Prof. Susan Owens (University of Cambridge): Expertise, policy-making and the conditions of trust
Professor Susan Owens is visiting the Science Studies Colloquium Series. Susan Owens is Emeritus Professor of Environment and Policy at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the British Academy. She has researched and published widely in the field of environmental governance, focusing on policy processes in modern democracies and in particular on the role of knowledge, evidence, ideas and expertise in policy formation and change.
The seminar is open for everyone!
Trust in expertise is widely believed to be in decline. Professor Owens will argue that addressing this issue demands nuanced understandings of the role of expert advice in modern democracies. Examining the contradictory evidence about public trust in expertise, she will suggest that other phenomena are sometimes interpreted (or misrepresented) as distrust. She will argue, too, that insisting on the separation of ‘science’ and ‘politics’ can be detrimental to the building of trust, especially where complex science–policy controversies are concerned.
In the lecture, Professor Owens will address three interrelated sets of questions, focusing in particular on the role of expert advisors in the policy processes of modern democracies. She will explore different ways in which experts and their interactions with policy- and decision-making have been conceptualised (in academic literatures and in public discourse), noting that understandings of these interactions are enhanced by attention to social processes such as policy learning and boundary work. She will then turn to the vexed question of trust in expertise, examining various sources of evidence that support or challenge the claim that trust has become fragile. Finally, drawing on her own extensive research on one of the UK’s most influential environmental advisory bodies (the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 1970–2011), she will identify attributes and practices that have engendered trust, and consider how these might be nurtured in modern advisory institutions.