›  Learning in governance networks: A systematic review of public administration research

Learning in governance networks: A systematic review of public administration research

  • Riche, Cécile (UCL)
  • Aubin, David (UCL)


Related to the decentralization and horizontalization of decision powers, “networked governance” involves a greater variety of actors in decision-making processes. This can help solving complex public problems characterized by conflicting demands (Sørensen & Torfing, 2014). In this respect, individual and collective learning are key processes of networked governance. In networks, transfers of information and deliberation can facilitate individual acquisition of information and belief changes (Leach et al., 214). Individual learning, in turn, can foster the development of collective understandings of public problems and solutions, as well as joint action (Heikkila & Gerlak, 2013). Surprisingly enough, however, public administration research lacks an overview of existing studies on the relations between governance networks and learning processes within collaborative arrangements. Building on a review of 50 public administration studies collected and analyzed with the PRISMA method, the objective of this paper is to provide such an overview.

Our statistics demonstrate that a majority of the reviewed articles concern North American cases of collaborative partnerships related to the management of natural resources. Methodologically speaking, cases studies and surveys are most common, but social network analysis becomes popular (e.g., Newig & al., 2010). Our findings point to two main gaps in our understanding of the causal chain between networks and learning processes. On the one hand, existing studies demonstrate that drivers and impediments of networked learning operate at different levels. However, few studies assess the relative importance of learning factors at different levels at the same time. On the other hand, existing research remains limited on the processes through which individual learning becomes collective, which we relate to weaknesses in the operationalization and measurement of learning. All in all, this review demonstrates that the role of learning processes is more important than enough, in 21st-century forms of governance building on networks. We conclude with an agenda for future studies in public administration research on learning within governance networks.