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Open Access Walking the (argumentative) talk using citizen science: involving young people in a critical policy analysis of vaccination policy in Austria

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Background: Vaccination policy has grown increasingly polarised, and concerns about vaccination practices are often articulated jointly with fears over declining trust in scientific expertise and the demise of evidence-based policy. This has led to a discursive deadlock in which evidence comes to denote something that is crafted and monopolised by a trained élite, with no role to play for the workings of democracy. Our own methodologies tend to accentuate this epistemic hierarchy, for much qualitative research relies on élite interviews with officials and scientific experts. The introduction of the vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), on which we report in this paper, is a case in point.
Objectives and methods: With this study, we intervene in this discursive and methodological deadlock using unconventional methods: inspired by the participatory spirit of the ‘argumentative turn’ in policy analysis, we experimented with citizen science to produce critical knowledge about HPV policy in Austria and simultaneously intervene in this expert-driven policy discourse. Specifically, we involved adolescents in analysing HPV policy discourse using press releases and a combination of inductive and deductive textual coding.
Findings and conclusions: Our results point to the sidelining of sexuality and gender in the presentation of scientific evidence on HPV in press releases, and highlight the dominance of the pharmaceutical industry in shaping the political-administrative decision to offer the HPV vaccine to all children in 2014. Our study points to ways of integrating citizen science in the social sciences and contributes to a rethinking of methodologies in qualitative policy analysis.
key messages
  1. Social science research methods risk reifying the expert-entered nature of policy making

  2. Citizen science methods can be used to enhance the democratic nature of policy making

  3. Contemporary vaccination policy requires a rethinking of evidence-based policy making

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Keywords: citizen science; evidence-based policy; knowledge; vaccination

Affiliations: 1: University of Vienna, Department of Political Science, Austria 2: Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities, Austria

Appeared or available online: January 16, 2020

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