Organizational Network Learning: A Theory and an Application

65 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 1 Jul 2014

See all articles by Nathan A. Paxton

Nathan A. Paxton

Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Date Written: August 26, 2010


This paper outlines a framework for understanding policy-making decisions based upon a combination of organizational learning and social network theories and then applies it to analyzing comparative public policy development responses to HIV/AIDS in the developing world.

First, the paper outlines a set of empirical expectations developed through a combination of network analysis and organizational learning theories. It describes how structural configurations of organizations influence the process by which these entities obtain, process, and transmit information; in particular, organizations (or groups of organizations) that resemble networks (as opposed to hierarchies or markets) will institutionally outperform and better adapt to environmental conditions. The paper argues that three aspects of networks - centralization, control, and communication - affect the mobility and cost of information, as well as the ability of actors to process that information. The paper then develops the theoretical underpinning for relating these network factors to a well-developed research program on organizational learning.

Second, using case studies of how Mexico and Botswana came to define, develop, and revise their HIV/AIDS policy regimes over the last two decades, the paper demonstrates that organizational network learning factors can be traced to the policy outcomes observed. In particular, the degree of network centralization appears particularly powerful as one explanandum of the relative degrees of success each country has had in addressing its HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Suggested Citation

Paxton, Nathan A., Organizational Network Learning: A Theory and an Application (August 26, 2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Nathan A. Paxton (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

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