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Defining ‘Expert’ Voices: Giving Testimony in Mental Health Policy Making
National Communication Association (2011)
  • Ardis Hanson, University of South Florida
Public policymaking begins with a public recognition of a problem. The problem can be concern for a government's mission, objectives, or purpose, the illumination of wider social costs such as the latent or unintended consequences of government interventions, or consideration of alternatives for unrepresented or disenfranchised groups that participate in public programs. Since policymaking deals largely with constructs, i.e., "we start from words, we work with words, we report with words" (Archibald, 1980, p. 179), language is simultaneously constructive and constitutive. If public policy has the potential to transform social and political institutions, the eternal policy question is, "What happens when we intervene in a social system in this way rather than an alternative way?" I ask an additional question: Which voice is determined to be expert and why? To address whom is the expert and his or her role in the policy making process, we must first understand the construction of expert. In the construction of "expert", a number of factors, ranging from skepticism to solidarity, play a role. These factors address the architecture of participation, an individual's sense of efficacy within the system, issues of membership, inclusion, and boundaries, and the locus, nature, and specific exercise of power in the organization. I see discourse analysis as a tool for disentangling public dialogue about complex and value-laden policy issues through the structure and function of language. Using this method, it is possible to take account of the ways in which participants construct their views around problem identification, the subtle differences found in the expression of their views, and insight into the ideology or belief system of stakeholders and actors (Schön & Rein, 1994). I use a discursive approach to examine how one is perceived as expert, through the twinned areas of evidence and credentialing My data comes from the 28 February 2000 meeting of the Florida Commission on Mental Health and Substance Abuse on "Mental Health: The State of the Science."
  • discourse analysis,
  • public policy,
  • 'expert' voice,
  • evidence,
  • credentialing,
  • mental health
Publication Date
November, 2011
Citation Information
Ardis Hanson. "Defining ‘Expert’ Voices: Giving Testimony in Mental Health Policy Making" National Communication Association (2011)
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