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Bringing economics closer to its public: participatory budgeting as public engagement

18/04/2017

“The public, it seems, does not know much about economics, nor does it trust economics (…)”. Having to face with a very similar problem, what can the “social studies of economics” approach learn from the fields of public understanding of science and science studies?

The new paper just published on JCOM, titled “Building the economic-public relationship: learning from science communication and science studies”, by Fabien Medvecky and Vicki Macknight, researchers at the University of Otago’s Centre for Science Communication, explores the “surprisingly little work (which) has been done to understand the relationship between the discipline of economics and the public".

Drawing attention to questions of knowledge, power, and public confidence in economics, the authors explore “understanding, expertise, and audience” as the three themes which have also been deeply scrutinized by social studies of science and science communication.

In the second part of their paper, Medvecky and Macknight suggest a possible activity for public engagement with economics: Participatory Budgeting (PB). Exploring how it can lead to a better understanding and knowledge building, sharing of expertise and democracy processes, and engage audiences and participants, the authors argue that “thinking about PB through an economic lens helps us to see how PB could be expanded to bring the public into discussions around economics.”

Conclusions reflect on how “conceptual tools developed in science studies can be called into many other areas, and this is potentially very powerful”: impossible to disagree!