Providing Science Advice: An Ethnography of the Council of Canadian Academies’ Boundary Work of Recontextualizing Expert-Produced Scientific Knowledge for Canadian Government Policy-Makers

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Falconer, Matthew Andrew




My study is an ethnographic account of the collaborative discursive activity of the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), a non-profit advisory organization that contracts with government clients to perform "boundary work" which includes taking expert-produced scientific knowledge and transforming and re-purposing this knowledge into a science-based discourse that is accessible and useful for government policy-makers, an activity that draws on the expertise of a multi-disciplinary panel of invited outside experts and the CCA staff.

Using data collected at the CCA between 2013 and 2018, I explore the organization's culture, with a focus on its cultural constructs and tools. More specifically, its representations of key entities such as "science", "evidence", and "expertise". Concentrating my analysis on a 2017 CCA report produced for Transport Canada titled Older Canadians on the Move, I unpack the discursive "black box" of what is referred to in the CCA as the "Council Assessment Lifecycle Methodology" (CALM), a cultural tool used by a CCA "staff assessment team" in "recontextualizing" expert-produced science for use by policy-makers. In describing this collaborative activity, I show how aspects of the culture shape the boundary work performed by the panel and the staff team.

Additionally, I use the method of "textography" to identify the types and rhetorical purposes of a series of "intermediary texts" used in producing the report, Older Canadians on the Move. Lastly, I also consider the influence of the CCA's culture on the twelve rhetorical strategies found in the boundary object of the final report.

For Discourse and Writing Studies, the primary contribution of the research reported on in this dissertation is to have given us a fine-grained perspective on the nature of the boundary work of recontextualizing scientific knowledge for policy-makers. The research has also revealed the influence of a boundary organization's culture on this activity. At the same time, the study has gone behind the scenes to cast light on the various types of interconnected texts that play a key part in this boundary work. Finally, the dissertation has offered scholars in Science and Technology Studies a new understanding of the role of discourse in this work.


Rhetoric and Composition
Sociology - Organizational
Public Administration




Carleton University

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Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies

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Theses and Dissertations

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