Scientific decision-making and stakeholder consultations: The case of salt recommendations

Lada Timotijevic, Julie Barnett, Kerry Brown, Monique M. Raats, Richard Shepherd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (SciVal)


Scientific advisory committees (SACs) are seen as "boundary organisations" working at the interface between science, policy and society. Although their narrowly defined remit of risk assessment is anchored in notions of rationality, objectivity, and reason, in reality, their sources for developing recommendations are not limited to scientific evidence. There is a growing expectation to involve non-scientific sources of information in the formation of knowledge, including the expectation of stakeholder consultation in forming recommendations. Such a move towards "democratisation" of scientific processes of decision-making within SACs has been described and often studied as "post-normal science" (PNS) (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993). In the current paper we examine the application of PNS in practice through a study of stakeholder consultations within the workings of the UK Scientific Advisory Committee for Nutrition (SACN). We use the theoretical insights from PNS-related studies to structure the analysis and examine the way in which PNS tenets resonate with the practices of SACN. We have selected a particular case of the SACN UK recommendations for salt as it is characterized by scientific controversy, uncertainty, vested interests and value conflict. We apply the tenets of PNS through documentary analysis of the SACN Salt Subgroup (SSG) consultation documents published in 2002/2003: the minutes of the 5 SACN SSG's meetings which included summary of the SACN SSG's stakeholder consultation and the SSG's responses to the consultation. The analysis suggests that the SACN consultation can be construed as a process of managing sources of risk to its organisation. Thus, rather than being an evidence of post-normal scientific practice, engagement became a mechanism for confirming the specific framing of science that is resonant with technocratic models of science holding authority over the facts. The implications for PNS theory are discussed
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-86
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013


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