The role and significance of researchers and academic knowledge in the Finnish ministerial policy-preparatory working groups


The research project studies the inclusion of researchers and academic knowledge in the policy preparation performed by Finnish ministerial working groups . The object is to assess the role and significance of preparatory working groups as an arena in which academic knowledge is transmitted to political decision-making in a context where the traditionally corporatist Finnish policy advisory system appears to be changing into a more neoliberal direction.

Although the focus of the research project is mainly to assess the role of academic knowledge in decision-making from the early 2000s to the present, due to nationally unique quantitative data, the project is able to track the inclusion of academics in policy preparation during a time span of 35 years.

The object of the project is to produce basic research on a subject matter that has so far largely been neglected in Finnish research. The research will produce new results on Finland that will enable taking part in international scientific debates and comparisons. The results will also be of interest to Finnish governmental and administrative planning/development.

We pose the following research questions:
1.What is the quantitative share of researchers among the members of ministerial policy-preparatory working groups? Are there differences to be found between different academic disciplines or ministries?
2.What is role and significance of academic knowledge in the policy preparation of ministerial working groups? How do the ministerial working groups compare to other, more novel ways of gaining policy information and policy advice (e.g. state investigators, strategic and commissioned research that supports decision-making)? How does the position of academics and academic knowledge in the ministerial policy-preparatory working groups compare to results from other Nordic countries?
3.What do the results tell about the relationship between experts, academic knowledge, decision-making, and democracy in Finland?

Previous research has emphasized the significance of governmental commissions of inquiry particularly in the Nordic countries as a basis of decision-making and as the policy stage that already to a great degree determines the content of the political decisions. Traditionally, academic knowledge has been transmitted to policy preparation in Finland and other Nordic countries by the inclusion of academic scholars in commissions of inquiry and other similar bodies that prepare laws and larger policy reforms. In Finland this institution was the central arena for policy preparation and inclusion of academic knowledge until the abolition of the system in 2002. Since then, ministerial working groups have inherited this function, albeit in a publicly less visible and partly downsized form.

In Nordic research, corporatism and the role of academics in policy preparation have received some attention. Norwegian scholars have reported that the position of academics has significantly strengthened in the Norwegian commissions of inquiry, particularly in preparation concerning economic issues. The researchers have interpreted these results as a “scientization” of decision-making and as strengthening of “epistocracy”. This development goes hand in hand with a decorporatization and politicization of the commissions. Preliminary results from Finland (data used in this project) indicate that a similar quantitative change has not taken place in Finland, and that the proportion of academics in ministerial policy preparation has remained in average very stable since the beginning of 1990s.

From a theoretical viewpoint, the research utilizes theories of corporatist exchange and of policy advisory systems. In addition to these perspectives developed in interest group research and policy analysis, the research makes use of critical perspectives of knowledge, science and expertise research as well as democratic theories on knowledge and decision-making.

The project utilizes data from three sources consisting of both quantitative and qualitative data. Data set 1 is an already coded quantitative data of ministerial preparatory working groups and their membership in the years 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015. It includes information on nearly 600 working groups (about 7000 members) that were commissioned to prepare either a new law or a larger policy reform. The data is collected and coded in a way that enables comparisons to Prof. Voitto Helander’s results from the years 1980-95 concerning the share of academics in earlier governmental commissions. Data set 2 consists of semi-structured interviews and will collected during the research project. The interviewees will be selected among the researchers and civil servants that participated in the work of the preparatory working groups. The interviews target two to three different administrative sectors. The selection will be based on the differing ways in which ministries utilize working groups and academics as their members. Data set 3 all onsists of a survey. A questionnaire will sent to the members of working groups. Our aim is to ensure that a sufficient proportion of the respondents are academics. The other respondents will be civil servants and representatives of interest groups and civil society.

Methodologically, the project utilizes mixed methods. Various methods are applied in the course of the project to develop the frame of research further: the qualitative and quantitative methods inform each other sequentially in different phases of the research. Data sets 1 and 3 will analyzed with statistical methods. Data set 2 is analyzed with qualitative methods such as qualitative content analysis and discourse analysis.

Professor Anne Maria Holli is the leader of the project. The research group also includes PhD student Saara Turkka and a research assistant to be recruited later. The research conducted in the research project is part of Turkka’s article-based dissertation.

Effective start/end date01/08/201831/12/2019