My thesis is titled “Voice but not a veto: Information and dissent in commissions of inquiry” . I study the informational and consensus-building aspects of committees of scientific experts and policy stakeholders advising a legislature on issues which are especially controversial, have great societal impact, or require special expertise. Variations of such committees are known as commissions of inquiry, Royal Commissions, blue ribbon panels, task forces, and advisory commissions. A typical example is the 2010 Blue Ribbon Commission on America`s Nuclear Future, which investigated future storage options for nuclear waste. Such committees exist nearly everywhere, but have a particularly long history in countries with a Westminster system of government and Northern European countries with (neo)corporatist traditions. My particular focus is on Sweden, where commissions have been in widespread use since the 1700s.
I address two questions. First, does broad, inclusive membership in advisory commissions increase or decrease the likelihood of informed consensus, especially if interested parties are included? Second, what role does the commissions’ decision rule play in bringing about informed consensus? I investigate these questions using the (EITM (Empirical implications of theoretical models) methodology.
Commissions of inquiry and other advisory commissions differ from other policy advisory committees such as congressional and parliamentary committees in several ways. One is that they have an explicit role for nonpartisan third parties, in addition to technical expertise. In addition, their institutional rules – both formal and informal – emphasize political negotiation and compromise rather than simple majority rule. Possibly for these reasons, they have often succeeded in influencing policy change and garnering broad support for policy proposals on controversial topics. They have also been useful in facilitating compromise during times of parliamentary instability. This makes them them interesting to study in the present political climate characterized by intense party polarization, legislative gridlock, and unstable parliamentary majorities.
My surprising claim is that diverse commissions with external experts and interested parties are more consensual than should be expected. There are two main reasons for this result. First, diverse commissions can pool information from a greater variety of information sources, which improves knowledge about the consequences of different policy options. This benefits all risk averse parties and creates zones of potential agreement. Second, the fact that commission’s output is a nonbinding policy recommendation with minority dissents has two effects. First, the median voter does not fully determine the commission’s outcome. Second, minority members have a voice without having veto power in the traditional sense. Together, these institutional effects make it possible to overcome the trade-off between a gridlock resulting from a consensus rule and more decisive, but less inclusive, decision-making resulting from a majoritarian rule.
Results from my data set have been used in a white paper published by SNS (Centre for Business and Policy Studies, the largest think tank in Scandinavia) here: SNS Research Brief 59. In addition, Svenska Dagbladet (third largest daily in Sweden) has published a debate article and editorial based on the SNS report: SvD debate article Oct 10 2019 SvD Editorial Nov 25 2019. These articles discuss the importance of commissions of inquiry as an antidote for current political polarization. I also have several working papers and publications, which can be found here: