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Learning About Learning in Contested Policy Contexts: Pushing the Advocacy Coalition Framework in New Directions

Environmental Policy
Public Policy
Policy-Making
Andrea Gerlak
University of Arizona
Tanya Heikkila
University of Colorado Denver
Andrea Gerlak
University of Arizona
Tanya Heikkila
University of Colorado Denver
Chris Weible
University of Colorado Denver

Abstract

One of the perennial questions addressed by policy scholars deals with how and under what conditions policy actors learn and can translate that learning to new policy outcomes. The Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) is one of the more established frameworks that has tackled this question. Yet, ACF research has stagnated in its empirical and theoretical approaches to learning. This paper will infuse the ACF’s understanding of learning with lessons from emerging literature on policy learning and lessons from literature on the sources of policy conflicts. This paper will focus specifically on building lessons about the social (i.e. interpersonal), cognitive (e.g. intrapersonal), and behavioral factors that can shape learning in a contentious policy subsystem. The empirical context for this paper is a study of a policy subsystem in the US state of Colorado focusing on oil and gas development that uses hydraulic fracturing. The data for this research come from surveys conducted in 2015 and 2017 of engaged policy actors in the subsystem, which included questions about the degree to which policy actors change or reinforce their policy beliefs. In addition to helping bridge new literature on learning with the ACF, this paper will contribute broader insights into the policy process by identifying the constraints on learning, or reinforcement of policy beliefs, around contentious issues. This paper is proposed for the panel: Cross-fertilization and Integration of Theories into Policy Process Frameworks