Espen Ingvar Leirset

Universitetslektor Faculty of Social Sciences
E-mail:
espen.i.leirset@nord.no
Phone:
+47 74 11 22 18
Mobile:
Office:
Levanger, G Nordlåna 3212

About me

I have special interest in how the press and politics relate to each other. In November 2020 I finished my phd-thesis at Nord University. Title: "Democratic deliberation or democratic control? A critical analysis of the open meeting-principle in local democracy"

I have many years experience as news journalist and editor from the press, and started as an academic in 2012. 



Teaching

Supervision and teaching at bachelors and masters level: 

Public policy and public administration
Leadership
Policy analysis
Communication
Political science (general)






Research

Resume of phd-thesis: 

Norwegian local politicians are obliged to have all their committee meetings open to the press and the public, as a measure to strengthen accountability. Norway is the only country in the Nordic region with such a rule, and this thesis examines which effect it has for local political practice. 

The topic is discussed theoretically in the extended introduction. Integrative and aggregative democracy theory, theories of transparency and accountability, and institutional theory is used for analysis. The institutional approach is based on discursive institutionalism, more specifically the terms coordinative and communicative discourse. The extended introduction concludes that the consideration of accountability has had a major impact on Norwegian law practice, at the expense of other democratic virtues. This has some unintended consequences, which are analyzed in the extended introduction, and described in more detail in the articles.

The first article is a document study of reports from the Parliamentary Ombudsman, which has proceeded complaints of violations of the principle of open meetings. 

The second article is a comparative study of municipalities in Norway and Denmark. The two countries have relatively similar political systems at the municipal level, but the balance between openness and deliberation is approached in different ways: Denmark emphasizes closed political meetings and deliberation, Norway emphasizes open meetings and democratic control. 

The third article has the same comparative approach as article two, and shows how the different approaches in the Danish and Norwegian municipal act plays out in practice. The analysis illustrates the paradox related to openness – open meetings do not necessarily give more openness. Instead, more deliberation and political discussions in Norway are moved to informal meetings external to the formal democratic system, like political party meetings which are closed to the public.

The fourth article discusses the functioning of open meetings, and how it relates to the press. The article analyzes two competing discourses, which are described as the openness discourse and the deliberation discourse. The article concludes that the openness discourse is the prevailing discourse in Norway, and this creates suspicion in the press's interpretation of the politicians' closed meetings. The prevailing openness discourse makes an open-minded debate about politicians' need for closed meetings more difficult.

In sum, the doctoral dissertation contributes to new perspectives on how the local political system works. The study is particularly relevant for Norway, but also interesting for other countries. It shows that rules on openness, intended to strengthen legitimacy, can have unintended consequences. Some of these consequences are  weak conditions for political compromises, more political conflict, and suspicion in the press. This is useful knowledge for policy makers and researchers working in the field.