KNOCA BRIEFING No. 9
Selection and presentation of evidence
Malte Frøslee Ibsen, PhD, The Danish Board of Technology
- The evidence provision stage is of paramount importance in the formation of attitudes of participants and their collective recommendation writing in climate assemblies. This importance raises a number of epistemic, normative, and practical questions that must be taken into account in knowledge curation in citizens assemblies.
- From a deliberative-democratic point of view, expert input must be subject to potential counter expertise and public scrutiny. In the context of a climate assembly, this ideally requires recruitment of a broad spectrum of experts within the bounds of reasonable disagreement, and that participants are given the opportunity to influence the selection of evidence and speakers.
- In reality, time and budget constraints often mean that evidence and speakers are chosen by organisers and only subsequently vetted by a scientific board. Citizens are often only given the chance to influence knowledge curation later in the process, if at all.
- Presentation of evidence from different thematic and scientific areas may elicit different reactions and degrees of engagement from citizens. In particular, speakers in climate assemblies often predominantly come from a natural-scientific background, and rarely present in an interactive format that facilitates discussion and engagement with participants. This increases the danger of blind deference to authoritative expert opinion.
- Recent literature emphasises the importance of experts acting as “honest brokers”, who can engage with participants in interactive dialogue and joint deliberation and offer an overview of different actionable policy options. In reality, however, experts often subscribe to an outmoded knowledge-deficit model of science communication, which compromises their ability to serve as honest brokers. This accentuates the responsibility of organisers to brief them and facilitate their input.
- There is an under-utilised potential for climate assemblies to make use of narrative formats, story-telling, and visualisation to increase understanding and facilitate engagement from participants of diverse educational and cultural backgrounds and learning styles.
- Climate assemblies often struggle with the scope of climate change as a “super wicked problem”. When sessions are subject to a sectorial or topical division, this often comes at the cost of cross-cutting issues and the overall picture.
- Set up a knowledge committee at the earliest possible stage of planning for the climate assembly. The work of knowledge curation should be anchored from the beginning in a forum of independent expertise, and members of the knowledge committee should be able to at least co-determine thematic content, information material, selection of speakers, etc.
- Include considerations of diversity and ensuring a multiplicity of voices across several different parameters (i.e., scientific approaches or “schools”, gender, ethnicity, values/political beliefs, etc., when applicable) in recruitment of the knowledge committee, and, in particular, in recruitment of speakers that directly address members of the citizen assembly.
- Don’t forget to integrate social-scientific evidence, especially when considering policy alternatives and more systemic or cross-cutting issues. Consider also integrating presentations from experts on deliberation and deliberative formats to heighten assembly members’ understanding of the undertaking and their role and responsibilities.
- Equip assembly members with the requisite resources and effective agency for taking an active part in the work of knowledge curation.Provide opportunities for members to input on selection of experts, especially to support the development of recommendations.
- In order to mitigate the risk of expert domination, it is advisable to adopt interactive formats in evidence presentation that allow members of the citizen assembly a broad space for active engagement, especially when the evidence presented is natural-scientific or more technical in kind.
- Ensure evidence provision is balanced with plenty of time for members to reflect and deliberate on the issues raised and to raise questions. Don’t overload members with inputs.
- Integrate communicability in all aspects of evidence presentation. Consider having a trained science communicator or journalist draft information material and presentations in consultation with the knowledge committee and other experts.
- Use a plurality of presentation formats in evidence presentation. Narrative and visual formats and story-telling may facilitate deeper understanding and reactions from assembly members with diverse educational and cultural backgrounds and learning styles.