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NADRA 2014: Q and A with Dr. Staffan Furusten

Public health

29 Jul 2014

Dr. Staffan Furusten is an associate professor at Stockholm School of Economics and the director of Score (Stockholm centre for organizational research), a research centre run jointly by Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics. The centre focuses on research of management and governance of public organizations in the intersection between the industry, the civil society and the public sector.

Dr. Staffan Furusten, what is the theme for your presentation at the Nordic Alcohol and Drug Researchers’ Assembly?

I will talk about the contemporary expert society, where we now are living in a society where we see an increasing number of experts in an increasing number of fields of expertise. I see this development from the point of view of organizations, how they face and handle the fact that expert knowledge today tend to be cultivated on expert markets.

Can you briefly explain the concept of a new expert society?

With the concept a new expert society I try to capture a current trend. Today there are more self-claimed experts out there than ever before and they are providing expert services to politicians, public authorities, non-governmental and non-profit organizations as well as to enterprises. Compared to more traditional experts, such as lawyers and audits, where it is not allowed to practice the law or auditing unless you have undertaken a specified education, have a required professional experience and are formally authorized by the professional community, the tendency in the new expert society is that none of these attributes are required to, for instance, act in the role of the consultant.

It is the number of experts populating an increasing number of such field of expertise that are increasing today, and the tendency is that these kinds of experts also become more important in providing decision-makers in organizations as well as politicians with knowledge.

 Can you define who “they” are, whom do the experts represent?

Compared to traditional experts representing well established professions who are expected to be altruistic an authorized by the state to take responsibility for the practice in complex knowledge areas, the new experts mainly represent themselves and their own interests. There is no association for these professionals, as is the case among physicians, lawyers, audits and architects, who has been given the task by the state to organize a particular expert system.

This does, of course, not automatically mean that they are non-responsible and that formally authorized and state-controlled experts always are a better choice, but it is a fundament for the expertise they represent and the expert work they perform. 

How has the expert-run society affected alcohol policy and alcohol policy-making?

Politicians, as well as public authorities and organizations in the civil society active in the area, tend to do as all kinds of organizations these days; hire external experts for conducting investigations, evaluations, providing knowledge and producing analyses as well as auditing and evaluating the results. Based on such information they then take decisions of how their resources should be spent and how to organize and manage the activities.

In what ways such decisions and actions have been positive or negative for alcohol policy and policy-making is hard to tell, but it is of great importance to direct focus towards criteria that are used for measuring and evaluating the performance of organizations active in the area. If too much focus is devoted to measure organizational efficiency and effectivity in the short run, it might be so that the core business of these organizations are jeopardized. It is important to measure activities based on their local circumstances, not only on international management standards.


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