Vera Axyonova

Expert Knowledge in Times of Crisis – Uncovering Interaction Effects between Think Tanks, Media and Politics beyond Liberal Democracies

The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic demonstrates most vividly the urgent need to understand effects of specialised expert knowledge on politics and public life. This project is an immediate response to this need. It sets out to investigate interaction effects between expert knowledge, media and policymaking in a context, in which they have been particularly understudied, namely in political settings beyond consolidated liberal democracies. More specifically, the project aims to examine how and to what extent institutionalised expert groups, such as think tanks, shape political agendas in such settings during crises. Furthermore, it intends to reveal how opinions produced by expert elites are adopted by the national media for transmission to the broader public, enabling policymakers to legitimise their decisions. The interaction effects are studied in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, three post-Soviet countries with varying political practices and media systems.

The research integrates insights from literatures on expert knowledge production, think tanks’ policy influence, and political and media discourse formation. It provides a systematic theory-guided analysis of think tank crises-related discourses in the three countries, traces their links with media and political debates, and investigates step-by-step developments of policy responses originating from crises situations with the focus on think tanks’ influence channels. The project draws on methodological approaches from political discourse analyses, policy cycle research and impact studies and employs a mixed-methods design, combining qualitative and quantitative content analysis of think tank publications, media reports and politicians’ speech acts, qualitative network analysis, expert interviews, and process tracing.

Overall, the project aims at a three-fold contribution: 1) empirically, it narrows the remarkable gap in research on expert communities in post-Soviet countries and helps to understand their role in crises such as the current pandemic; 2) methodologically, it introduces an innovative approach, based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques to uncover interaction effects where direct causal links are difficult to establish; and 3) theoretically, it advances a new research agenda on the expert-media-policy nexus in times of crisis and conceptualises the impact of expert knowledge on politics and society beyond liberal democracies.