An Overview of Discourses on Knowledge in Policy: Thinking Knowledge, Policy and Conflict Together

Michal Sedlačko, Katarína Staroňová


Around the world, there is a growing interest among policy scholars and practitioners in the role of knowledge in relation to public policy. These debates are accompanied by some confusion about what is meant by knowledge or evidence, as well as controversies around the role of scientists and suspicions of increasingly technocratic decision making. Our aim is to provide a useful overview of the major debates in this paper, and to trace six dominant discourses in current research that address the role of scientific knowledge or expertise in the policy process. We distinguish evidence-based policy making, knowledge utilisation, policy learning, knowledge transfer, social construction of knowledge and boundaries, and knowing in practice as separate discourses. We show how they differ in their understanding of knowledge, of the problem to solve in terms of the role of knowledge in policy, of practical implications, as well as in their understanding of public policy and in their ontologies and epistemologies. A condensed and structured representation serves as a basis for conducting comparisons across discourses as well as to open ways for analysis of strategic associations between the discourses. We hope to contribute to extending the discussion of knowledge in policy into the realm of epistemic politics and we suggest several avenues for future research that can draw on a range of concepts from across all of the discourses.


knowledge and policy; evidence-based policy making; knowledge utilisation; policy learning; social learning; knowledge brokerage; boundary work; practical knowledge; epistemic politics

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ISSN 1802-4866 | Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Social Sciences | Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.