Experience is not a dirty word

By Jenny Fleming, Professor of Criminology, Director of the Institute of Criminal Justice Research, and R.A.W. Rhodes, Professor of Government at the University of Southampton.


Government policy is to build on evidence of what works. So, we conduct randomised controlled trials, we ‘nudge’ citizens, and we evaluate policies to recover evidence of what does or does not work. No one denies that the more you know the better; but how do you acquire knowledge? More importantly what constitutes knowledge?

We ‘know’ facts and believe explanations from many sources. We draw on research, political and legal knowledge. We check out statistics and labour over government data but what we do not do is draw systematically on experiential knowledge. Experience refers to the practical knowledge about the world amassed by individuals in an organisational and work context. Such knowledge is invariably in play. It involves selective retelling of the past to make sense of the present. It is used to explain past practice and events and to justify present activity and recommendations for the future. It is the central characteristic of a craft.

What happens when research-based knowledge bumps into experience and associated craft? It becomes part of the mix. The starting point is experience. Take the example of the police. Officers draw on the collective and individual experiences of other officers; on their stories. They ‘phone a friend’ and employ their knowledge of the local area. The emphasis falls on practice because they believe the shared knowledge of practitioners is of more value than the evidence. They talk about common sense, judgement, and ‘on the street’ experience. Police officers acknowledge that anything that can assist them in doing their job more effectively is welcome but they are more likely to embrace the practical. If they go to ostensibly objective data they will use their experience to interpret it and assess its usefulness. Their experience will construct the facts and explanations; that is, the evidence they will use.

Officers do not rely only on experience. They weave together knowledge from any available and relevant sources. Too often the different kinds of knowledge are set up as opposites; research-based versus craft knowledge. Demonstrably the police draw on any source of information available to them, and use their experience to determine the information they will act on. The choice is dictated by availability. Is there any research-based knowledge? If there is no research based knowledge (and we know that the research base is currently limited), then experience is all there is. Its use is both essential and inevitable.

Evidence-based policing persists because it provides the legitimating rationale for decisions made by other means. The imprimatur of science is used to legitimise essentially political decisions. Of course, there are policy contexts that are not politicised. Of course, some evidence is better founded and more relevant for some policies than others. And let us not forget, sometimes if not often, there is rational, scientific evidence available. But much evidence-based policing takes place in charged organisational and political contexts that ensure the data are always incomplete, always uncertain, and always ambiguous. So, the meaning of evidence is never fixed, it must be constantly won. By itself, evidence-based knowledge is not enough. We need the partisans arguing for scientific evidence but we need also other types of knowledge. Craft knowledge, political knowledge, and research-based knowledge, all warrant a place at the table. These several strands need to be woven together. Craft knowledge not only needs to be treated as evidence in this weaving, but we need to recognise that it provides also the basis for choosing between the available sources of evidence.

Experience may be a dirty word to the partisans of science, but it is essential given both the limits to, and lack of, social science knowledge.

A pint of science event on citizenship and democracy

Two members of PAIR, Prof David Owen and Dr Ben Saunders, recently took part in Pint of Science, an international event involving researchers engaging with the public in the relaxed environment of a local pub. The View Bar is one of six Southampton venues participating this year, with the focus being Our Society. David and Ben spoke on Monday night, on the theme of citizenship and democracy.

David’s talk examined the changing boundaries of citizenship. It was once assumed that everyone would be a citizen of one and only one state where they would reside, yet this picture of exclusive citizenship has come under strain with greater international mobility. Whereas in 1960 less than a third of the world’s state recognised dual nationality, this has risen to around 70%. Further, many people no longer reside in the state(s) of which they are citizens.

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These changes raise important questions about who should be included when it comes to voting in elections and referenda. More and more states are granting voting rights to expatriate citizens abroad and/or to resident foreigners. How these boundaries are drawn has obvious important for the democratic legitimacy of the decisions that get made. For instance, an interesting consequence of the way the UK electorate is drawn is that resident Commonwealth citizens were entitled to vote in last year’s Brexit referendum, though non-UK/Ireland EU citizens were not entitled to vote, though clearly affected by the decision.

Ben’s talk concerned whether citizens have a duty to vote. Turnout in UK General Elections has actually risen in each election since 2001 (with turnout in the Brexit referendum higher still), but is still below the levels commonly seen in the mid-20th century. For many political scientists, the interesting question is not why many citizens do not vote, but why so many do, given that the expected benefit of their participation is small. It seems that many people believe in a duty to vote, which would offer one explanation for their doing so. However, it is not clear what might ground this duty.

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Moreover, most arguments for a duty to vote do not simply show that we have a duty to vote but, rather, that we have a duty to vote in some particular way (for instance, sincerely, or in an informed manner, or in good faith, etc). We can therefore distinguish between voting well and voting badly. It may be that we have a duty to vote well, but we cannot infer from this a general duty to vote, since voting badly may be worse than not voting at all. Thus, we ought not to suppose that voters are more commendable than non-voters, if we do not know anything about how they voted.

Both talks were followed by lively discussions from the floor, with pint glass prizes for the best questions. The audience also had the chance to participate in several activities, including designing their own micro-state, playing Totalitarian Top Trumps, and taking part in a pub quiz based on the UK citizenship test.

Migration Governance Across Regions

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


 

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Migration policies are rarely effective. Examples of unintended and undesirable outcomes abound. In Latin America, very little is known about the impact and long-term sustainability of state policies towards emigrants. Following a world-wide trend, Ecuador, Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil have developed new institutions and discourses to strengthen links; assist, protect and enfranchise migrants, and capture their resources. As an adaptation of governmental techniques to global realities, these policies redefine the contours of polities, nations, and citizenship, giving place to a new form of transnational governance.

Building upon field research done in these five states and two receiving countries in the last decade, Ana Margheritis’s new book explains the timing, motivations, characteristics, and implications of emigration policies implemented by each country, as well as the emergence of a distinctive regional consensus around a post-neoliberal approach to national development and citizenship construction.

To visit the publisher’s website for this title, please follow this link.

There is also a flyer for the book with a 20% discount code available here.

 

PAIR Students’ Work for Consultation Institute recognised

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At the university, we try whenever possible to create opportunities for our students to engage in real-world research, working with organisations in the public, private and voluntary section. Many of our students take up these opportunities during their second year research methods module. Recently two of our students Rory McGurk and William Pereira were invited to the Consultation Institute’s annual conference and presented with a certificate in appreciation for their work for the institute.

In Rory’s words:

We were asked by the Consultation Institute to conduct some research into some prominent public consultation cases, and suggest ways in which they could have been improved. We were given the case of the Kings Lynn Incinerator – a controversial plan for an incinerator which involved numerous overlapping consultations in Norfolk. These were our findings:

The Kings Lynn incinerator proposal consultation was legitimate in relation to the Aarhus convention, namely the right to participate in decision making. However, each of these consultations suffered systematic flaws, the most overarching of which was an attempt to manipulate public opinion. This was seen in the omission of certain questions from the Cory Wheelabrator telephone survey in 2011, and the county councils dismissal of a 92.68% residence opposition. It was therefore overtly plain to see that consultation in this instance was a participatory mechanism utilised only for the intention of legitimising a preconceived county-imposed waste management strategy that favoured an incinerator.

In recognition of the work we produced, the Consultation Institute invited us to their annual conference at the Emirates stadium. This proved to be a fascinating and extremely useful day, allowing us to listen to some high end speakers, such as Michael Portillo and Anthony King. We were also given the opportunity to network with individuals at the Consultation Institute and explain our research to them. We were also given an award for our contribution to the work produced by the Consultation Institute. Overall, the research was helpful in expanding our political knowledge and analytical skills, and the conference was a very interesting and helpful day. We would like to send our thanks to Rhion Jones and Elizabeth Gammell for allowing us to conduct the research and for allowing us to join them at their conference. Also, to Matt Ryan for setting up the research with the Consultation Institute and for joining us on our adventure down to their headquarters in Biggleswade.

Kamil Zwolski commenting on political situation in Poland for France 24

By Dr. Kamil Zwolski, Lecturer in Global Politics and Policy at University of Southampton (Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Kamil here.


 

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Kamil Zwolski, Lecturer in Global Politics and Policy at the University of Southampton, has commented on the political situation in Poland following 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections in this country for the Paris-based international news and current affairs television channel France 24.

You can watch Kamil’s contribution to the programme here.

Argentina departs from the Kirchner model, but Mauricio Macri now has to govern a divided nation

By Pia Riggirozzi. Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at the University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


Read Dr Pia Riggirozzi’s new piece for The Conversation on the outcome of Argentina’s 2015 presidential elections.

Follow this link for the full article.

‘Reinvigorating Democracy – learning from the past and looking to the future’: a public event on 8th January 2015

Both the City of Southampton and the Department of Politics and International Relations (PAIR) at the University of Southampton continue to mark their 50th anniversaries this year. 2015 will also celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. As calls for stronger democracy and constitutional change as well as dissatisfaction with politics continue to increase there is no better or more pressing time to discuss the state of democracy.  Southampton City Council and PAIR will be holding a public event on the evening of this Thursday 8th of January at Southampton City Council Chambers to discuss and debate the problems and prospects for democracy at local and national levels in the UK. The event will start at 5pm and will involve short talks from university lecturers, contributions from City Council and audience participation. We would encourage interested members of the public as well as members of the university to come along, listen and contribute their own knowledge and experience.

Speakers:

Prof Gerry Stoker is a frequent distinguished contributor in both national and international media. His expertise covers everything from democratic politics, local and regional governance, urban politics and public participation to public service reform.

Cllr Simon Letts has a rich experience of government in Southampton having first served on the City Council in 1991. He was appointed Leader of the Council in May 2013.

Prof Will Jennings’ expertise covers agenda-setting, public opinion, electoral behaviour, political parties, and the governance of mega-projects and mega-events. His research has made significant contributions to improvements in public policy-making.

Dr Matthew Ryan is an expert in new forms of citizen participation in politics through democratic innovations. He contributes to a number of national and international projects aimed at increasing and deepening public participation in politics.

Cllr Daniel Jeffrey is a successful PAIR graduate. He represents the Sholing Ward and is Cabinet Member for Education and Change.