SKAPE members are broadly interested in how different kinds of knowledge for/about policy are produced and legitimised, and how these various forms of knowledge come to shape – and be shaped by – governance and political debate.
We currently divide our research into three main topics:
1. The Social Life of Policy Knowledge
Processes of ‘knowledge exchange’ have become increasingly complex over the past few decades, with growing pluralism in the types of knowledge considered relevant to policymaking, as well as the proliferation of information available in the networked society. Yet scholars of public policy still tend to treat questions around the production, translation and legitimation of knowledge for policy largely as a black box. This strand of research explores the social life of knowledge for policy. How are different kinds of knowledge for policy produced, inscribed, translated and disseminated? How are these different knowledges – whether lay or expert – screened, processed and enacted by policy actors? On what basis do they derive their authority? And how do the norms and practices guiding this knowledge selection and use in turn shape processes of knowledge production by scientists and researchers? Drawing on ethnography, sociology of science and organizational sociology methods and theories, our research aims to produce new insights into the complex and shifting relationship between knowledge production and policy making.
2. Monitoring and Governance
How do policymakers, scientific experts and wider publics observe and measure policy outcomes? Most OECD countries have experienced a huge rise in the use of indicators and performance measures to track policy. Performance is measured, evaluated and compared through various forms of inspection, targets, league tables and benchmarking. How and why have such practices been developed in different sectors, and with what impact for policymaking and public services? How are such monitoring practices taken up and diffused across EU/OECD countries? Our research examines the ways in which such attempts at rationalizing policy can be ritualistic, decoupled from informal practices; how the imposition of targets and rankings can influence – and distort – behaviour in unanticipated ways; and how such methodologies have affected European and international governance.
3. Governance and the Democratisation of Knowledge
How do different ‘publics’ participate in the production of scientific knowledge and policy-making? While the division between ‘lay’ and ‘expert’ knowledge has never been a binary one, over the last thirty years there has been a dramatic surge in public participation in policy-relevant science. Citizen scientists collect and analyse data about environmental pollution; patients fund and conduct their own research studies; activists do not just disseminate evidence, they generate it. Our research explores the practices, technologies and consequences of this ‘participatory turn’ in the environmental sciences, biomedicine, public health and education. Interrogating the kinds of knowledge produced through these activities, we ask how they are transforming traditional understandings of what counts as knowledge, its relationship to ethics, lived experience, and the ways we engage with the world around us.