My thesis is titled “Voice but not a veto: Consensus-building through inclusion” . I study the informational and consensus-building aspects of policy advisory commissions, also known as Royal commissions, commissions of inquiry, blue ribbon commissions, and task forces. These are ad hoc, temporary committees appointed by the government or head of state during the policy formulation stage of the legislative process. A typical example is the 2010 Blue Ribbon Commission on America`s Nuclear Future, which investigated future storage options for nuclear waste. Their primary purpose is to obtain relevant knowledge from experts and affected parties about a particular policy issue. Their secondary purpose is to provide a platform for bargaining, negotiation, and compromise among different organized interests and the government. Such committees exist nearly everywhere, but have a long history in countries with a Westminster system of government and Northern European countries with (neo)corporatist traditions. My particular focus is Sweden, where commissions have been used since the 1700s.
Policy advisory commissions have been surprisingly consensual, considering that their membership is often diverse and they deal with controversial or significant policy questions. They have also been useful in facilitating compromise during times of parliamentary instability. This makes them them and interesting institution to study in the present political climate characterized by intense party polarization, legislative gridlock, and unstable parliamentary majorities.
In the dissertation, I use the the EITM methodology, in which a formal model is used to derive empirical predictions, which are then tested. My surprising claim is that diverse commissions with external experts and interested parties are more consensual than should be expected. This is because advisory commissions have aspects of both open and closed rules. First, their recommendations are not binding, so commissions engage in policy analysis but do not set policy. This open-rule-like feature which separates analysis from decision-making gives some bargaining power to dissenting members. On a diverse commission, there are many potential sources of dissent, which compels the commission’s members to seek compromise in order to avoid the government choosing its outside option. Even though dissenters do not have a veto, they have enough of a voice to limit what other commission members can demand. In other respects, diverse advisory commissions retain features of bargaining under a closed rule. Diverse commissions include members whose information is more useful in evaluating some policies than others. The presence of this policy-specific information makes the government hesitate to alter the policy recommendation, as amending the policy means throwing information away. 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 below. Broadly speaking, I am interested in questions of rational cooperation through improved information, institutions, deliberation, and governance.