Two Reflexive Methods for Evaluating Public Policy Practice in Urban Network Contexts: Learning History and Learning Evaluation

  • Michael DuijnEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Sub-National Governance book series (PSSNG)


This chapter explores policy evaluation that is used to inform new policy practice. Two reflexive methods for evaluating public policy practice—Learning History and Learning Evaluation—are introduced and discussed in a theoretical and practical sense. The potential value of these methods is discussed by showing their recent application to complex urban issues. The reflexive and constructivist nature of policy evaluation must lead to results that are recognised by target audiences and will lead to conclusions that can be supported by them. As such, the learning impacts of the study itself can be maximised. By deliberative inclusion of the target audiences, researchers can organise how they might productively contribute to the evaluation study at hand, without violating “common rules of good science”, or changing the evaluation instruments or results. Learning from evaluation refers to the wish to identify or initiate visible change, often presented, of course, as an improvement of the evaluated public policy practice and its artefacts (objectives, resources, relations, skills, etc.). Both methods appear to be capable of actively stimulating and facilitating learning for public policy practice through evaluation. Both learning evaluations and learning histories must be deployed in a learning manner. Through an iterative research process—of targeting, applying, reflecting, readjusting, and reapplying—in-depth insight into the evaluation issue will be gained from different perspectives, held true or relevant by the target audiences. For public policy professionals involved, both learning evaluations and learning histories appear to be safe research procedures for sharing their knowledge of and experiences with “what was going on”. Naming, shaming, and blaming of events, people, or agencies are avoided because the multi-perspective approach of both methods shows vividly that there are more sides to the story, taking the evaluation and the subsequent discussion away from conclusions that are too easy or too hasty.


  1. Argyris, C., & Schön, D. A. (1978). Organizational learning: A theory in action perspective. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  2. Barker, L. M. (1997). Learning and behavior—Biological, psychological and sociocultural perspectives. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, P. (1990). In other words: Essays towards a reflexive sociology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Burns, R. (1995). The adult learner at work. Sydney: Business and Professional Publishing.Google Scholar
  5. Duijn, M. (2009). Embedded reflection on public policy innovation—A relativist/pragmatist inquiry into the practice of innovation and knowledge transfer in the WaterINNovation program. Delft: Eburon.Google Scholar
  6. Duijn, M., van Leeuwen, C., & Janssen, A. (2019). Eindnotitie Lerende Evaluatie Maranathakerk Dordrecht (in Dutch). Gouverneur: Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.Google Scholar
  7. Eberg, J. (1997). Waste policy and learning—Policy dynamics of waste management and waste incineration in the Netherlands and Bavaria. Delft: Eburon.Google Scholar
  8. Edelenbos, J., & van Buuren, A. (2005). The learning evaluation—A theoretical and empirical exploration. Evaluation Review, 29(6), 591–612. Scholar
  9. Frissen, P. H. A. (2000). Kennis en de Betuweroute. In R. J. in ’t Veld (Ed.), Willens en Wetens: De Rollen van Kennis over Milieu en Natuur in Beleidsprocessen. Utrecht: Uitgeverij Lemma BV, RMNO.Google Scholar
  10. Guba, E., & Lincoln, Y. (1989). Fourth generation evaluation. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Guthrie, E. R. (1942). Conditioning: A theory of learning in terms of stimulus, response, and association, in: The forty-first yearbook of the national society for the study of education. Part II. The psychology of learning. In N. B. Henry (Ed.), The national society for the study of education (pp. 17–60), Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hilgard, E. R., & Bower, G. H. (1975). Theories of learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.Google Scholar
  13. Kleiner, A., & Roth, G. L. (1996). Field manual for the learning historian (Center for Organizational Learning, MIT-COL and Reflection Learning Associates, Version 4.0, pp. 1–3).Google Scholar
  14. Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Lee, K. N. (1993). Compass and gyroscope—Integrating science and politics for the environment. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  16. Lewin, K. (1954). Behavior and development as a function of the total situation. In L. Carmichael (Ed.), Manual of child psychology (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  17. Louis, M. R., & Bartunek, J. M. (1992). Insider/outsider research teams: Collaboration across diverse perspectives. Journal of Management Inquiry, 1(2), 101–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. MacIntyre, A. (1981). After virtue: A study in moral theory. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press.Google Scholar
  19. McGill, I., & Beaty, L. (2001). Action learning, a guide for professional, management, and educational development (2nd ed.). London: Kogan-Page.Google Scholar
  20. Parent, R., & Béliveau, J. (2007). Organisational knowledge transfer: Turning research into action through a learning history. The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 5(1), 73–80.Google Scholar
  21. Piaget, J. (1980). Six psychological studies. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  22. Roth, G., & Bradbury, H. (2008). Learning history: An action research practice in support of actionable learning. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), The Sage handbook of action research. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Roth, G. L., & Kleiner, A. (1995). Learning about organisational learning—Creating a learning history. Cambridge, MA: MIT Center for Organisational Learning, Sloan School of Management.Google Scholar
  24. Sabatier, P. A. (1993). Policy change over a decade or more. In P. A. Sabatier & J. C. Jenkins-Smith (Eds.), Policy change and learning—An advocacy coalition approach. Boulder, San Francisco, and Oxford: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  25. Stufflebeam, D. L. (2000). The CIPP model for evaluation. In D. L. Stufflebeam, G. F. Madaus, & T. Kellaghan (Eds.), Evaluation models: Viewpoints on educational and human services evaluation (2nd ed., pp. 280–317). Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic.Google Scholar
  26. Thomas, W. I., & Thomas, D. S. (1929). The child in America: Behavior problems and programs (2nd ed.). New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  27. Van der Knaap, P. (1997). Lerende overheid, intelligent beleid – de lessen van beleidsevaluatie en beleidsadvisering voor de structuurfondsen van de Europese Unie (in Dutch). Den Haag: Phaedrus uitgeverij.Google Scholar
  28. Van Hulst, M. J. (2008). Town Hall Tales—Culture as storytelling in local government. Delft: Eburon.Google Scholar
  29. Verbeeten, T. C. M. (1999). Wise use of the Wadden Sea? A study of policy-oriented learning (Thela thesis). Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  30. Wagenaar, H., & Cook, N. S. (2003). Understanding policy practices: Action, dialectic and deliberation in policy analysis. In M. A. Hajer & H. Wagenaar (Eds.), Deliberative policy analysis. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Willems, M., & Duijn, M. (2010). Learning history Renovatie Hogesluis (in Dutch). Report no. 034.23523. Delft, TNO Bouw en Ondergrond.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public Administration and SociologyErasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations