Providing a “challenge function”: Government social researchers in the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (2010–2015)

Michael Kattirtzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and related fields has scrutinized UK policy institutions’ governance of technical policy domains, revealing the prevalence of naïve assumptions about citizens’ engagement with science and technology. Government officials are characterized as wedded to institutional commitments and averse to criticism. From that perspective, technical policy issues such as energy and climate change are addressed without the sufficient interrogation of assumptions about citizens. This study, based on an analysis of 15 interviews with civil servants and over 40 documents (including evidence reviews, policy reports, stakeholder publications and parliamentary records), presents a more varied picture within the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) during the years of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government (2010– 2015). It focuses on two priority policy areas of the time: the Green Deal and the installation of smart meters in UK homes. It is shown that government social researchers in DECC have aided policy officials to rethink their understandings of citizens. Social researchers have achieved this through their institutionalized commitment to providing an evidence-based “challenge function”. I conclude that policy development on technical topics is more likely to be effective if policy officials engage with social researchers at an early stage, and if social researchers receive senior civil service representation and support. This article is published as part of a collection on scientific advice to governments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16064
JournalPalgrave Communications
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2016


  • science, technology and society
  • social policy


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