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Citizen Science: Including Lay Expertise in Political Science

Democracy
Knowledge
Policy-Making
Thomas Palfinger
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Thomas Palfinger
Austrian Academy of Sciences

Abstract

The rise of the unelected (Vibert 2007) raises concerns that decision-making in representative democracies is in a state of crisis, because a growing amount of expert commissions and scientific knowledge make policy-making less accessible for citizens. As the complexity of political decisions increases, so does the number of citizens who no longer feel they are well represented. Democratic systems are torn in the tension between growing numbers of citizen seeking for more participation and the trend of officials seeking for more expert knowledge in decision-making (Hysing 2013). For this reason, the number of democracy conflicts is rising and the inclusion of lay people in the role of experts is demanded. Despite growing calls for more ‘coproduction’ (Sorrentino et al 2018) and critical assessments of evidence-based policy (Strassheim 2017), interpretive policy analysis and public administration have not effectively challenged the dominance of trained experts, not least because our own methods (such as élite interviews) tend to reproduce the expert-centred nature of policymaking (Paul and Palfinger under review). Although there is a broad discourse in the social sciences on how phenomena such as citizen science democratise (scientific) expertise, only few attempts have been made in the social sciences to apply citizen science research so far. Among other reasons a major issue hindering the implementation of citizen science in the social sciences is that the researching citizen would often be subject and object of the conducted research at the same time. Despite the legitimate critique on the term citizen science, related practices and the issue of keeping subject and object apart, this should not entrap social sciences to cold-shoulder the potential of citizen science. This is especially true for political science, when it considers itself in a supporting role to democracy. This paper therefore seeks to conceptualise the lessons learned from the work in various citizen science projects, and will give examples on how these lessons could be used in political science. Bibliography Hysing, Erik (2013): “Representative democracy, empowered experts, and citizen participation: visions of green governing”. Environmental Politics, 22(6): 955-974. Paul, K. and Palfinger, T. (under review): “Reframing expertise: exploring vaccination policy with a relational approach”. Evidence & Policy. Sorrentino, M., Sicilia, M., and Howlett, M. (2018): “Understanding co-production as a new public governance tool”. Policy and Society 37(3): 277-293. Strassheim, H. (2017) “‘Bringing the political back in: reconstructing the debate over evidence-based policy. A response to Newman’”. Critical Policy Studies, 11(2): 235-245. Vibert, Frank (2007): The rise of the unelected: democracy and the new separation of powers. Cambridge University Press.