Logo of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
To the main menuTo the main content

Revealing a paradox in scientific advice to governments: the struggle between modernist and reflexive logics within the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

Article | 07-06-2016

While governmental scientific advisers attempt to innovate their practices to become more reflexive and interactive, they cannot escape the modernist fundaments that constitute their practices. Using the transition process in the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency as a paradigmatic case, this article reveals how scientific advisers, their peers and clients make sense of this paradoxical situation. The article reveals a struggle between reflexive principles of humility, transparency and deliberation and modernist beliefs in science/politics demarcations, objectivity and scientific privilege.

Frame analysis identifies three co-existing frames of PBL’s (future) role and identity – PBL as integrated assessment specialist, PBL as think-tank and PBL as trustworthy expert. Implicated in these frames are reflexive beliefs in a ‘professional culture of humility’ that seem to replace the modernist ‘science speaking truth to power’ mode of advising in the PBL organisation.

At the same time modernist beliefs in the science/politics demarcation, objectivity and scientific privilege persist. In conclusion, this empirical work illustrates how questioning and deliberating about the role and identity of one’s own organization is the first step to advance institutional redesign in scientific advice to governments. Identities become multiple and standard rules and structures are called in question and become subject of debate. Via diffusion of standard rules and structures the reflexive logic may gradually gain influence in governmental scientific advising and may eventually become an institutionalised habit of thought. Yet, critical awareness needs to combine with critical action to generate dynamic processes of change and innovation in scientific advice to governments.

Author(s)Eva-Maria Kunseler
Publication date07-06-2016
PublicationPalgrave Communications; Thematic Collection on Scientific Advice to Governments