Experts and evidence in public decision making

Roberts, Jennifer and Lightbody, Ruth (2017) Experts and evidence in public decision making. Other. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

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Abstract

Experts hold a prominent position in guiding and shaping policy making and often work closely with governments. The nature of expert input to decision making has recently become a topic of public debate. The particular saliency of debates about the role of experts can be set against what we already know about how people form opinions on complex topics – views can be shaped by many factors, including the perspectives and arguments put forward by others. In light of this, we have looked at how experts and evidence are used in deliberative public forums, with a focus on the citizens’ jury model, to draw out lessons for practitioners and organisers of such ‘mini publics’ on how to best manage the contributions of experts. During a citizens’ jury, participants are supported to learn more about the topic at hand before they go on to deliberate the issue and agree collective recommendations. Citizens’ juries are one of several deliberative processes, which are a useful ‘tool’ in the toolbox of policy practitioners. Such processes have been used in a variety of ways to support decision making processes. A key aspect of citizens’ juries is the provision of information to participants. Although this is done by a variety of means, the opportunity to hear from and question experts or ‘lay’ witnesses is usually a significant element. This raises a number of issues that organisers and advocates of citizens’ juries must reckon with, including issues around witness selection, the format of evidence provision, the evidence itself, and how the witnesses themselves are supported. Ultimately, evidence must be put forward in a way that is informative to participants, and fair to the witnesses presenting the evidence. We reviewed ten deliberative processes, with an emphasis on citizens’ juries on topics relating to energy and environment.