Are all experiments created equal? A framework for analysis of the learning potential of policy experiments in environmental governance

Belinda McFadgen, Dave Huitema

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Environmental changes are increasing the need to understand complex cross-scale feedbacks in social–ecological systems. However, consistent conceptualisation of learning associated with environmental governance is lacking, and research mainly centres on individual variables. This paper identifies a typology of such learning, and theorises about configurations of variables. Focusing on experimentation as an intervention geared towards learning, it proposes a definition of policy experiment. A theoretical framework is presented, summarising a typology of experiments based on learning-related variables embedded in design choices, and reflected in institutional rule aggregations. The framework facilitates systematic analysis of real-world cases and testing of hypotheses on the effects of different types of experiment on learning. A case study demonstrates application of the framework. Results suggest future research paths that include attention to additional relevant variables. The findings have relevance for scholars interested in experimentation and learning, and environmental policy-makers considering experimentation to assess policy innovations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1765-1784
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Environmental Planning and Management
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Experimentation
  • institutional design
  • policy learning
  • science-policy interface

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