Expertise beyond the silo in areas of public interest

There’s some interesting discussion going on in the LinkedIn Dundee IHP-HELP UNESCO Centre Group just now.
The Dundee UNESCO Centre is concerned with professional fields such as water law, and some of us have been discussing the role of the ‘Expert’ in bringing this critical issue more into the public eye.

In my view, experts in issues of serious – in this case, momentous – public interest need to be more than technical consultants and sources of knowledge; they need (collectively) to be thought leaders as well.

For some practitioners this is an unwelcome proposition. Matters of commercial confidentiality, limited wider view, academic reputation and competence as a public communicator are cited, as of course is the question of whether politicians and other decision-makers will hear, let alone accept, expert opinion.

But to me these are the central issues.

* Is it part of the generic professional ‘job spec’ of experts in areas of great public interest, that they should have a thought leadership role?

* And, if so, what can non-experts do to enable this role to be carried out competently?

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Posted on October 15, 2010, in Questions and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi, Hilary. Thanks for the shout out. To at least part-reply to your question: non-experts can be vital connectors for experts in these sorts of fields, connectors allowing them to be thought leaders not just amongst their peer group but amongst a far wider community of interest. The difficulty can be, without such connectors, of simply preaching to the converted. Closed and exclusive networks may be expected to have a high level of internal strength, coherence and mutual trust; but they are not great for getting the word out and bringing in complementary expertise,experience, world-views and external networks. Peer-reviewed technical articles in high-REF journals are likely to be to be read by closed networks only – which is fine if you are not looking for wider dissemination of materials and expert-only conversations. Strategies that target change through targeting of informed elites can be effective, of course, but are also self-denying and close off avenues and benefits that popularisation can bring. These benefits are usually hard/ impossible to predict in advance, simply because the nature of complementary insight/ expertise from some unbidden and unexpected quarter is unpredictable.

  2. I agree in part with Daniel’s points on the value of non-experts being ‘connectors’ and thought leaders in a wider field of interest, and the dangers of focusing debate within closed networks.
    However, I don’t think this is an ‘either/or’ issue.
    There is a need for debate and decision-making to be informed and the ‘experts/professionals’ have a role to play in providing detailed, professional knowledge and critical thought and experience. Informed non-experts who can interpret, translate and facilitate discussion and understanding between communities are also essential.
    What can be a problem is if the expert/professional input is no longer valued and the OPINIONS of non-experts become held as the measure of value.
    I suppose a question here is who’s voice now carries authority? The pendulum has I believe swung away from the professional/expert in favour of the ‘local expert’ and public opinion.
    We have had non-expert decision- makers in the form of local councillors. We now are seeing the era of much more participative decision-making – you’ve only got to look at Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor!! It’s interesting that ‘entertainment value’ is more valued than ‘quality’ vis a vie – Anne Widdicome and Wagner!! Scary!

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