Building a Conceptual Approach to Collective Learning: Lessons for Public Policy Scholars


  • Tanya Heikkila,

  • Andrea K. Gerlak


In public policy processes, collective learning among policy actors is important in shaping how these processes unfold and the types of policy outcomes that may result. Despite a widespread interest in learning by policy scholars, researchers face a number of conceptual and theoretical challenges in studying learning across different collective settings within policy processes. In this article, we offer a theoretically grounded approach to defining and understanding collective-level learning. In defining learning, we first draw out the connection between learning processes and learning products, both cognitive and behavioral. In examining learning processes, we further explore the relationship between individual and collective learning. Then we identify and define the key characteristics of collective settings that will likely influence learning processes. We conclude by offering recommendations for policy scholars to apply this approach in studies of learning across diverse policy contexts.