Experts, Expertise and Drug Policymaking

Publication Date01 Sep 2018
The Howard Journal Vol57 No 3. September 2018 DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12265
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 422–441
Experts, Expertise and Drug
Mark Monaghan is Lecturer in Criminology and Social Policy, Department of
Social Sciences, Loughborough University; Emma Wincup is Senior Lecturer,
School of Law, University of Leeds; Kate Wicker is Doctoral Student, School
of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
Abstract: Over the past two decades, policymakers have been encouraged to develop
evidence-based policies in collaboration with experts. Drug policy is unique since it has
an established inbuilt mechanism for soliciting expertise via the Advisory Council for the
Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Increasingly alternative mechanisms have been used. Based
upon detailed analysis of two case studies of drug policymaking using alternative methods
to solicit expertise, we argue that the framing of the policy problem, the mechanisms used
to involve experts and the type of evidence actively sought, have continued to marginalise
the involvement of the drug user in policymaking.
Keywords: drug policy; evidence; expertise; experts; policymaking
Over the past two decades, policymakers have been encouraged to de-
velop evidence-based policies in collaboration with experts. In the field of
UK drugs policy,1expertise has been formally embedded in the decision-
making apparatus since the passing of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
(MDA 1971), but long before this the findings of learned committees in-
fluenced the direction of policy. The Rolleston Committee in 1921 and the
Brain Committee in 1961 provide noteworthy examples (Barton 2011).
The MDA 1971 established the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
(ACMD) whose initial remit was to consider any matter relating to drug
dependence or the misuse of drugs. Since its inception, ministers have
been obliged to consult the ACMD before making regulations under the
MDA 1971 and prior to laying orders before parliament, but do not have
to act on its advice (Taylor 2016, p.130). While working relations between
government and its drug policy experts have always been fractious, in the
past decade there have been high-profile clashes, most notably in relation
to drug classification.
A significant feature of recent drug policymaking is the use of alternative
mechanisms to the ACMD to solicit expert advice to inform policy.Whether
this is a consequence of the awkward relationship between government
2018 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK
The Howard Journal Vol57 No 3. September 2018
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 422–441
and the ACMD, a response to new challenges in the drugs field such as
the rapid rise of novel psychoactive substances (NPS), or shifts in the way
in which drug policy has been framed (see Monaghan 2012), is a source
of debate. Here we consider whether these alternative mechanisms have
changed the policy landscape to the extent that it has been ‘opened up’
to new voices, including those of former and current drug users who can
potentially bring different types of experientially-derived evidence to the
policy process, resulting in improved drug policy through understanding
the breadth and depth of experiences, knowledges and beliefs surrounding
drug use (see Ritter, Lancaster and Diprose 2018).
In this article, we concentrate on ‘high-level’ policy development stem-
ming from central government recognising that expertise is but one in-
fluence on policy development, that policymaking is not simply top-down,
and that there is often a disconnect between ‘high-level’ policy and practice
on the ground. The first section offers a theoretical overview of the nature
of expertise and policymaking. We then reflect specifically upon the role of
the ACMD in informing drug policy. Following on from this we introduce
two case studies to illustrate different mechanisms used by the govern-
ment to solicit expertise in relation to drug policy. The first relates to the
establishment of a bespoke expert panel to conduct the New Psychoactive
Substances (NPS) Review. The second – the Black Review – utilised a wider
range of mechanisms, including a public call for evidence and round tables
with experts, to explore how best to improve employment outcomes for
drug users. We argue that despite the use of new mechanisms, there is
evidence of more continuity than change with a heavy reliance on similar
types of evidence to the past and relatively little opportunity for experts-
by-experience, and especially drug users, to shape the policy agenda.
A Brief Theoretical Overview: Experts, Expertise and Policymaking
There is an extensive literature on defining expertise, much of which is
discipline specific. Cognitive scientists tend to view expertise as a tangible
good and an individual trait. For example, Ericsson (2006) argues that
expertise is manifest in ‘the characteristics, skills and knowledge that dis-
tinguish experts from novices and less experienced people’ (p.3). Experts
are identified by their own ability rather than by social markers such as
credentials or attribution (Salthouse 1991, pp.286–7). Researchers in this
tradition have also identified experts by particular measures summarised
by Shanteau et al. (2002) as: number of years’ experience; formal recog-
nition of skills through certification; behaviours (for example, confidence,
perception, communication skills); abilities (for example, to tell the dif-
ference between similar cases within their field of knowledge or to make
judgments in a consistent manner); and knowledge within a particular
topic area.
Sociological understandings of experts (vis-`
a-vis non-experts) are more
relational, and regard expertise as contextual and attributed in specific sit-
uations. Criteria and standards of expertise are relative and the attribution
of expert status is variable and dependent on the audience (Mieg 2006,
2018 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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