Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Learning in Environmental Governance: A Meta-Analysis of the Research from 2004-2014

Friday, November 13, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sharon L. Smolinski, University of Colorado - Denver, Tanya Heikkila, University of Colorado, Andrea K. Gerlak, University of Arizona, Dave Huitema, VU University Amsterdam and Derek R. Armitage, University of Waterloo
Whether and how individuals and groups learn can shape the processes, outputs, and outcomes of environmental problem-solving by resource users, stakeholders and decision makers.  For both scholars and practitioners, understanding the factors that facilitate or constrain learning has become an essential research question in the literature on environmental policy and management. Yet some scholars have recently argued that this literature requires further development conceptually and empirically, as well as improved theoretical cohesion and advancement across the varied sub-fields of environmental governance. To examine this assumption, we conducted a meta-analysis of over150 peer-reviewed articles that focus on learning and environmental policy and management, identified using two different search engines and multiple search terms. We developed and applied a codebook to measure how the articles conceptualize, define, and ground their research theoretically.  It also measures how the articles approach learning empirically.  Through this approach, this paper explores the trends, progress, challenges and opportunities for advancing the literature.  The articles and the journals that emerged in the search suggested the literature draws from a wide diversity of sub-fields, including public policy, social-ecological systems, collaborative governance, international development, and natural resources management, among others.  We report evidence of challenges in conceptualization and operationalization, including insufficient clarity of definitions and a lack of attention to theoretical advancement.  In examining empirical studies, we find that few employ sophisticated data collection methods or advanced statistical methods, and many do not directly measure learning.  Yet the articles provide attention to diverse environmental issues and geographic scales, as well as attention to the types of processes that may facilitate learning.  In discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the literature, we show how the literature has developed over time.  Based on our results, we further suggest strategies for encouraging continued progress in the field and resolving ongoing difficulties with measuring and understanding learning across diverse environmental governance settings.  This study provides insight towards enhanced comprehension of how the literature has defined and explored the role of learning in environmental policy and management.  In doing so, our research can lay the foundation for improving research agendas and practice for problem solving in environmental governance across a range of contexts.