Policy Learning in Nascent Subsystems: Complex Contagion and Belief Change in REDD+ Policy Networks in Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam
Policy learning as the acquisition of new ideas is an area of study that has received the attention of many scholars. For example, the Advocacy Coalition Framework contends that policy learning can lead to policy change by changing the perceptions of the seriousness and causes of a policy problem, thereby also altering the perceived need to address the policy problem in question. We propose that there is one possible source of policy learning that has so far been overlooked by many researchers: the structure of network connections between policy actors. Centola and Macy have argued that normatively-laden belief changes occur only through complex contagion: actor has to receive social reinforcement from more than one contact in their social network for change to take place. We suggest that social reinforcement is especially important for policy learning in nascent subsystems because in these cases policy actors’ opinions are not cast in stone. We test the idea of complex contagion as a source of belief change in the context of the nascent policy subsystems of the REDD+ initiative. REDD+ aims to contribute to climate change mitigation action by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in the Global South. We analyze two rounds of policy network survey data from Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam (N=98) and find that those connections between policy actors that follow the complex contagion pattern explain belief changes in Indonesia and Vietnam. The results support the idea that complex contagion in policy networks enables policy learning. Our results also show that policy learning does not necessarily lead to policy change but it can also maintain the status quo.