Towards Knowledge Democracy Conference (2): Boundary work

Robert Hoppe's diagramIn the session in which Iina Hellsten and I took part at the Knowledge Democracy conference last month on Boundary work: implications for the science policy interface, Robert Hoppe made an interesting presentation on Scientific advice and public policy, expert advisers and policymakers discourses on boundary work.

Robert Hoppe identified four different models of boundary work arrangements from the academic literature: an advocacy model, bureaucracy, social engineers and learning models. You can see all the different models in the figure here on axes of divergence/convergence and science/public policy.

Although Hoppe identifies idealised types in the situation of interactions between science and policy in the Netherlands, it did make me think about how we see ourselves as IKM Emergent because we definitely see ourselves as boundaries workers although not narrowly between science and policy in the sense that it is explored in this paper. According to Hoppe,   so-called divergers experience a gap between science and politics/policymaking and that it is their self-evident task to act as a bridge. In the Dutch situation, Hoppe argues that they spread over four discourses: ‘rational facilitators’, ‘knowledge brokers’, ‘megapolicy strategists’, and ‘policy analysts’. Other boundary workers aspire to convergence: they believe that science and politics ought to be natural allies in preparing collective decisions. But ‘policy advisors’ excepted, ‘postnormalists’ and ‘deliberative proceduralists’ find this very hard to achieve.

Well, some of this went over my head. For example, what are post-normalist and deliberative proceduralists in the context of boundary work? The text says:

Postnormalists wish to create and institutionalize stable role and interaction patterns, so that scientists and policymakers may engage in productive, open dialogue, and integrated assessment of all pro’s and con’s and uncertainties surrounding sustainability issues.

Deliberative proceduralists may be characterized as saying:v good boundary work requires a procedure and process-criteria that allow robust, but trusting parties, dissidents included, to fully and openly debate, each from their own perspective on the common good, policy proposals and their concomitant uncertainties as well as normative issues.

Looking at these different roles of knowledge brokers, IKM seems to be on the one hand a knowledge broker:

knowledge brokers believe that, in spite of (well-known) cognitive impairments of politics and bureaucracy, and in spite of the inevitable gap between politics and science, under favourable conditions, knowledge brokers in government may exploit opportunities for instrumental learning.

and trying to fill the role of a megapolicy strategist:

boundary workers engaging in strategic megapolicy-type boundary discourse claim a government-oriented think-tank function, by verification and critical examination of strategic policy guidelines and assumptions.

However, there are mixes in different types of approach to boundary work and I’m wondering if a network, like IKM, doesn’t use different approaches at different times in different contexts. For example, an issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal is the work of a knowledge broker while organising the display at the EADI conference is the work of a megapolicy strategists, and in some workshops, IKM is the rational facilitator of accommodation, another idealised role.

Well, I don’t know if these musings really get me anywhere (or if I have explained it all well enough to follow) but at least, next time, when I feel inadequate at some social gathering and someone asks me what I do for a living, I can say with insouciance  ‘Oh, I’m a member of a network of would-be megapolicy strategists.’

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