Institutions Equipped to Learn

Lenoble, J & De Schutter, O, Reflexive Governance: Redefining The Public Interest in a Pluralistic World, 2010

14 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2014

Date Written: June 6, 2014


This chapter describes our core intuition about the successive failures of the regulatory state and of the neoliberal state promoting market-based solutions: The crisis of these pre-existing, ready-made models is not simply due to the fact that these models were wrong. The crisis runs deeper: it is attributable to the fact that these models believed they were correct — that they could provide answers to the need to manage complexity. It is the very idea of a ‘ model’ that should now be questioned. The crisis of the Welfare State ran much deeper than its symptoms, in particular unsustainably high levels of public deficit, in the context of changing demographics and economic globalisation. Also, the demise of the neo-liberal state stems not simply from a failure to recognise the reality of market failures and to provide public goods at an acceptably high level. Rather, both models failed also because of their inability to rethink the mental image of the norm on which they were premised. They failed not simply because they were ill-adapted to a dynamic reality: they failed because their representation of what adaptation means was deeply inadequate. We propose, as an alternative, a learning-based theory of governance, which asks how the actors involved in collective action and problem-solving can be supported in operating a revision of the assumptions guiding both their description of the problem, and their choice of solutions. The genetic theory of governance we propose posits that such revision can be triggered by requesting from these actors both an exercise in reconstruction and an exercise in political imagination. This chapter explains how.

Keywords: Governance theory, Pragmatism, Learning-based theory of governance

Suggested Citation

De Schutter, Olivier, Institutions Equipped to Learn (June 6, 2014). Lenoble, J & De Schutter, O, Reflexive Governance: Redefining The Public Interest in a Pluralistic World, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Olivier De Schutter (Contact Author)

University of Louvain (Belgium) ( email )

Place Montesquieu, 3
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348

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