A user perspective on the gap between science and decision-making. Local administrators’ views on expert knowledge in urban planning

Rien van Stigt, P.J. Driessen, Tejo Spit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic

32 Citations (Scopus)


The role of expert knowledge of the environment in decision-making about urban development has been intensively debated. Most contributions to this debate have studied the use of knowledge in the decision-making process from the knowledge providers’ point of view. In this paper, we reverse the perspective and try to understand how local decision-makers use scientific knowledge in decision-making about an urban plan and how they perceive the world of the scientific experts providing this knowledge. We approached municipal administrators in the Netherlands, responsible for local urban development, with conceptions regarding the use of knowledge that were derived from the literature on this issue. By reversing the perspective on the science – decision-making gap, we find that local administrators have a different view on this divide than do scientists. Administrators appear to have a more nuanced or even completely opposite perception of the different epistemic backgrounds of scientists and decision-makers, the inherent uncertainty of scientific knowledge and the rationality of decision-making in urban planning. We conclude that local administrators make use of expert knowledge primarily to obtain their main goal, which is balancing all interests to arrive at a decision that can count on political and public support. Rather than perceiving a problematic gap between decision-makers and experts, they nourish this gap in order to provide as much room for manoeuvre as possible for striking the intended balance of interests. There is a lesson here for environmental experts: rather than supplying decision-makers with more or better knowledge about how a plan affects environmental values, they should focus on providing better decision frameworks, by trying to enhance the weight attached to these values.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-176
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision-making
  • Environmental assessment
  • Science-policy interface
  • Urban planning


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