In the Slovak Republic, a number of internal ministerial advisory bodies, intended to provide high-quality analyses and evidence based policy making for national policy, have been established over the last two years. We have studied how the rational technocratic model of scientific policy advice as a specific mode of governing, acted out through these new institutional sites of expertise, survives in a highly politicised environment of the Slovak public administration. Central to our study was the reconstruction of an intersubjective account central to the work of organising on which the analytical centres and their staff, as well as their patrons, participate. Complementary to this, we focused on intersubjectively shared elements of the analysts’ community and subculture within the dominant CEE public administration culture. The vision of governing with expertise shared by analytical centres rests on the principles of transparency, orientation on professional merit (primarily econometric, analytical skills), voluntarism, conflict avoidance, political opportunism and institutional autonomy. Analytical centres identify themselves as a distinct professional group – in fact, they form a distinct organisational subculture around traits such as demographic characteristics (predominantly young males with economic or mathematical/IT background), symbols, hierarchies, working culture, humour, as well as artefacts. Analysts see their mission in the provision of impartial, objective analytical evidence for informed decision making, yet they negotiate the boundary between politics and expertise on a daily basis, and, as we found, in numerous aspects of analysts’ work politics cannot be entirely bracketed.
Around the world, there is a growing interest among policy scholars and practitioners in the role of knowledge in relation to public policy. These debates are accompanied by some confusion about what is meant by knowledge or evidence, as well as controversies around the role of scientists and suspicions of increasingly technocratic decision making. Our aim is to provide a useful overview of the major debates in this paper, and to trace six dominant discourses in current research that address the role of scientific knowledge or expertise in the policy process. We distinguish evidence-based policy making, knowledge utilisation, policy learning, knowledge transfer, social construction of knowledge and boundaries, and knowing in practice as separate discourses. We show how they differ in their understanding of knowledge, of the problem to solve in terms of the role of knowledge in policy, of practical implications, as well as in their understanding of public policy and in their ontologies and epistemologies. A condensed and structured representation serves as a basis for conducting comparisons across discourses as well as to open ways for analysis of strategic associations between the discourses. We hope to contribute to extending the discussion of knowledge in policy into the realm of epistemic politics and we suggest several avenues for future research that can draw on a range of concepts from across all of the discourses.