Experts and evidence in deliberation : scrutinising the role of witnesses and evidence in mini-publics, a case study

Roberts, Jennifer J. and Lightbody, Ruth and Low, Ragne and Elstub, Stephen (2020) Experts and evidence in deliberation : scrutinising the role of witnesses and evidence in mini-publics, a case study. Policy Sciences, 53 (1). pp. 3-32. ISSN 0032-2687 (

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Experts hold a prominent position in guiding and shaping policy-making; however, the nature of expert input to decision-making is a topic of public debate. A key aspect of deliberative processes such as citizens’ juries is the provision of information to participants, usually from expert witnesses. However, there is currently little guidance on some of the challenges that organisers and advocates of citizens’ juries must consider regarding expert involvement, including the role of the witness, issues around witness identification and selection, the format of evidence provision, the evidence itself, and how these factors affect the experience of the participants and the witnesses. Here, we explore these issues through detailed case study of three citizens’ juries on onshore wind farm development in Scotland, including interviews with the witnesses involved. This is complemented by examining a cohort of mini-publics held on energy and the environment topics, and, where possible, discussion with the program organisers. We identify a series of issues and sensitivities that can compromise the effectiveness and fairness of the evidence-giving in mini-publics, for the participants, the witnesses and the organisers. We recommend approaches and areas for future work to address these challenges. This is the first time that the ways of involving witnesses in such processes have been so comprehensively examined, and is timely given the increasing interest in democratic innovations such as mini-publics and the current discourse concerning experts.