Knowledge, policy and expertise

22 September 2015


Professor Susan Owens' latest book presents a fascinating analysis of expertise and policy formation, based on an in-depth study of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The Commission provided expert advice to governments from 1970 to 2011. Often portrayed as a scientific body, it was in fact an interesting hybrid, which embodied wide-ranging expertise. It delivered thirty-three reports, leaving a significant mark on British environmental policy, and having influence within Europe and beyond.

Drawing upon an extensive literature and a wide range of sources, Knowledge, Policy, and Expertise provides the only full account of this important advisory body, covering a period in which the policy landscape was profoundly transformed. It offers a rich and detailed analysis of authority, autonomy, and trust; of the diverse roles that advisors can play and the networks within which they operate; and of the circumstances of influence in which expert advice comes to be accepted gratefully, used strategically, absorbed in diffuse ways, or ignored. Above all, this book demonstrates the complexity and contingency of knowledgepolicy relations, contributing substantially to a theory of expertise, and drawing out important implications for the future of good advice.

About the author

Susan Owens is Professor of Environment and Policy at the University of Cambridge, Department of Geography, and a Professorial Fellow of Newnham College. Her research lies in the field of environmental governance, with particular interests in the role of knowledge, ideas, and expertise in policy formation and change. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Academy of Social Sciences, and has been a member of the Royal Society's Science Policy Advisory Group (2008-13). She served on the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution for ten years, 1998-2008. She was appointed an OBE in 1998 and holds an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

(Banner image from Pimthida on Flickr)

Professor Susan Owens

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge