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CFP: Applying complex systems theory to higher education and research policy (2016 ECPR)

Panel: Applying complex systems theory to higher education and research policy

Describing political and policy phenomena as complex has become commonplace; however, most often the term is used generally without reference to the scientific study of complex systems. Recently several authors have sought to chart out ways by which to apply complexity theory to public policy (Morcol 2012, Room 2011); however, there is still very little being done with these theories and concepts in the areas of higher education and research.

Papers in this panel may take either a qualitative or quantitative approach, but will all rigorously attempt to apply key concepts in complex systems theory (emergence, tipping points, non-linear dynamics, self-organization, fitness landscapes, co-evolution, etc.) to the study of higher education and/or research.

This panel is proposed for the 2016 ECPR Section (7-10 September 2016, Prague). If you are interested in participating in this panel please send the panel co-chairs a 500 word abstract by January 24th. If you have questions or would like to run ideas past them in advance, please feel free to contact either or both of them.

CFP: Researching the governance of knowledge policies: methodological and conceptual challenges (2016 ECPR)

Panel: Researching the governance of knowledge policies: methodological and conceptual challenges

Research and higher education policy studies often take the state as a starting point for analysis. Single country case studies and comparisons between individual countries seem to be the most common approaches. At the same time, governance of knowledge policies increasingly takes place in the context of globalisation and regional integration, and is of interest to various international, supranational and transnational organisations. Furthermore, new linkages are developed on sub-national level – in the form of various networks and co-operation constellations. Overall, one can find new forms of vertical and horizontal coordination in the area of knowledge policies. The question then is: how meaningful this single country approach is in an increasingly interconnected world? Does this lead to ‘methodological nationalism’ and limit the scope of analysis? Are there alternative conceptual and methodological approaches to be used, and if so – what would this mean?

We invite papers that examine (empirically, theoretically) the role of the nation state as well as inter-, trans-, supra- and sub-national arenas in knowledge policy studies. We aim to identify sector-specific methodological and conceptual challenges and highlight alternative (multi-level) approaches and foci.

This panel invites papers focused on questions such as: Which role does the nation state actually play in studies of higher education and research policy, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach? Which other units could we focus on if we want to avoid methodological nationalism and eurocentrism on the one hand but still on the other hand want to compare different policy designs of higher education and research policy? Are there sector-specific conceptual challenges for researching governance of knowledge in a multi-level policy context? What kind of conceptual challenges emerge in studying knowledge policies and linkages across levels and arenas? What are the appropriate approaches and designs for studying increased horizontal and vertical coordination? Where are existing conceptual blind spots? What are the consequences of this for both research design and methodology? What kind of differences in terms of methodology, research design etc. can be identified between higher education and research policy studies? What are the benefits and disadvantages of such approaches?

Papers at this panel could discuss the use of alternative entities than the nation state, including institutions, regions, networks, traditions, ideas, cultures etc. Papers for this panel could also examine the methodologies used in higher education and research policy studies – empirically and/or theoretically, including focus on comparative designs. Suggestions for innovative research designs are also welcome.

This panel is proposed for the 2016 ECPR Section (7-10 September 2016, Prague). Please contact the panel co-chairs before 24 January 2016 if you are interested in submitting a paper for this panel. 

CFP: Politics of Access in Higher Education Systems (2016 ECPR)

Panel: Politics of Access in Higher Education Systems

  • Co-chairs: Beverley Barrett, University of Houston ( and Karel Sima, Centre for Higher Education Studies, Czech Republic (

Expectations for greater access to higher education systems have followed trends reflecting an increasing number of democratic countries in recent decades. Given the acceleration of globalization, with pressure for greater access to higher education, the politics of access for domestic and international students remains contentious for entry into competitive academic programs worldwide.  Considering the power of ideas, interests, and institutions, how do specific national goals and policy strategies to increase educational access compare across countries and across regions?  In which countries and regions are trends for increasing educational access most innovative and most effective?

We invite contributions that compare and examine the extent to which these higher education access initiatives, across continents, support learning objectives and graduation outcomes that are innovative and effective supporting employability.  In recent years, we have observed a proliferation of national and regional strategies for increasing access to higher education around the world: in Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe. The European drive to consolidate the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), since the early 2000s, has higher education attainment as an explicit objective.

This panel focuses on questions that address how national policy strategies on access confront current issues and developing trends. What are the higher education policies to accommodate domestic and international students towards the goal of increasing access? What are innovative and effective policy instruments, and what have been their impacts across countries and continents? How do unique actors (governments, institutions, academics, students etc.) actively engage in decision-making processes in complex multi-actor environments reflecting distinct preferences and goals?

The wave of higher education expansion in Western world in the 20th century was fuelled by the population growth of post-war baby boomers. This resulted in mass higher education systems in most of the European and American countries. Consequently the student populations have substantially changed reflecting sociocultural diversity. Furthermore, internationalisation has become an objective for higher education in the 21st century in the EHEA and across continents. These trends have changed not only the form and content of higher education, but also education’s role in the knowledge-based economy and society.

The international mobility of students in higher education continues to accelerate. Countries seek to retain talented students, supporting objectives towards national competitiveness, while being open to global talent, overlapping with objectives for internationalisation. As countries become more developed, access issues continue to become more pressing within a knowledge-driven economy. Developing economies that can accommodate increased access to education, at every level, are investing invaluable knowledge creation that leads to productivity.

This panel addresses trends for increasing educational access, identifying innovative and effective national policy strategies that address challenges of the internationalised mass higher education of the 21st century. We invite contributions that would analyse these trends on various levels of governance, and from perspectives of multiple actors, as well as those that employ a comparative approach on international, institutional, and disciplinary levels.  

This panel is proposed for the 2016 ECPR Section (7-10 September 2016, Prague). Please contact the panel co-chairs before 24 January 2016 if you are interested in submitting a paper for this panel. 

CFP: ECPR 2016 section on ‘Politics of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation’

This is a global call for the ECPR 2016 ‘Politics of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation’ section (formerly Europe of Knowledge) endorsed by the proposed Standing Group of the same name.

The ECPR General Conference will be held on 7-10 September 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic.

You will find below the section abstract along with short panel abstracts and the contact details of the panel organisers. Extended CFPs for each panel will be circulated and posted on the CRN’s site in the coming weeks.

If you are interested in submitting a paper to one of these panels please contact the panel chair(s) directly (contacts are below) to discuss your ideas before the 24th of January 2016 or submit an abstract independently to the section before the formal deadline (15 February 2016) via MyECPR. Please note that ECPR only allows individuals to perform each conference function (including paper presenter) once within the academic programme, though multiple co-authorship is possible.


Section description:

Knowledge policies are at the forefront of contemporary global politics and are seen as the foundation on which societies coalesce and economies thrive. This section builds on the previous four sections on the Europe of Knowledge and invites contributions from around the world to consider the various dimensions of knowledge policy development. Specifically, we are interested in theoretical, empirical, and comparative contributions that investigate the role of the ‘four I’s’ – ideas, interests, instruments and institutions – in the global, multi-level, multi-issue, and multi-actor governance of knowledge policies, including failures and successes. By ‘role’, we refer to effects that ideas, actors (individual, organisational), policy instruments/mixes, and institutions have had on the governance of knowledge policies, and vice-versa. We focus on ‘roles’ to enable a multidisciplinary discussion on whether these factors share defining characteristics across different knowledge policy domains (i.e. research, higher education, and innovation), and between distinct governance levels and geographical regions. This section continues to welcome scholars from all theoretical and methodological approaches to critically discuss the reconfiguration of knowledge systems around the world.


Panel being developed:


  1. Applying complex systems theory to higher education and research policy

Co-chairs/Co-discussants: Mitchell Young (Charles University in Prague) – and Julie Birkholz (University of Ghent) –

Describing political and policy phenomena as complex has become commonplace; however, the term is often used without reference to the scientific study of complex systems. Papers in this panel may take either a qualitative, quantitative or mixed approach, but will all rigorously attempt to apply key concepts in complex systems theory to the study of higher education and/or research.


  1. Researching the governance of knowledge policies: methodological and conceptual challenges

Co-chairs/Co-discussants: Mads Sørensen (Aarhus University) – and Mari Elken (NIFU) –

Research and higher education policy studies often take the state as a starting point for analysis, which may lead to ‘methodological nationalism’ and limit the scope of analysis in an increasingly interconnected world. We invite papers that examine (empirically, theoretically) such methodologies and the role of the nation state as well as supranational and sub-national arenas in knowledge policy studies. We aim to identify sector-specific methodological and conceptual challenges and highlight alternative (multi-level) approaches and foci.


  1. Knowledge policies in cross-sectoral comparison

Chair/discussant: Pauline Ravinet (Universite de Lille 2) –

Higher education and research policies have been subjected to structured examination, but works on these issues rarely engage in a systematic comparison with policy developments in other sectors. What could we learn by doing more cross-sectoral comparison? This panel invites papers engaging in comparisons of higher education and/or research policies with other policy areas (theoretical policy design papers as well as empirical papers are welcome).


  1. Market-making of, in, and around European higher education

Chair: Janja Komljenovic (University of Bristol) –

Discussant: Susan Robertson (University of Bristol)

This panel’s focus is the study of market-making in the higher education sector; it aims to analyse the outcomes of marketizing the higher education sector and to develop conceptual grammars and analytical approaches that would allow unpacking of the complexities of marketizing processes. The panel is interested in papers that address: how markets get constructed, for whose benefit, by which actors, and with what consequences and outcomes for the sector and society at large?


  1. Transnational actors in higher education, research, and innovation

Co-chairs/Co-discussants: Tatiana Fumasoli (University of Oslo) – and Martina Vukasovic (Ghent University) –

The panel will focus on the role and influence of transnational actors (academic and university associations, experts, funding councils, students etc.) in knowledge policymaking. These actors operate across governance levels, bringing new ideas, advancing the interests of their constituencies and re-shaping the institutional arrangements of policymaking in the area of knowledge. The panel welcomes papers which explore how these emerging actors participate in the policy arena and what impact they may have on policy decisions.


  1. The politicisation of knowledge policies: actors in national arenas

Chair: Jens Jungblut (University of Oslo) –

Knowledge policies are becoming politically salient and increasingly politicised. Yet our understanding of the actors involved in knowledge policymaking in different countries, the constraints they face from their institutional environment, and their interplay and preferences is still limited. Papers are invited to investigate the roles of different actors (e.g. political parties),the interplay between them and their institutional environment across all stages of policymaking.


  1. Politics of access in higher education systems 

Chair/Discussant: Beverly Barrett (University of Houston) –

In recent years, we observe a proliferation of national and regional strategies for increasing access to higher education around the world: in Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe. Indeed, the European drive to consolidate the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) has higher educational attainment as an explicit objective. This panel invites contributions that compare and examine the extent to which these initiatives to support learning objectives and graduation outcomes are innovative and effective.


  1. Policy failures in the knowledge domain

Chair/discussant: Meng-Hsuan Chou (NTU, Singapore) –

Higher education, research, and innovation policy domains have undergone dramatic changes in recent decades. Embedded in these changes are assumptions about failure and learning, and the belief that the ‘new and novel’ would ‘right’ the ‘wrongs’. Yet our understanding of the failure-learning mechanism remains under-developed. Indeed, social scientists often conflate three distinct types of failure—politics, policy, and instruments—in their analyses. This panel invites papers that seek to identify and unpack the failure-learning mechanism, if any, operational in specific knowledge policy changes.

Interdisciplinarity in ferment

Filipa M.Ribeiro

What do subjects like personalized learning, curriculum reforms, research agendas and institutional frames have in common? Interdisciplinarity. Whether we discuss the duality of vocational versus general education or the impact of ideologies on research, interdisciplinarity is an in-between topic. Interestingly enough, it is often overlooked even if interdisciplinarity is one of the most hotly debated topics among academics and has spun a complex web of development strategies and theorizing. However, its lack of standardization continues to be an issue, namely in universities that have traditionally hermetic departments and a lack of communication embedded in the academic culture. The various definitions of interdisciplinarity converge into two main axis: 1) powerful insights found by applying intellectual resources of different disciplines to particular problems; or 2) rhetorical mechanisms that reinforce the discourses on productivity and competitiveness which, in turn, produce an ideological system that serves the economic regulation at universities, encouraging an overemphasis on research projects and courses (e.g., the proliferation of summer schools).


Favoring or disregarding interdisciplinarity?  

Interdisciplinarity is also at stake with regard to the practices put in place by the management bodies of research institutions, university departments or governing bodies to assist, seduce or repel the individual researchers. These practices include institutional restructuring, reorganisation of curricula, the implementation of information, communication technology, changing patterns in knowledge production, the changed role of education in societies, and new modes to manage and assess higher education and research. This is often explicitly phrased in prescriptive documents (e.g. strategic plans of universities and official documents that try to outline the criteria and “good practices”, whose very title already implies a simplistic outreach to interdisciplinarity) that aim to assume a given role in civil society at large. Thus, the paradox arises: there is a conventional discourse in favor of interdisciplinary research and, at the same time, much indifference or even disregard for such research (Sperber, 2003).

Interdisciplinarity demands constant proactiveness, responsiveness and the ability to adapt to changing situations. As Sperber (2003) notes, often disciplinary boundaries and routines stand in the way of optimal research and that is why a common solution is to go ahead with new research programmes, which requires hasty institutional reshaping. In addition, research shows that constraints to interdisciplinarity are posed both in scientific terms (e.g.: Collinet et al.,2013) but also in institutional terms (e.g.: Su, 2014), especially concerning governance modes (Cooper and Farooq, 2013). As a matter of fact, the idea that interdisciplinarity in higher education is related to the framework of institutions, departments and courses is not new (e.g.: Carpenter, 1995; Pirrie et al, 1999; Becher, 2001; Wall and Shankar, 2008; Dykes et al., 2009). A less debated dimension of interdisciplinarity concerns the individual and social epistemology of knowledge and science. How and why interdisciplinarity emerges at the individual level? Andersen and Wagenknecht (2013) remind that interdisciplinarity involves epistemic dependence between researchers with different areas of expertise, the combination of complementary contributions from different researchers through shared mental models and conceptual structures, and shared cooperative activity with interlocking intentions, meshing sub-plans and mutual responsiveness.


Does belonging to a department increase interdisciplinarity?

My recent article “Interdisciplinarity in ferment: The role of knowledge networks and department affiliation”, published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, posits that social networks shape interdisciplinarity because universities are formed by networked actors whose relations are not only centred on place-based affiliation (though highly shaped by them), but also on niche knowledge and skills affiliations. However, we lack enough empirical data on the knowledge networks of researchers to better understand how these networks shape the influence between faculty structures and knowledge creation in terms of interdisciplinarity and what the optimal structure for interdisciplinarity is. In other words, the paper addresses interdisciplinarity forwards rather than backwards, exploring the relation between the present and the future through the conditions from which interdisciplinarity arises. The focus is not the processes of network structure emergence and tie formation, but rather how those networks and ties affect interdisciplinarity. Based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the personal knowledge networks of academics of higher education institutions from Catalonia (Spain), the study used a mixed methods approach combining the delineation of personal networks with the analysis of the ties’ content, proposing a conceptual model specifically developed for this study.

Findings suggest a strong correlation between the network members nominated in the influence generator and interdisciplinarity. In fact, a quite surprising finding is that collaborators are not the ones who most influence either interdisciplinarity or individual knowledge creation. On the other hand, stronger ties (the ones with whom respondents have more affinity, more time of interaction and higher frequency of contact) seem to be more conducive of interdisciplinary research than weaker ties (if those strong ties do not belong to the same department of the respondent). Belonging to a faculty department may increase tie strength but reduces interdisciplinarity.

This study shows that the concept of interdisciplinarity itself is changing on the emergence of new modes of knowledge creation, especially the rise of peer production, which presents a stark challenge to conventional thinking about interdisciplinarity. Indeed, interdisciplinarity should not be understood only as the traditional concatenation of different disciplines. This study offers corroboration for the claim that interdisciplinarity is more about epistemological commitments and exchanges rather than disciplinary training. It is important to see these phenomena not as exceptions or ephemeral fads, but as indications of a fundamental fact about transactional knowledge forms and their relationship to the institutional conditions of knowledge creation.

Therefore, this new way of looking on interdisciplinarity reinforces a third form of transaction in higher education institutions: social sharing and exchange. On the other hand, we produce and exchange knowledge, but we do not count this exchange in our institutional design. This, in turn, may be the reason why social knowledge creation and interdisciplinarity have been shunted to the peripheries of academic organization landscape.


Filipa M. Ribeiro is in the final year of her PhD at the University of Porto. She has a diverse background in science and medical journalism, digital media, innovation, project management  and science communication. She graduated in Communication Sciences and has a master degree on Sociology of Science. She has been doing research on Higher Education since 2009 and was a member of the Portuguese team in the ESF funded project TRUE (Transforming universities in Europe). She is also one of the co-founders and executive members of ECHER – Early Career Higher Education researchers’ network. Her current research involves topics on ubiquitous knowledge, sociology of science, social networks, interdiciplinarity and diversity in higher education.



Andersen, H., Wagenknecht, S. (2013) Epistemic dependence in interdisciplinary groups.Synthese, 190: 1881–1898. Springer.

Becher, B. (1987). Disciplinary discourse. Studies in Higher Education, 12: 261-274.

Carpenter, J. (1995) Interprofessional education for medical and nursing students: Evaluation of a programme. Medical Education ,29: 265–72.

Collinet, C., P. Terral, P. Trabal (2013) Forms and Modes of Apprehending Interdisciplinarity: a Socio-Computer Analysis of Sports Sciences. Bulletin of Sociological Methodology, 119(1): 61-78.

Cooper, A. F. and Farooq, A. B. (2013), BRICS and the Privileging of Informality in Global Governance. Global Policy, 4: 428–433.  doi: 10.1111/1758-5899.12077

Dykes, T., Rodgers, P., Smyth, M., (2009). Towards a new disciplinary framework for contemporary creative design practice. CoDesign, 5 (2) 99-116.

Pirrie, A., S. Hamilton, V. Wilson (1999) Multidisciplinary education: Some issues and concerns. Educational Research 41(3): 301–314.

Ribeiro, Filipa M. (2015) Interdisciplinarity in ferment: The role of knowledge networks and department affiliation. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. doi:

Sperber, D. (2003) “Why rethink interdisciplinarity?”. In Heintz, C. (ed.), Rethinking interdisciplinarity. Paris: C.N.R.S. and Institut Nicod.

Su, X. (2014) Academic scientists’ affiliation with university research centres: Selection dynamics. Research Policy 43: 382-390.

Wall, S., Shankar, I., (2008). Adventures in transdisciplinary learning. Studies in Higher Education, 33 (5): 551–65.


This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

Are English Universities likely to stop having to comply with EU public procurement law?

Albert Sanchez Graells

One of the elements implicit in the on-going discussion about higher education reform in England concerns the extent to which changes in the funding and governance structure of HEFCE (to be transformed into the Office for Students, or any other format that results from the consultation run by BIS) can free English universities from their duty to comply with EU public procurement law.

The issue is recurring in the subsequent waves of higher education reform in England, and the same debate arouse last summer following BIS statements that the most recent reform (lifting the cap on student numbers) would relieve English universities of their duty to comply with EU public procurement law (see discussion here).

Overall, then, there is a clear need to clarify to what extent English universities are actually and currently obliged to comply with EU public procurement rules, both as buyers and as providers of services. That analysis can then inform the extent to which in the future English universities are likely to remain under a duty to comply with EU public procurement rules.

This is what my colleague Dr Andrea Gideon and myself have done in our paper “When are universities bound by EU public procurement rules as buyers and providers? – English universities as a case study“. As the abstract indicates

In this study we provide an up-to-date assessment of situations in which universities are bound by public procurement rules, as well as the combined changes that market-based university financing mechanisms can bring about in relation to the regulation of university procurement and to the treatment of the financial support they receive under the EU State aid rules. National differences in funding schemes are likely to trigger different answers in different EU jurisdictions. This study uses the situation of English universities as a case study.

The first part focuses on the role of universities as buyers. The traditional position has been to consider universities bound by EU public procurement rules either as state authorities, or because they receive more than 50% public funding. In the latter case, recent changes in the funding structure can create opportunities for universities to free themselves from compliance with EU public procurement rules.

In the second part, we assess the position of universities as providers. Here the traditional position has been that the State can directly mandate universities to conduct teaching and research activities. However, new EU legislation contains specific provisions about how and when teaching and research need to be procured if they are of an economic nature. Thus, accepting the exclusion of university services from procurement requirements as a rule of thumb is increasingly open to legal challenge.

Finally, the study assesses if and in how far universities can benefit from exemptions for public-public cooperation or in-house arrangements either as sellers or buyers. 

The full paper is available on SSRN:

We have submitted our piece of research to BIS as part of the consultation on the green paper. We hope that our research and the insights it sheds can inform the discussion on the new mechanisms for the allocation of the teaching grant to English universities (and particularly the discussion around Q18 of the consultation).

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells is Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol Law School, and a Member of the European Commission Stakeholder Expert Group on Public Procurement (2015-18). He is a specialist in European economic law, with a main focus on competition law and public procurement. Albert is a regular speaker at international conferences and has been recently invited by the European Court of Auditors and European Commission as a specialist academic in public procurement and competition matters. He has also advised the World Bank and other international institutions regarding public procurement reform.

This post first appeared on: How To Crack a Nut


The European Commission, Expert Groups, and the Policy Process

Julia Metz


Day by day, the European Commission consults with more than 30,000 experts that convene in about 1,000 expert groups. I argue that in order to understand the ubiquity of expert groups we need to look at how and why the European Commission uses its expert groups in the policy process. In my new book ‘The European Commission, Expert Groups, and the Policy Process: Demystifying Technocratic Governance’ (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2015) I show that expert groups are important for the Commission, because they not only solve technical problems, but also function as political devices and negotiators in EU policy making.

The European Commission is at the center of the European Union’s (EU) political system. With its quasi-monopoly on the initiation of legislation it strongly influences the rules that govern the daily lives of European citizens. When drafting European legislation the European Commission consults regularly with about 1,000 expert groups. These Commission expert groups are part of the EU committee system, which is largely regarded as the embodiment of EU technocracy. As a potential bias towards technocracy is feared to decrease political or democratic considerations in the EU policy process, the Commission’s ‘technocratic shadow administration’ in Brussels has come under increased public attack. Case studies have pointed to the influential role of expert groups on the Commission’s policy proposals. Publicly, critical voices, such as the non-governmental organization ALTER-EU, have portrayed the European Commission as a ‘captive’ of industry-dominated expert groups. Also the European Parliament has repeatedly criticized an imbalanced composition of expert groups and a lack of transparency in their work. In 2011 and 2014 the European Parliament set a budget reserve on the Commission’s budget for expert groups, which was conditional to a series of reforms by the Commission, such as strengthening balanced representation of different interests in expert groups, addressing conflicts of interest of participants, and ensuring transparency in the work of expert groups.

Thus, in the public debate Commission expert groups are increasingly seen as far more than technocratic deliberation arenas or impartial providers of factual data. However, we lack systematic insights into the Commission’s daily work with its expert groups. This book challenges the myth that Commission expert groups are purely technocratic bodies by asking: How does the European Commission use its expert groups in the policy process? And, which factors explain variation in the Commission’s usage of expert groups?

Three types of expert group use

In my book I argue that if we want to understand the role of expert groups in the policy process, it is essential to investigate the motivations of the formal institution that consults these bodies. I therefore focus on the European Commission’s reasons for consulting expert groups and on how the Commission’s Directorates-General use these committees in the EU policy process. More concretely, I assume that the European Commission consults with expert groups because it depends on its environment for resources it needs when preparing legislative initiatives – and expert group can provide these resources. Thus, a resource exchange between the Commission and its expert groups takes place. Following this idea, I develop a typology of expert-group use, which is based on the most important resource that expert groups provide.

  • A problem-solving use of expert groups is most important for a technocratically motivated Commission engaged in finding efficient solutions to problems. It refers to instances in which the European Commission acquires expertise and information from its expert committees. In these cases, expert groups can be seen as a means for the Commission to manage its internal lack of expertise when addressing complex policy problems. The Commission uses expertise ‘cognitively’ (Dreger, 2014) or ‘instrumentally’ to solve policy problems (see also Boswell, 2009; Rimkuté and Haverland, 2015).
  • A substantiating use occurs when the European Commission involves expert groups to acquire and signal support for its preferred policy positions. In these cases, expert groups are used ‘argumentatively’ (Dreger, 2014) to justify the Commission’s policy choices against other actors. As opposed to the problem-solving use, the Commission’s focus lies not on efficient problem solving, but on maximizing its gains and on the preferences of other actors. Here, policy proposals are not based on efficiency concerns, rather reflect the will of powerful actors. The Commission is predominantly concerned about the positions of veto players in the European decision-making process – thus, the Council and European Parliament.
  • In the case of a consensus-building use, committees are not valued for their informative or supportive expertise, but for their institutional framework. In expert groups, relevant actors can meet, exchange (contradicting) views, and reach agreements. Here, expert groups are not seen as arenas for expertise, but as assemblies that broker out compromises, with the Commission demanding ‘consensual positions’ from its committees. Similar to the substantiating use, here the Commission’s focus is directed towards the political feasibility of policy solutions rather than towards their technical efficiency or effectiveness.

A frequent and multimodal use of expert groups

The book shows that the Commission’s administration draws heavily on expert groups when preparing legislation and indeed uses them for multiple purposes. This finding is visible in various empirical analyses. First, the book provides a quantitative overview of the Commission’s expert group system, including a network analysis, which is based on data from the Commission’s online expert group register. Here I identify patterns that indicate that not only technocratic concerns seem to motivate the European Commission when working with expert groups. The analyses further show that Commission expert groups are not all alike, rather vary substantially in their institutional frameworks. The main part of the book discusses four expert groups in the area of research and innovation policy and their role when preparing policy initiatives. These insights are then compared to the Commission’s use of expert groups across three policy areas – research and innovation, the intersection of social and internal market policy, and consumer policy. This cross-sectoral analysis uses data from a multi-annual collaborative research project on ‘Position formation in the EU Commission’ conducted at the WZB Social Science Centre Berlin, which traces the Commission’s drafting processes of 48 legislative proposals from 1999 to 2009 (Hartlapp et al., 2014).

The analyses reveal that the European Commission worked intensively with expert groups across all three policy areas: in almost three quarter of the policy processes the responsible Directorates-General consulted expert groups. In addition to expert groups, the Commission services also used various other consultation channels. The book therefore shows that, rather than merely working as a technocratic institution in isolation, the European Commission responds to political demands and developments in its environment, and uses expert groups to help to manage its dependencies.

Thereby, a political mode of expert-group usage – subsuming the substantiating and the consensus-building uses – occurred just as often in the Commission as a technocratic mode. In addition, routinized behavior and traditions developed over time guide the Commission in its consultation of expert groups: the Commission’s Directorates-General displayed distinct patterns and preferences regarding the way they manage their resource dependencies with their environment and work with expert groups. While some Commission services examined in the book worked closely together with expert groups across various types of initiatives or policy areas, others did so more selectively. DG Research, for example, involved a whole battery of expert groups across several initiatives under its responsibility, while the DG for Information Society used expert groups more selectively.

Finally, while conceptually three ideal types of expert group use were constructed, empirically I found a multimodal use of expert groups. In most cases, a Directorate-General used its expert group not only in one, but in several different ways when preparing an initiative. My study can account for a multimodal use by showing that within one drafting process, several resources can be critical for the Commission, which therefore uses its expert groups in various ways. For example, while technical expertise was needed at the beginning, substantiating expertise was often needed towards the end of a process to support the Commission’s proposals against opposition in the Council and European Parliament.

Thus, when the Commission’s Directorates-General consult expert groups, they are anything but driven only by technocratic concerns (i.e., the quest for specialized knowledge), rather are also guided by political motives. Often, Commission services also anticipate political decision making in the Council and European Parliament and are aware of the political implications of their decisions.

Dr. Julia Metz is an advisor at the German Parliament. She holds a doctoral degree from the Freie Universität Berlin and has previously worked as a senior researcher at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and at the University of Bremen, Germany. Her work covers the areas of public administration and European governance, and has appeared in, among others, the Journal of European Integration and in Policy and Society.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.


Boswell, C. (2009) The Political Uses of Expert Knowlegde: Immigration Policy and Social Research (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Dreger, J. (2014) The European Commission’s Energy and Climate Policy: A Climate for Expertise? (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Hartlapp, M., J. Metz, and C. Rauh (2014) Which Policy for Europe? Power and Conflict inside the European Commission (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Rimkuté, D. and M. Haverland (2015) ‘How does the European Commission use scientific expertise? Results from a survey of scientific members of the Commission’s expert committees’, Comparative European Politics 13 (4): 430–449.