From Social Science Knowledge to Public Policy Making: The ‘Relational’ and ‘Epistemic’ Work of Academic Social Scientists

John King

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the relationship between social science knowledge and public policy making by focusing on the knowledge transfer work of a group of academic social scientists with experience of public policy engagement. It contributes to knowledge transfer and utilization theory by focusing on the critical role played by knowledge producers as agents who can respond creatively and strategically to the political context, thereby highlighting the agency and political dimensions underemphasized in the existing literature. It develops a typology of policy-engaged academic social scientists to link their orientation toward the public policy field with the type of knowledge transfer work they undertake. It conceptualizes the knowledge transfer activities of the academic social scientists as ‘relational’ and ‘epistemic’ knowledge transfer work to stress their agentic effort in managing the relationship with actors in the public policy field and in translating and transforming knowledge. Four types are identified based on their beliefs about the role of academics in public policy making and their orientation toward the public policy field. The analysis shows significant variation in the ‘relational’ and ‘epistemic’ work that each type undertakes and in their perceptions of the outcomes of their engagement. The thesis does not challenge findings that the utilization of social scientific knowledge in public policy making is constrained by political and organizational context but suggests that the work of academic social scientists is an important influence. Social scientists who distance themselves from the public policy field may be less able to influence whether and how their knowledge is used, whereas those who adopt an interactive approach to knowledge production are able to exert some influence through processes of co- production and negotiation. Those who are most able to influence knowledge utilization do so by developing extensive political networks and transforming knowledge into policy proposals and implementation strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Lam, Alice, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • social sciences
  • Public Policy
  • knowledge transfer
  • impact
  • science policy
  • Science and Technology Studies

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