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Knowledge providers, translation aides and advisors

by Prof. Dr. Manuela Glaab, Birgit Schmölz

An explorative study on expert participation in citizens’ councils and related participation processes

In research as well as in the political debate on consultative participation procedures such as citizens' councils, the discourse frequently centers on possible advantages and drawbacks of the procedures themselves, as well as on questions of legitimacy, decision-making competence, and effectiveness. However, researchers and policymakers rarely address the specific involvement of experts, and there has been little research conducted in this area. This publication aims to address this gap by exploring the functions that experts perform in consultative participation processes, identifying different role-profiles, and examining how experts perceive their role in practice.

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Based on a qualitative, interview-based survey of experts involved in citizens' councils and related participation processes, the authors of the study identify three closely interrelated functions:

  • Input-oriented function: information and knowledge transfer
    Experts see their main tasks in preparing facts and figures, knowledge, contextual information. Central criteria here are rationality and objectivity.
  • Throughput-oriented function: dialogue and communication
    Comprehensibility of impulses, “communication at eye level”, and avoidance of scientific jargon - these are essential elements that experts mention against the background of their practical experience if dialogue and communication are to be effective. 
  • Output-oriented function: counselling and classification
    The central tasks are described as: classifying knowledge, showing connections and effects of possible measures, reducing complexity, enabling citizens to make decisions. 

If we take these functions as a basis, we can derive three role profiles. These profiles do not have a hierarchy between them, as they complement each other:

  • Knowledge provider
    In this profile, the focus is on factual information. The primary goal is to transfer knowledge in an understandable way and to create access to topics. In addition, citizens should be enabled to adequately process the expert input in regards to the subject of the citizen council.
  • Translation aide
    In particular, the aim here is to enable citizens to process the information they receive; to work with it - and not to expose them to “information overload”. Translation aides also see their task in reducing complexity through dialogue and “communication at eye level”. They want to give impulses in order to enable the citizens to think in new ways.
  • Advisor
    Experts in this profile combine the three roles and strive to ensure that the outcomes of the citizens' councils reflect their expertise. They provide "recommendations for action," which citizens can use as a basis for drawing conclusions and making decisions.

Finally, requirements can be formulated for experts as well as for those institutions that organise consultative participation procedures. These include, for example, the basic requirement of an understandable language, neutrality as well as the challenges of time scarcity and reduction of complexity.

You can read the complete study "Knowledge providers, translation aides and advisors" here as a PDF.

Please note that to date, the paper is only available in German.

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