albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
17 December 2021

Do Experts Challenge or Buttress Democratic Governance?

The Global Governance Centre and the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy are convening an online series of commentaries to take stock of and debate what role experts play in global governance, and whether and how they can facilitate democratic governance.

Liberal democratic systems are facing challenges across regions and levels of governance, fuelled by real or perceived governance failures and their inability to deal with societal grievances. Trust in the political institutions of democracy—parties, elections, parliaments, governments is in free fall globally. The erosion of the standing of these institutions as representatives of the public interest and the election of populist leaders are the symptoms of a multi-faceted phenomenon. 

Amongst others, this phenomenon has been attributed to governments’ reliance on supposedly apolitical expert knowledge to underpin their policies, as the coronavirus pandemic has shown. As the United Kingdoms grievances against the faceless” bureaucrats of the European Union (EU), and eventually Brexit, have demonstrated, specific uses of the narratives around ‘expert knowledge’ has also stoked nationalist and populist backlash. 

There appear to be obvious tensions, therefore, between technocratic and democratic governance models in their ideal forms, i.e. where decisions are made by those with expertise in a given area as opposed to those representing the will of the people.

Yet, democratic political systems often need experts to develop and legitimate complex public policies. And experts need to be isolated by those very same systems in order to do their work without political interference. Technocracy and democracy often operate in tandem, sometimes with counterintuitive effects that can be amplified during periods of crisis.

It is in this context that the Global Governance Centre and the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy are organizing a special series of think pieces to help unpack the relationship between technocracy and democracy in global governance today. 

The series asks: How can we understand the role of experts in global governance? Through what mechanisms do they wield their expertise, what strategies are deployed, and how might they vary across issue areas or levels of governance? What does this all mean for democratic governance systems? When does expertise challenge democracy and when does it uphold it? 


Read the published pieces in the series:

Experts in Global Governance: Powerful Technocrats or Useful Idiots?

By Johan Christensen, Leiden University

Global Experts in Local Contexts: Why Legitimation Strategies Matter?

By Sapna Reheem Shaila, University of Edinburgh



For more information about how you can contribute to the series, please contact: /