PUS: A Governance Perspective

Rebecca Boden, Business School, Middlesex University
July 1998

The aim of my study is to evaluate the contribution made by contemporary UK accounting based governance practices to the public understanding of science.

In my project the "public" is being taken to mean every interest grouping and sectional interest in society. The public therefore represents a series of diverse stakeholder interests with regard to science. Stakeholder interests may be determined by commercial, non-commercial or other social factors. There exist implicit or explicit contracts, social or commercial, for the performance of scientific work for the public. My conceptualisation of "the public understanding of science" therefore involves a dynamic model of knowledge transfer, in which the scientific community act as agents for a heterogeneous set of "publics" as principals.

"Governance" can be simply described as the regulation of relationships such as these in complex systems. In such relationships there will be a necessity for some form of governance mechanism to ensure accountability and control. Increasingly in the public and private sectors in the UK, and in UK science, the exercise of governance has come to rely upon formal contracts, measurements of performance, new budgetary techniques and enhanced financial control. Audit and financial reporting underpin these techniques. However, such techniques and processes may not be neutral and governance practice may impact upon the practice of science itself and subjectively shape public understanding.

This study aims to draw together a multi-disciplinary literature review and empirical evidence from the public and private sectors to provide a conceptual overview of the area. This should facilitate greater understanding of the role of governance in the transfer of knowledge to the heterogeneous public. My hope is that this particular perspective should contribute significantly towards conceptualising the field as a whole.

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