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VENI grant for Dovilė Rimkutė: Reputation is key for risk regulation

Dovilė Rimkutė, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Public Administration in The Hague, received the prestigious VENI grant for her research on risk regulation. 'We expect science to be the core basis of risk regulators’ decisions,' says Rimkutė, 'but at times threats to the regulators’ reputation can be a stronger motivation to act.'

Dovilė Rimkutė

What will you investigate?

'In my VENI research, I will focus on risk regulation in the European regulatory state. Risk regulation concerns the timely provision of credible solutions to severe societal threats, such as health risks (e.g., fipronil in eggs, glyphosate), hazards posed by environmental issues (e.g., rising sea levels, pollution caused by nitrates and plastic), serious cross-border security (e.g., cyber-attacks), and financial risks. A failure to adequately manage these risks could lead to numerous and long-lasting disruptions, which in turn could have dire consequences for public organisations, such as de-legitimation, declining trust, and deteriorating support. As a result, the government of risk has become the core concern of bureaucracies.

Regulatory agencies’ duties are deemed to be a highly scientific pursuit. However, science-based risk assessments are often inconsistent: i.e., agencies recurrently arrive at conflicting conclusions. We know very little of what explains the substantial scientific inconsistencies.'

Can you give an example?

'Yes, there are vigorous debates about two chemicals. Bisphenol A is a chemical used in plastics – we are on a daily basis exposed to bisphenol A because it is extensively used in plastic bottles, food packaging, and water supply pipes. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that bisphenol A poses no health risk to consumers of any age, whereas the French agency claimed that it is dangerous to infants.'

'Another example is Glyphosate – the most commonly used pesticide. Recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate can be classified as cancerogenic, whereas EFSA arrived at the conclusion that it is unlikely to pose cancer to humans at the current exposure levels.'

'As a result, some chemicals are restricted in some but not in other EU countries resulting in single market disruptions, many lawsuits issued by the industry, and public outrage because people do not know whose conclusions can be trusted. This in turn results in declining trust in and legitimacy of risk regulators and evidence-based policy-making.'

For whom is your research relevant and why?

'This VENI project will generate results whose implications and relevance extend beyond academic audiences because modern societies are increasingly facing a wide range of risks. However, the legitimacy of agencies’ scientific conclusions is often challenged by various audiences such as political institutions, fellow risk regulators, and the media. Against this background, I aim to contribute to better risk regulation by providing evidence-based recommendations on how to improve the agencies’ use of reputation-management-strategies, politicians’ use of scientific risk assessments, and society’s understanding of science-based risk regulation.'

What is your background?

'I am an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Public Administration. My research interests cover a range of regulatory governance topics, however, reputation-based explanations about strategic agency behaviour take a central role. I obtained a Research Master’s diploma in Public Administration at the Utrecht School of Governance and received a PhD degree in Political Sciences from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.'

In my dissertation, I examined how regulatory agencies contend with their core tasks of providing scientific advice to EU institutions and asked why regulatory agencies’ scientific practices vary across different regulatory contexts. The project that I receive the VENI grant for, is an extension of this research.'

VENIs are awarded every year by NWO and together with the VIDI and VICI grants they are part of an innovative research incentive called ‘Vernieuwingsimpuls’. Excellent researchers who have recently obtained their PhD are eligible for a VENI. NWO selects researchers based on the quality of the researcher, the innovative character of their research, the expected scientific impact of their research proposal and the possibilities for knowledge utilization.

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