Policy learning, motivated scepticism, and the politics of shale gas development in British Columbia and Quebec

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What is policy learning and how do we know when we observe it? This article develops an original way of operationalizing policy learning at the individual and subsystem level. First, it juxtaposes four types of opinion change at the individual level – opinion shifting; opinion softening; position-taking and opinion hardening. This last change, we argue is indicative of motivated scepticism, a non-learning process that we borrow from public opinion studies. Second, we identify factors associated with opinion change and argue that some of them indicate policy learning, while others point to motivated scepticism. Lastly, we examine learning and motivated scepticism against patterns of opinion convergence (the expected outcome of learning) and polarization (the expected outcome of motivated scepticism) at the subsystem level. We illustrate the use of this approach to study policy learning with the case of shale gas development in two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Quebec. While, we find clear signs of individual learning and motivated scepticism in both provinces, we find that policy learning is more prevalent in Quebec than in British Columbia at the subsystem level.

This content has been updated on 31 October 2019 at 15 h 53 min.