Political Knowledge Regimes and policy change in Chile and Uruguay

[This is a summary of the third working paper of the Working Paper SeriesPolitical Knowledge Regimes and policy change in Chile and Uruguay]

Research plays a crucial role in public policy dynamics of contemporary democracies. But, the authors of this paper argue that it does so in a different degrees and ways according to the type of Political Knowledge Regime (PKR) in the country. To test this, they PKRs as an explanation of change in three political areas (international trade, fiscal policy and educational policy) in Chile and Uruguay between 1989 and 2015.

The type of political regime of knowledge arises from the combination of: 1) the type of policy making regime and: 2) the general evaluation of science in a given political system. Its hypothesis is that the combination of the type of policy making regime and the general evaluation of science are different in Chile and Uruguay. This, it argues, gives way to two different knowledge regimes and different policy results.

The authors found that both PKRs have different characteristics and lead to different outcomes. To build their legitimacy, Chilean rulers must exhibit powerful academic credentials, primarily in economics. Uruguay is very different in this sense. Academic credentials provide very little legitimacy. Their research shows that, in Chile, experts played a decisive role in policy change processes. In particular, they were decisive in constructing agreements on public policies between the parties. In Uruguay, on the other hand, the dynamics of public policies depend strictly on political factors, and rely less on technical inputs.

They further argue that the type of policy making regime is different in both countries, which has led to experts playing differing roles in each. In Chile, there is more distance between the State and citizens than in Uruguay. In order to participate in policy change process, Chilean civil society organizations must strive to formulate technical arguments and rely on experts. The political system in Chile has given power to specialized knowledge, experts are trusted on their ability to negotiate agreements and political contracts. In contrast, Uruguay has an open and decentralized policy making regime, in which civil society plays a larger role, but public policy debates focus on political issues, rather than on technical ones.

These findings lead the authors to argue that the social value of science, higher in Chile, directly impacts on the implementation of specialized knowledge in public policies.  The policy making regime in Chile considers specialized knowledge as an essential value for policy makers, but those who oversee decision-making do not include other stakeholders. On the contrary Uruguay shows an open and decentralized policy making regime, in which research outcomes are used by different actors (pressure groups, NGOs, parties and their factions, etc.). But research is mostly used as a political weapon in the struggle to influence public policies.

In summary their analysis shows that neither Chile nor Uruguay have democracies in which there is a balance between the voice of the citizens and that of the specialists. Chile is characterized by a lack of participation from the public (closed policy making regime) and in Uruguay there is an absence of theoretical considerations when developing public policies. The authors argue that it is important to point this out because it is nor convenient nor sufficient to say that all Latin American countries need more democracy and technocracy. Chile does not need more technocracy: it needs more democracy. Uruguay does not need more democracy: it needs to improve and strengthen the use of knowledge in the design of its public policies.

They take their conclusions further to the whole of Latin America, and state that the main deficit of most Latin American countries is not the lack of technocracy but the weakness of the institutions that should empower the citizens to act.

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