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While a phenomena dating back to antiquity, it wasn’t until the 1960s that American and European social scientists began seriously discussing occurrences in which it appeared as if localities, states and nations in close proximity were adopting similar policies and programs. These early diffusion studies led to a new field that has variously been referred to under titles such as policy transfer, lesson drawing, policy translations, and policy mobility. While having different focuses and agendas, all of these studies attempt to address issues associated with the movement (or active rejection of a possible movement) of ideas, information, policies, and programs from one political system to another. While all transfer studies have helped focus social scientists’ attention on the processes and actors involved in the transfer of ideas, techniques, policies, information, and programs, a better link to the knowledge utilization and learning literatures would help advance the usefulness of transfer studies. At a minimum, by considering the insights from the learning and utilization literatures, social scientists should begin understanding some of the outlook changes that individuals involved in transfer undertake that impact individual and institutional long-term understanding of the process and results. It will also start to help opening up the policymaking process to further scrutiny, particularly in relation to where information is flowing and how it is being used as a policy develops and changes.

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Institutional amnesia can be defined in simple terms as an organization’s inability to recall and use historical knowledge for present-day purposes. However, the concept requires to be defined more expansively so that its causes and effects can be fully understood in relation to crises and crisis management. This means conceptualizing institutional amnesia in broader terms as something that influences individual crisis managers, the formal institutional aspects of crisis management agencies, the cultural dimensions of those agencies, and the wider systemic location within which both actors and agencies reside. The analysis of the effects of amnesia in each of these areas reveals the profound effects that it can have on various aspects of crisis management. Institutional amnesia can affect the performance of crisis management policies and the politics of crises more generally. In particular, memory loss can be seen to influence crisis decision-making that relies upon historical analogy, crisis learning which demands that learned lessons are formally institutionalized across time, and meaning-making efforts, which draw upon recollections of the past to justify political projects in the present. The effects that institutional amnesia has on these three important areas illuminate its relevance to crisis analysis. Yet amnesia, and to some extent memory, continue to be concepts that are neglected, or referred to tangentially, by mainstream crisis scholars.