How British think tanks weathered the 2008 financial crisis

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A blogpost by Marcos Gonzalez Hernando, Affiliated Researcher at the University of Cambridge, Senior Researcher at Think Tank for Action on Social Change (FEPS-TASC)

More than ten years after Lehman Brothers’ file for bankruptcy, the economic and political fallout of the global economic crisis can still be felt. Its effects have not only been political and economic, but also epistemic: economists were suddenly and resoundly believed to have failed in preventing or predicting what they had, for decades, been seen to have undisputed authority over. Nevertheless, those seeking to be considered experts on economic matters became ever more visible, as explanations for what went wrong were urgently demanded by policymakers and the wider public. (more…)

Beyond diagnosis? Shifting approaches in psychiatry

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A blogpost by Martyn Pickersgill, Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society at The University of Edinburgh


The use of biological ideas and techniques in the study of mental ill-health and the practice of psychiatry is nothing new. But just because it isn’t new doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that’s going on in research and in the clinic: many other notions (psychological, sociological, and so on) interpolate with somatic emphases in psychiatry. (more…)

How to engage effectively and ‘speak truth to power’

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A blogpost by Prof Paul Cairney, University of Stirling

The story of ‘speaking truth to power’ comes up frequently in these science-policy debates. Many scientists describe their role in producing the best scientific evidence, seeking to maximise the role of scientific evidence in policy, and criticising policymakers vociferously if they don’t use evidence to inform their decisions.

Yet, as I and Dr Richard Kwiatkowski (Cranfield University) argue in ‘How to Communicate Effectively with Policymakers’, ‘without establishing legitimacy and building trust’ such strategies can be counter productive. (more…)

The role of socialisation in education governance: the case of the OECD country reviews [1]

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A blogpost by Dr. Sotiria Grek, University of Edinburgh

As already widely debated by academics and policy actors alike, the OECD has instigated a new era in education governance, primarily through its construction of a commensurable transnational education space. Given the vast policy implications for systems worldwide, the predominant idea is that it is OECD’s technical capacity to decontextualize and compare that became the primary force behind its success. Nevertheless, there are other aspects to OECD’s policy work that have been systematically ignored; for example, (more…)

Trusting in Expertise? Knowledge, Advice and Policy in the Environmental Domain

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Prof. Susan Owens, Fellow of the British Academy, introduces her Skape Keynote Lecture, 30 May 2018

At a time when trust in expertise is widely believed to be in decline, this lecture addressed three interrelated sets of questions, with particular reference to the role of expert advisors in the policy processes of modern democracies, and with some emphasis on the environmental domain.

I consider, first, how we think about expertise and its roles—how have expert advisors and their interactions with policy- and decision-making been conceptualised (in academic literatures and in public and political discourse)? I then turn to the important questions of trust in, and the trustworthiness of, expert advisors, asking why it is thought that such trust has become fragile and examining various sources of evidence for this claim. Finally, I attempt to draw out some of the attributes and practices that engender trust in expertise, and consider how and to what extent these might be nurtured and maintained in modern advisory institutions. (more…)

A word that counts? The promise and pitfall of ruling the world by numbers

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A blogpost by Morten Jerven (University of Edinburgh)

This blog post is based on a talk at the SKAPE seminar on 2 May 2018

Perhaps one of the most challenging notion to take on board in the governance of today’s world is that not all that counts can be counted. We increasingly rely on numbers as shortcuts to information about the world that we do not have time to digest.

Unfortunately, we are being led down the wrong path by the United Nations and its experts. In 2014, the U.N. High-Level Panel delivered its report with recommendations for the Sustainable Development Goals, subsequently to be adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2015. One small aspect of the report very soon caught everyone’s attention. Buried on page 8 was a call for a “data revolution” in development. It generated a frenzy of enthusiasm among the international development community. (more…)

Reckoning with Transvaginal Mesh: Clinical Labour and Affect Economies

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A blogpost by Ariel Ducey, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary

This blog post is based on a talk at the SKAPE seminar on 25 April 2018

For a number of years, I have been collaborating with colleagues in surgery, health services research, and bioethics in studying how and why a community of surgeons changes their practice and the consequences of how and why they change their practice.  It could be argued that any study of contemporary surgery could or should play a part in guiding policy, but in our work such an argument feels especially pressing – we have focused on pelvic floor surgery, the area of medical practice responsible for the highly controversial adoption of transvaginally-implanted synthetic mesh for the treatment of some kinds of prolapse and urinary incontinence in women.


The Holy Grails of good governance: Why we need naïve policymaking ideals in cynical times

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A blogpost by John Boswell, University of Southampton

This blog post is based on a talk at the SKAPE seminar on 11 April 2018


Among other atrocities, the last year or so has seen leading Brexiteers weasel out of their side-of-the-bus commitment to redirect £350 million per week to the NHS on leaving the EU; Jeremy Hunt assert his own academic credentials over two of the tallest titans of contemporary British science in disputes over healthcare quality under his stewardship; and Theresa May put pressure on NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens for having the temerity to challenge the sunny notion of a windfall (read, a cut in real terms) for health spending. In such times, it is surely difficult to feel optimistic about democratic governance in British health policy or anywhere else. Indeed, it is hard not be cynical.


Neuroscience and Public Policy: Understanding, Questioning, Deliberating

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A blogpost by Martyn Pickersgill, University of Edinburgh – @PickersgillM

Research on the brain is increasingly drawn upon in policy-making and family services, with consequences for parenting advice and parenting practices. Especially in the early years of children’s lives, infant brains are said to grow rapidly, and this notion has informed policies around parenting and services for parents. Policy and services relating to older adults as well have come to link increasingly with neuroscientific notion and findings. (more…)

The use of evaluation in six Norwegian directories

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Øyunn Syrstad Høydal, PhD candidate, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HIOA)

This blog post informs a talk at the SKAPE seminar on 13 December 2017

10 years ago, I started work in the communication department of a Norwegian directorate. My background was from the private sector and one of the first things that caught my attention was all the fuss about evaluations. Evaluations were presented by the leadership as some kind of new magic medicine: providing knowledge, educating the organization and its partners, changing policies and making the world a better place. All this got me interested in the phenomenon of evaluation.

At present, I am doing a PhD project in the field of evaluation research at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied . Allthough evaluation is considered an important source of knowledge in the Norwegian political administrative system, hardly any research is done on the public use of evaluations and the consequences of an increase in evaluation activity (more…)