Mediating knowledge: policy negotiation and anticipatory practices under uncertainty

Models are used in policy-making to provide evidence in support of policy decisions. Such evidence helps civil servants to map out and reduce uncertainty around the outcomes of policy interventions. But how does modelling evidence relate to other kinds of knowledge that civil servants rely on when planning and implementing a policy? How does this knowledge ‘travel’ within complex bureaucratic organisations? And what are the uncertainties inherent in the social and political character of policy-making itself?

The paper will build on my ethnographic fieldwork with policy civil servants at the Department for Business (BIS), in order to explore how officials navigate social relationships with each other, their ministers, and stakeholders. Putting policy-making in its social and organisational context, I will discuss anticipatory practices that allow BIS officials to negotiate with their stakeholders and superiors when the very existence of their policy is called into question. Finally, I will use this ethnography to delineate the issues that social study of modelling in policy contexts should attend to.

Thursday, 17 March, 2016 - 12:30 to 14:00
Taras Fedirko
Presenter(s) biography: 

Taras Fedirko is a doctoral student at the Department for Anthropology, Durham University, and a PhD Fellow at the Durham Energy Institute. Taras’ doctoral fieldwork was among the Whitehall civil servants negotiating a multi-stakeholder transparency and accountability policy for the extractives industry. This research focuses on the production of knowledge and ideas of agency and responsibility in the context of government bureaucracy. Together with colleagues at Durham, Taras is also involved in a pilot project on how the modelling of experimental smart grids shapes, and is shaped by, engineers’ ideas about desirable energy futures.