Policy relevance and the valence of interests: Policy learning in the liberalization of the railways and the electricity sector in Belgium

SLV (Stéphane) Moyson

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Policy learning designates the relatively enduring alterations of policymakers’ beliefs and preferences regarding policies, following new information and experience. Policy leaning being a crucial factor of policy change, the study of its factors is central. The objective of this paper is to assess the influence of policymakers’ interests on the evolution of their policy preferences. Personal interests and organizational interests are examined separately. In accordance with existing results, the paper shows that policymakers’ preferences actually evolve according to the perceived impacts (relevance) of policies on their interests. Beyond this, the valence characterizes the emotional quality of an idea that makes it more or less attractive. The valence of interests is high for people who attach a lot of importance to their material well-being in their daily life. Contrary to the hypothesis, the connection between the relevance of policies and the evolution of policymakers’ preferences is not significantly stronger among those policymakers who give much importance (valence) to their interests. The results, however, show that the policy preferences of the policymakers giving much importance to their personal interests evolved more negatively than the preferences of the other policymakers. Following prospect theory, this tendency could be interpreted as the result of a heuristic-based mode of reasoning, in which policymakers who are more attentive to their interests, to protect these interests, perceive policy changes and impacts more negatively. To demonstrate these results, 413 policymakers were surveyed about their attitude with regard to the liberalization policy process in two Belgian network industries: the railways and the electricity sector. They were asked to compare their beliefs regarding the European liberalization policy at the beginning of the process with their current beliefs. Their personal interests and their organizational interests were then considered. The influence of interests on belief and preference changes has never been explicitly addressed by the literature on policy learning. The paper also contributes to the literature on political attitudes by considering the influence of interests on attitudinal change and by introducing the concept of valence. It also improves the measurement of interests by adopting a subjective approach: rather than an indirect measure of interests deduced by the researcher from the standing of the respondent, the study is based on the subjective answers of the respondents about the impacts of the liberalization policy on their interests (relevance), as well as about the importance they give to their interests (valence).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2013
EventPaper at the 1st International Conference on Public Policy - Grenoble, France
Duration: 26 Jun 201328 Jun 2013


ConferencePaper at the 1st International Conference on Public Policy
CityGrenoble, France


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