Reflexive Policy Consulting in German Foreign Policy

Reflexive Policy Consulting in German Foreign Policy
Prof. Dr. Christoph Weller
Charlotte Rungius, M.A.
Universität Augsburg, Lehrstuhl für Politikwissenschaft, Friedens und Konfliktforschung
HOW CAN GERMAN FOREIGN POLICY CONTRIBUTE TO GLOBAL PROBLEM-SOLVING?

In order to deal with global challenges, decision makers in foreign policy draw on expert knowledge, particularly scientific policy advice. However, “more” knowledge does not necessarily mean better solutions. Knowledge can also restrict alternative perspectives. According to our definition of knowledge, “knowing something” means interpreting, ordering and structuring perceptions and convictions in a specific way. Therefore, policy consulting based on specific bodies of knowledge can also impede political progress, where solutions require alternative ways of interpreting and ordering  perceptions.

As a result, policy consulting should necessarily include a reflexive stance, particularly, it should be mindful of the epistemological and methodological assumptions underlying the advice. Following this assumption the project primarily considers the question of how advisory structures should be organized, in order to strengthen the reflection on current descriptions of problems and crises in German foreign policy? Is the production of knowledge being reflected as open, uncertain and changeable? Which forms of policy consulting are suitable for this understanding of knowledge? How is “knowledge” dealt with in consulting interactions in German foreign policy?

WHAT IS REFLEXIVE POLICY CONSULTING?

In this project „reflexive policy consulting“ is understood as a research perspective. Reflexive policy consulting implies looking at the contentiousness and uncertainty of knowledge in the consulting process. Thus, we do not conceptualize reflexive policy consulting as a model of consulting, but as a praxis of dealing with knowledge, uncertainties and knowledge communication.

RESEARCH PERSPECTIVE AND RESEARCH APPROACH

This research perspective is based on the social constructivist assumption that knowledge is a result of socially communicated processes of production. With this in mind, we do not assume that there is an observable, non-ambiguous reality, only to be discovered by smart people, but rather that knowledge about “reality” is based on human perceptions and the linguistic (symbolic) exchange of these perceptions, the world thus being socially constructed. We conduct interviews and workshops with politicians and consultants, focusing on their understanding of the role of policy consulting in German foreign policy.