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Traduttore, Traditore: The Entry of Evaluation into the Media Arena: Forms and Effects. The Case of the 2010 INSERM Meta-evaluation on Harm Reduction among Drug Injectors

Abstract : Expertise and evaluation have undergone considerable changes in both theory and practice since the 1990s, in France and in the rest of Europe (Benamouzig and Besançon, 2005). Following severe criticisms against experts and major health crises, new principles of independency, competency and transparency have emerged. These norms have been embodied in innovative policy apparatus. Included among these are new formal evaluation procedures that involve the systematic publication of reports. Such outputs are now intended to be read not only by policymakers but also by media, researchers, activists and citizens. Evaluation reports flow these days through various public arenas, or spaces ruled by specific norms as defined by Bonneuil, Joly & Marris (2008). Objectivizing such transformations leads us to review how these new intended users receive evaluation reports. From a broader perspective, it raises the questions of the forms of the entry of evaluation into the media arena and of its consequences on controversies and the construction of public problems. How does the media arena influence the content of a report? How does evaluation impact the controversies which are played out within the media arena? What are the effects of such an entry on the political arena? This paper focuses on a “collective expertise” on harm reduction among drug users published by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in June 2010. With regard to its process, INSERM’s collective expertise falls clearly into the category of meta-evaluation methods. It is also typical of those formal evaluation procedures which involve the systematic publication of reports. The rich material provided by the controversy following the disclosure of the report allows the in-depth analysis of the forms and effects of its entry into the media arena. With regard to the questions it raises and the theoretical framework it refers to, this work falls within the constructivist tradition of public problems (Blumer, 2004). This paper relies on the analysis of a collection of over a hundred press articles published in French national newspapers between June and October 2010. The method used here consists of a three stage process. The first one aims at understanding the object and actors of the controversy, its evolution across time and the role of the INSERM meta-evaluation. The purpose of the second phase is to analyze the media reception of the expertise by comparing the content of both the report and the press articles. The third step’s objective is to assess the effects of the meta-evaluation on the controversy by comparing the arguments put forward by the actors before and after the diffusion of the report. Such an analysis provides some answers to the questions previously raised. It reveals that the meta-evaluation played a crucial role in the trigger of the controversy. The debate focused on the setting up of drug consumption rooms in France rather than on the report itself. The growth of the controversy in the media arena led both the government and the parliament to take action. The INSERM meta-evaluation thus left the media arena and entered the political arena. The analysis also shows that actors engaged in the debate referred to the expertise and its content without questioning it. Such references may be understood as a proof of scientific credibility. This paper also demonstrates that the influence the media arena exerted on the INSERM meta-evaluation took the form of a rough translation. In line with the Italian saying “Traduttore, traditore” (literally: to translate is to betray), the interpretation published in the press articles was not loyal to the content of the report. The description of both the authors and the method was often incomplete and sometimes deceptive. In addition, the conclusions of the report and its recommendations were almost systematically distorted. Finally, the analysis shows that the INSERM meta-evaluation contributed to the reinforcement of some arguments and the weakening of other ones. The report refuted the argument put forward by some opponents to drug consumption rooms that they were inefficient (in the sense that they did not produce the intended uses). The diffusion of the meta-evaluation led them to adjust their line of defense and make use of other arguments: the immorality of the measure and its non relevance regarding the specificity of drug addiction in France. This paper calls for the analysis of other cases of evaluation reports entering the media arena. It also (re-)opens the question of the regimes of knowledge production in society (Pestre, 2003).
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Submitted on : Thursday, July 2, 2020 - 12:33:06 PM
Last modification on : Friday, July 3, 2020 - 3:37:50 AM


  • HAL Id : halshs-02887586, version 1



Vincent Caby. Traduttore, Traditore: The Entry of Evaluation into the Media Arena: Forms and Effects. The Case of the 2010 INSERM Meta-evaluation on Harm Reduction among Drug Injectors. 2nd International Conference on Public Policies, T08 - T08P02 - "How do democracy and policy evaluation speak to each other?", Jul 2015, Milan, Italy. ⟨halshs-02887586⟩



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