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

Andrea K. Gerlak, Tanya Heikkila, Sharon L. Smolinski, Dave Huitema, Derek Armitage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-371
Number of pages37
JournalPolicy Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Environmental challenges
  • Governance
  • Learning
  • Policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • Public Administration
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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