by the institutional context within which they are conducted. This paper describes research conducted in the field of urban transport and planning policy across eleven cities in Northern Europe and North America which seeks to explore the motivations for and mechanisms supporting learning about new policies. Thirty policies were examined across the eleven sites using document review and interviews with key actors. The paper explores the search for lessons and the learning process and considers the influences of institutional context, organizational behaviour, and individual cognitive constraints. The process of seeking out and learning policy lessons is defined by individuals operating within a particular policy space and exhibits a number of characteristics of strongly bounded rational choice. The search parameters are significantly influenced by preconceptions of the nature of the preferred solutions and the likelihood of cities in other contexts offering meaningful learning opportunities. Trusted peer networks emerge as critical in overcoming information overload, resource constraints, and uncertainty in the potential for policy transfer. The mobility of policies seems also to be linked to the mobility of the key transfer agents. Cities adopt quite different approaches to engaging with the communities of policy mobilizers which seems likely to impact on the pace and pattern of the movement of policies. Keywords: bounded rationality, policy transfer, mobility, transport

Suggested Citation

  • Greg Marsden & Karen Trapenberg Frick & Anthony D May & Elizabeth Deakin, 2012. "Bounded rationality in policy learning amongst cities: lessons from the transport sector," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(4), pages 905-920, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:44:y:2012:i:4:p:905-920

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    Cited by:

    1. Fan, Jin & He, Haonan & Wu, Yanrui, 2016. "Personal carbon trading and subsidies for hybrid electric vehicles," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 164-173.
    2. repec:eee:transa:v:101:y:2017:i:c:p:252-263 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:eee:transa:v:101:y:2017:i:c:p:238-251 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Macmillen, James & Stead, Dominic, 2014. "Learning heuristic or political rhetoric? Sustainable mobility and the functions of ‘best practice’," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 79-87.
    5. Busscher, Tim & Tillema, Taede & Arts, Jos, 2015. "In search of sustainable road infrastructure planning: How can we build on historical policy shifts?," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 42-51.
    6. Di, Xuan & Liu, Henry X., 2016. "Boundedly rational route choice behavior: A review of models and methodologies," Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 142-179.
    7. repec:eee:transa:v:110:y:2018:i:c:p:149-160 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Han, Ke & Szeto, W.Y. & Friesz, Terry L., 2015. "Formulation, existence, and computation of boundedly rational dynamic user equilibrium with fixed or endogenous user tolerance," Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 16-49.
    9. repec:eee:trapol:v:59:y:2017:i:c:p:17-27 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Di, Xuan & Liu, Henry X. & Pang, Jong-Shi & Ban, Xuegang (Jeff), 2013. "Boundedly rational user equilibria (BRUE): Mathematical formulation and solution sets," Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 300-313.

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