Exploring governance learning: How policymakers draw on evidence, experience and intuition in designing participatory flood risk planning

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The importance of designing suitable participatory governance processes is generally acknowledged. However, less emphasis has been put on how decision-makers design such processes, and how they learn about doing so. While the policy learning literature has tended to focus on the substance of policy, little research is available on learning about the design of governance. Here, we explore different approaches to learning among German policymakers engaged in implementing the European Floods Directive. We draw on official planning documents and expert interviews with state-level policymakers to focus on learning about the procedural aspects of designing and conducting participatory flood risk management planning. Drawing on the policy learning and evidence-based governance literatures, we conceptualise six types of instrumental ‘governance learning’ according to sources of learning (endogenous and exogenous) and modes of learning (serial and parallel). We empirically apply this typology in the context of diverse participatory flood risk management planning processes currently unfolding across the German federal states. We find that during the first Floods Directive planning cycle, policymakers have tended to rely on prior experience in their own federal states with planning under the Water Framework Directive to inform the design and carrying out of participatory processes. In contrast, policymakers only sporadically look to experiences from other jurisdictions as a deliberate learning strategy. We argue that there is scope for more coordinated and systematic learning on designing effective governance, and that the latter might benefit from more openness to experimentation and learning on the part of policymakers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Pages (from-to)353-360
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2016