Expert government agencies’ contribution to public deliberation: balancing the need for expertise with political equality
Concern regarding an increasingly ambivalent relationship between expert knowledge and democratic decision-making comes from two directions. One laments the declining legitimacy of expert knowledge. The other identifies risks in experts growing in strength due to scientisation of decision-making. Both raise concerns about democratic impacts, where the gap between demands of knowledge and public understanding of science becomes colonised by populists or technocratic authoritarians. A critical challenge is therefore to find working relationships between the public and science that balance the need for expertise with political equality. Government agencies that produce scientific evidence are pivotal to meeting this challenge. Depending on agencies’ technical reputation, they may contribute to public deliberation, but they may also freeze deliberation by framing debates in narrow terms. To explore how relationships between the public and sciences might develop, this project will investigate how government agencies’ efforts to maintain reputations for technical expertise influence public democratic deliberation. To do so it will map relationships between publics and expert government agencies through surveys, experiments and comparative case studies. Bridging the intersections of expertise, public opinion, deliberative theory, and government agency reputational literatures, it will focus on agencies within Health and Environment portfolios in Sweden and Australia.
The project aims to contribute insights and findings through several publications in political science journals and other scientific venues.
The project will:
- Compare and contrast how expert government agencies in Australia and Sweden generate and protect strong reputations among key stakeholders, through in-depth comparative case studies
- Investigate how and to what extent expert agencies are embedded in contexts that contribute to high-quality public deliberations, employing tools such as deliberative mini-publics.