I have concluded my work under the framework of the ERC project grant ‘Knowledge for use’ (Durham/LSE/Ca’ Foscari), for which I led the research stream ‘Deliberating policies’. The project ended in December 2021. I have consolidated the research conducted in the context of this project in a number of publications on the relation between deliberation, expert judgement and local knowledge –– with the addition of some theoretical concern for the multifaceted issue of trust. This angle of analysis appeared particularly relevant in addressing the problem of the use/s of expert knowledge. For example, when expert judgement takes the form of scientific advice to policy making, questioning the reliability of the content of that advice is no doubt one aspect of concern. But we ought also to question how that advice reaches the policy sphere, by what processes and mechanisms, and whether and how these processes secure accountability, objectivity, and transparency of purpose. In one word we also need to question how we do/can ‘trust’ the process that goes from advice to policy.
I have been discussing these issues in academic venues, both nationally and internationally, and non-academic fora (such as the Group of Chief Scientific Advisers at the European Commission in Brussels). Some of this work has been published in journals (Fascia A, Scopus), and some has converged, as the result of a collaborative effort, on a book (forthcoming 2022) with Oxford University Press that goes under the title of ‘The Tangle of Science. Reliability beyond the Scientific Method, Rigour and Objectivity’. In this book I have worked in particular on articulating the part on scientific method (what it really means for science to follow methods) by developing a perspective partly normative and partly pragmatic, and on a part on scientific objectivity, where I try to develop a new model of objectivity based on the relevance of the concepts of context and purpose.
Most of my work on trust and reliability has been made possible by being awarded in 2018 a seed grant by Ca’ Foscari (SPIN grant - Supporting Principal Investigator – Misura 2, Progetti standard internazionali), which gave me the resources to identify and assemble an international network of scholars and practitioners in view of applying for a Horizon 2020 grant. In March 2019 I submitted as lead partner under H2020-SC6 - GOVERNANCE-01-2019 “Trust in Governance” the research proposal 'Trust in Contemporary Knowledge Societies' (TICKS). The project aimed to develop a new conceptual approach to the understanding of the different dimensions of trust in societal institutions when decisions and policy advice are informed by scientific knowledge and empirical research. The grant was not awarded but the proposal received an evaluation above threshold (11.50 on 10) and received a Ca’ Foscari internal research prize.
The Ca’ Foscari SPIN grant was also behind the setting up of the research centre ‘TIS-Trust in Science’ at DFBC, which I have been directing since 2019. The centre hosts an interdisciplinary/international network of scholars (partly overlapping with the network identified for the TICKS grant proposal) feeding into different research projects and activities, a student component (with its own permanent discussion group and blog ‘The Students’ Voice’ (https://tisunive.wordpress.com/), and research links with akin centres and joint research initiatives, e.g. CHESS (Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society), University of Durham. The centre has also recently become a showcase for the activities of ISEED, the new research project I was awarded in July 2019 by the EC under the scheme H2020 SU-GOVERNANCE-21-2020 ‘Developing deliberative and participatory democracies through experimentations’.
This project (Inclusive Science and European Democracy - ISEED) makes an original move: it uses existing experience in the broadly defined field of citizen science (i.e., the participation of citizens who are not professional scientists – individual citizens, NGOs, groups of patients, etc. – to the production and use of scientific knowledge) as a tool to explore under what conditions participative and deliberative practices can be successfully implemented in democratic governance for the purpose of building forms of knowledge-based democratic governance complementary to political representation. Calls for a more participative way of doing science go hand in hand with a rise of people literacy. And a larger involvement of citizens in the orientation of research and/or in the production of knowledge is valued for the sake of democracy – an orientation not only justified conceptually but supported for global strategic policy reasons. The focus on participation calls for a re-definition of the nature and role that participation has in democratic societies. The central feature that will be emphasised is deliberation atheme I have been working on since the ERC project 2015-2021. Deliberative participation, as this project intends to articulate and test, puts the accent not so much on the final act of choosing (e.g. voting for or against a position) but rather on the process that leads to making a choice. Participating in this process entails an active, informed, competent, engaged incentive for ‘taking part in’ or ‘being part’ of that very process, which can only depend on reasons and justifications that transcend the immediate content of an immediate choice. Deliberative participation is, in other words, one of the forms taken by educated citizenship, or commitment to polity.
For this reason, deliberative participation can only find a chance of practical implementation in the context of an equally reformulated idea of public sphere that proves conducive of stronger forms of engagement, fruitful integration and open communication. It would be a mistake to imagine a single ‘public opinion’ – an idea that would rest on an excess of optimism regarding the ability of citizens to be informed on all sorts of complex and varied subjects. Rather, what ought to be envisaged, and identified, are numerous ‘publics’ and ‘counterpublics’, taking shape, and equally fading away, not only on the basis of circumstances (and for this reason the scope, and the very existence, of a public sphere cannot be decided a priori), but also and more specifically of the values and interests most felt and defended by a variety of citizens. Participation and deliberation in ISEED are the tools through which citizens gain critical awareness of their social identities, and control over the decisions that affect their lives. Within the same context, having fair and shared access to spaces and tools of knowledge production is arguably central. Blind participation or simple exposure to even torrential fluxes of information in ‘open’ fora of discussion are not conducive of real awareness or control – which is often the case when the public is exposed, for example, to the unregulated market of news on the internet. ISEED will therefore investigate to what extent digital media have contributed to polarising discourses, populist narratives and distrust in science; in what forms emotions, rather than logical reasoning, are much more likely to be the driver behind decisions and in public dialogue on issue of social relevance; and what are the actual and potential contributions of social media to rational argument and better decision processes in debates concerning scientific issues.
This is a wide, multi-disciplinary, collaborative project ,involving 12 partners in different EU and non EU countries, and jointly working on conceptual and empirical aspects from a number of different disciplines (philosophy of science/social science/economics and political sociology, political economics, organisations and management, policy analysis, communication science, social psychology, feminist theory, as well as public engagement practitioners). It has been running for a year. I have been coordinating the work conducted within the 6 work packages, and I have been doing research within a particular work package (WP2) dealing with what it means to do science in terms of citizen science, and how to build a new idea of public sphere based on a suitable concept of deliberative participation. I will describe the project's outcomes and impact in the next report.