Experts in Public Policy Making: How to make best use of them

Experts are necessary, but we need to think carefully about how they participate in public policy-making. That is according to Peter Kurti, a colleague of Adept Director Gene Tunny’s at the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), where Gene is an Adjunct Fellow. In July 2023, the CIS published Peter’s new paper Authority, Expertise And Democracy. Should those who know best rule the rest of us? Peter was recently interviewed by Gene for his Economics Explored podcast. 

Peter argues that some controversial policy decisions during the pandemic highlight the need to think more carefully regarding how expert advice is used in public policy decision-making. The complexity of challenges we face, whether that be around decarbonisation or advances in artificial intelligence (AI), mean that we need expert advice. But, as Peter argues, we need to maintain democratic norms, too. We should be wary of “double delegation.” This is where decision-making is delegated to elected political leaders, who then delegate powers to unelected officials, such as chief medical officers. 

In some cases, such as the choice of the central policy rate (i.e. the cash rate in Australia), such delegation may be warranted. However, it should be done on a case-by-case basis. It depends on how technical the issue is and whether expert qualifications are needed to make it, whether there are tradeoffs that should be made by elected officials, and whether there are appropriate accountability mechanisms, among other considerations that Peter outlines in the paper. 

Peter offers some excellent advice for using experts in public policy making, particularly the greater need for:

  1. a tolerance of dissent, allowing competing views and allowing expert advice to be scrutinised;
  2. political courage, whereby politicians should be more willing to decide the trade-offs that come with public policy decision-making, and not let the expert make the necessary value judgments, with politicians hiding behind expert or scientific advice for their decisions; and
  3. institutional integrity, meaning mechanisms to question experts in the public policy-making process and to keep them accountable to the public. 

Overall, Peter Kurti has made an important contribution regarding how we can improve our use of experts in public policy decision-making. 

Published on 17 August 2023. This article was prepared by Adept Economics Economic Director Gene Tunny with input from Research Economist Arturo Espinoza. For further information please get in touch with us via or by calling us on 1300 169 870.

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