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The Role of Experts in Policy-Making: Bridging the Gap Between Normative Theory and Empirical Analysis

Political Theory
Knowledge
Policy-Making
Johan Christensen
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Johan Christensen
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Cathrine Holst
Universitetet i Oslo
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Abstract

While scholarship on the role of experts in policy-making is growing rapidly, a disconnect is visible in the literature. On the one hand, there are sweeping diagnoses of ‘technocracy’ or ‘epistocracy’. These grand diagnoses often lack a clear empirical basis and disregard the conflicting realities on the ground. And they assess expertization as either good – typically for decision quality – or bad – typically for democracy, disregarding the complex task of normative justification under conditions of reasonable pluralism. On the other hand, empirical studies of the involvement of experts in policy-making often allude to the implications for democracy but rarely address this issue in more than a cursory way. The paper seeks to bridge this gap between normative theory and empirical analysis. Based on different reasonable conceptions of democracy, it develops indicators of legitimate expert involvement in policy-making that can be assessed empirically. These indicators are applied to the involvement of experts in policy formulation through advisory bodies. The paper analyzes an extensive new dataset of Norwegian ad hoc advisory commissions appointed by government covering the period 1972-2016 and including about 1500 advisory commissions.