This paper examines the relationship between policy compliance, the emergence of alternate epistemes and authorities in online spaces, and the decline of trust and legitimacy in democratic institutions. Drawing on insights from public policy, regulation theory, and political theory, the paper critically engages with scholarship on “policy-takers” to illuminate the tensions of compliance and legitimacy in liberal states. It proposes a compliance–legitimacy matrix that identifies the features of policy compliance—including consent, legitimacy, expertise, and trust—and their relationship to the disaggregation of policy knowledge. The article applies this framework to a case study of social media posts that respond to policy information during the management of the Covid-19 pandemic in Australia. Through analysis of these posts, the study reveals the distrust in “the science” and experts advocated by government and the calls from skeptic groups for noncompliance with public health measures. The paper argues that public policy faces an epistemic crisis of public confidence, with significant downstream consequences for compliance with public policy initiatives that has been brought on both by the failures of states to cultivate trust in science and the government. The compliance–legitimacy matrix offers a useful tool for policymakers to anticipate and address objections from policy-takers and to preempt and diffuse their fears.
- evidence-based policy making