Understanding Political Nature: Pathways to Action

A workshop co-sponsored by DPIR, Department of Social Policy, and the European Studies Centre (University of Oxford), in cooperation with The Joint Research Centre, European Commission, Brussels (based on the report by David Mair for the EU).

We live in an increasingly polarized present, where many actors increasingly reject ‘facts’ and experts. At the same time, we are looking to cope with a complex and uncertain future while basing our political decisions on mental and policy models of the past. We need to adapt our political decision-making to the complexities of the 21st century. Such changes cannot be undertaken by a technocratic elite, working alone, nor through a populist rejection of technocracy, but call for greater transparency, openness, and accountability in the way that evidence is incorporated in decision making processes. While everyone seems to be in favour of evidence-based policy, we know that knowledge is not the only driver of political decision-making: emotion, self-interest, power relations and values need to be understood just as well. Evidence based decision making paradoxically requires us to take seriously the political economy of public policies and regulations.

The European Union is a particularly relevant prism through which to explore these issues, being the focal points of both technocratic ‘output driven legitimacy’ and of a populist backlash against the European integration project. The Joint Research Centre has a crucial role to play in this respect. As the European Commission’s science and knowledge service it provides independent scientific advice and support to EU policy and is at the forefront of research relevant to this broader approach to understanding political nature. Its latest findings and their implications for policymaking are laid out in this report: publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC117161/understanding-our-political-nature.pdf . These insights will be used by the Commission in the context of its agenda on democratising the EU.

The afternoon workshop is intended to bring together colleagues at Oxford and David Mair and his team to discuss the report and its implementation. The JRC is interested in ascertaining our interest both in discussing and expanding on the report from our disciplinary standpoint and in exploring ways to better channel these insights in policy making.

Provisional panel outline:

Panel 1 – 14:15 to 16:00: Understanding Political Nature I: the role of Emotions, values, identities and narratives
Chair: Kalypso Nicolaidis
Short introduction by David Mair on chapters 3, 4 and 5 on the report. What is the role of emotions, values, identities and narratives in bridging the science / policy divide? How can we bring both sides together in a co-creation process that from the outset, allows stakeholders, experts and policymakers to work together to gain a shared understanding of a specific problem and the options available?

16:00 to 16:30 Coffee break

Panel 2 –16:30 to 18:00: Understanding Political Nature II: The role of information, collective intelligence and trust
Chair: Tim Vlandas
Short introduction by David Mair on chapters 1, 2 and 6 on the report. What is the role of information, collective intelligence and trust in shaping the ability and willingness of policy makers to take into account evidence? What does this teach about how to put this analysis in practice and make academic insights on political nature operational?

Conclusion – 18:00 to 18:30: From Political Nature to Political Power?
Discussion on next steps of cooperation between Oxford University and the European Commission
Conclusion by the convenors