To the extent expert knowledge is diverse, accessible, unpretentious and well-contextualized, it can help generate democratic wisdom by clarifying situational dynamics and the likely outcomes of various options. So use expert knowledge to help people apply their own expertise about their values and everyday experience to make wise decisions, individually and collectively.
Some related patterns: 5 Bringing Understanding to Life 9 Citizen- Stakeholder Integration 29 Expanding Situational Curiosity 36 Full Spectrum Information 48 Integrity and Authenticity 64 Powerful Questions 84 Tackling Cognitive Limitations
Going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
The experts in democratic process may be academics, they may be stakeholders, they may be all sorts of people who are not “we the people”. They may be heavily involved in the issue in one way or another or know a lot about larger knowledge systems, whether systemic knowledge or humanitarian knowledge or whatever is appropriate for that particular issue. That can all be useful.
However, sometimes experts are given decision power – intentionally or not – or they advise the powers that be – the elected representatives or the administrators – without We the People having any access or say. What the experts say, goes. Or experts are present in deliberation that include citizens but the citizens defer to them. The social dynamics, the group dynamics, or the assumptions about experts “knowing more” causes the citizens to sit back and act like they, the citizens, don’t know anything so they defer to the powerful experts.
This applies as well to expert knowledge. In this case it is not experts being present but what is written up – like the briefings that are given to deliberators – may skew the deliberators’ thinking in very powerful ways. Whatever information you give the deliberators can help frame what’s going on, for better or worse. And if it frames things in ways that invalidate or constrain the citizens’ ability to really tap into what’s going on, and what they really want to have happen, that’s not good. So those are examples of experts being on top.
Having experts on tap means that the knowledge that they have can really be useful, so we tap into it. They can help us clarify that if we do X or Y or Z to address a particular problem, certain things are likely to happen. We may not be able to see what somebody who has been studying this for a while – or who has been immersed in the issue for a while – sees. They can give us, the ordinary citizens, information about how this might play out. They can then help us go, “Oh, if that’s gonna happen, maybe that’s not so good. At first I thought that was a good idea, but now I see the other stuff that might come into play. So it’s actually not such a good idea.”
As we are doing this discussion of the patterns, the Brexit, the British exit from the European Union just happened. A lot of the British people who voted to leave the European Union are saying after the fact, “Oh my God, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Now that we are really looking at what might happen, we wonder if that was so smart.“
So having “experts on tap not on top” in a deliberative context can help people realize that while they may have had an impulse to feel that a certain solution was a good idea, they now understand that something bad might happen so they should do something else. And having experts can help us understand the dynamics of what’s going on and what might happen, so we can make wiser decisions.