Second Opinions

In brief

Actors bringing in research in the public decision-making process, as well as actors affected by this research, can ask Social Science Works to give an independent opinion on the quality of the research.

Are you interested in a second opinion by us? Please feel free to contact us.

An example of our work

Please find our second opinion on "What We Can & Can’t Measure In A Brexit Deal" here.

The value of second opinions

Our modern society is increasingly research-based. Policies are more and more grounded on or justified with the help of research. Therefore, actors who have an interest in these policies, use research to influence each other, as well as, political representatives, opinion leaders, and citizens. An actor who can justify his or her position via research has a bigger chance to affect decision-making outcomes, certainly in modernized societies where “rational” science and research have a higher and higher standing.

Research is not just produced by university-based scholars, but also by (quasi-) governmental organizations, corporations, interest and advocacy groups, political parties, think tanks and other non-governmental organizations. To an increasing extent it is also conducted on commission by private research and consultancy institutions.

Especially resourceful interest groups in terms of organizational size and financial mass are in the position to justify their preferences via research: their existing institutional infrastructure and their funding sources enable them to produce or commission it.

It is often difficult, though, to assess the quality of research. Actors encountering research when developing a policy, as well as stakeholders affected by research-based policies, seldom have the knowledge or the means,

  1. to assess the suitability of a research design and its methodological execution,
  2. to assess the reliability of the data used in drawing conclusions, or
  3. to assess the validity of the application of the specific research to inform or to justify the proposed policy.

And even when they do have the knowledge, they may not be perceived as authoritative because they are not considered “experts” or “independent”.

What we can offer

Both policymakers and less resourceful stakeholders often find themselves in need of help, and Social Science Works will provide it. Its team of social scientists gives a second opinion on existing research brought into a policymaking process:

  1. How well was it conducted?
  2. Do the results justify the conclusions and recommendations?
  3. Would other kinds of research lead to different conclusions?
  4. Were the right questions asked?
  5. Is the problem for which the research seeks solutions well-defined or are other definitions of the problem conceivable?
  6. Could the redefined problem be solved in other ways?
  7. Has the research been based on implicit assumptions that need to be explicated and examined?

Why we offer it

The assessment of research via second opinions contributes importantly to the quality of decision-making, as well as to civic society and its public discourse.

In particular less resourceful civic groups are often put under pressure by the research organized or paid for by powerful interests. In societies where social, economic and political inequalities are big and rising, second opinions on this research are of great democratic importance. They further the competition of ideas needed in a vibrant civil society.

More generally, groups of policymakers and researchers sometimes fall victim of bias, short-sightedness or “group think”. It is an often-observed psychological phenomenon that over time they increasingly tend to refer exclusively towards each other, and progressively tend to reaffirm and to strengthen each other’s impaired vision of a problem or of reality. Frequently there is less and less room for alternative standpoints and perceptions, for alternative definitions of problems and possible solutions, and for observations that do not fit in the chosen perspective. To prevent this, what Charles Lindblom (1990) called, “impairment” it can be expedient to ask relative outsiders to have a fresh look at the problematic. The diversity of disciplines, paradigms and nationality of our people makes Social Science Works a perfect partner in awaited reassessments.