My thesis is titled “Voice but not a veto: Information and dissent in advisory commissions” . 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. Common variations of such committees are known as commissions of inquiry, Royal Commissions, blue ribbon panels. 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 in many countries, 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 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 commissions’ lack of consensus or majority rule play in bringing about informed consensus? I investigate these questions using the EITM (Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models) methodology.
Advisory commissions differ from congressional and parliamentary committees in 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.
I also have several working papers and publications, which can be found here: