New WRR publication: Acquiring, assessing and weighing. The use of knowledge in policy advice in times of crisis

Essay “Acquiring, assessing and weighing. The use of knowledge in policy advice in times of crisis”.

Preparing for the next crisis means being aware that it will inevitably come. This is the conclusion drawn by the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), the Health Council of the Netherlands (GR) and the Council for Public Administration (ROB).

The role of scientific advisors in crisis situations
In crisis situations, scientific advisors play an essential role in the timely acquisition and interpretation of relevant knowledge. It is then the task of politicians and administrators to assess and weigh the knowledge and, on that basis, to decide how to tackle the crisis. The essay highlights three key lessons:

  1. Adaptivity: crises require politicians, administrators and advisory bodies to demonstrate adaptability. During a crisis, scientific advisors can proactively formulate questions and provide guidance to strike upon answers that will help mitigate the crisis. In addition, they can provide policymakers with greater manoeuvrability by looking further ahead.
  2. Multidisciplinarity: Advisory boards are composed of different scientific disciplines that can share areas of overlap, but that can also sometimes clash. It is absolutely vital in a crisis in which far-reaching decisions must be made that the full range of perspectives receive due consideration. This requires practice, which can be achieved when advisory bodies endeavour to collaborate more often when crises are not at hand.
  3. Division of responsibility: tasks and responsibilities are distributed between science, advice and decision-making. Advisory bodies should guard against these responsibilities becoming too intertwined. This becomes particularly vital the longer the crisis persists and the more prominent the role of politics and governance becomes.

The essay is the result of a conference convened by the three bodies to examine the role of knowledge in dealing with an acute, chronic or predicted crisis. During the conference, scientists from a range of disciplines, politicians and administrators discussed these issues.

About the WRR
The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) is an independent advisory body for government policy. The task of the WRR is to advise the Dutch government and Parliament on strategic issues that are likely to have important political and societal consequences. More information about the WRR can be obtained here.