When individual actors are involved in a policy process, do they assess and revise their policy preferences according to their interests or are they open to other forms of arguments over time? This study examines the effect of policy actors’ interests on policy learning. It is based on a survey conducted in 2012 among 376 Belgian actors (from 38 organizations) involved in the European liberalization policy process of two network industries: the rail and electricity sectors. Borrowing from organizational research and behavioral economics, several hypotheses are drawn from a model of the individual shared by various policy approaches, such as the advocacy coalition framework. A “simple gain scores” approach to the measurement of policy learning is introduced. Regression analyses show that policy actors align their policy preferences with the impacts of policies on their own material well-being (personal interests) and the material prosperity of their organization (organizational interests). This tendency is independent of the importance that policy actors give to their interests in their everyday lives. This suggests that policy actors experience a sort of “interest shift” when they assess their policy preferences over time. This shift, however, exerts a limited influence on policy learning. The theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
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