On the other hand, there’s a sense that the citizens probablh have more expertise than “the experts” about what their community’s values are. Research in cognitive science has shown that you can’t in fact make a decision with reason alone. You can analyze all the ins and outs, what-would-happen-ifs, what dynamics are in play, etc. But in order to actually make a decision there has to be something that you want. And that wanting is not a rational thing. That wanting is a very basic emotional kind of thing, a values kind of thing, a preference.
So all the informational and understanding dimensions that experts can help us with can inform how we apply our preferences. We may know what we want, but not necessarily the best way to get it. Experts can help that. However, what we want in a democratic society should be determined by the collective values of the community. What the community wants is the proper guide for democratic decision-making process.
Also, the everyday experience of ordinarh people is not something experts usually have. Often experts are part of elite classes, they are not necessarily wrestling with the kinds of issues and dynamics that ordinary people are wrestling with in their own lives. So, since the decisions are going to impact the everyday lives of ordinary people and since democracy is about helping the people who are impacted participate effectively in the decisions that are affecting their lives, there’s a level of citizen expertise that’s really relevant here, too. It may not be the same kind of expertise as academic expertise or the kind of expertise a technocrat has, but it is definitely expertise.
We know what it’s like when a certain kind of thing happens. We feel it, and we like it or we don’t like it. So we can bring that level of expertise about our everyday experience to the decision-making process.
So it is like a division of roles here. The experts have a certain kind of knowledge and expertise, and therefore have a certain proper role in helping a good decision come about. And ordinary citizens have another kind of role, and certainly stakeholders have their role. We talk in other patterns (e.g., Citizen/Stakeholder Balance) about the role of stakeholders versus citizens. Stakeholders are embedded in the conflictual nature of the problem, and they have expertise of what it’s like to be in that corner of the conflict, and they can bring that to the discussion.
We need all the different kinds of expertise from different kinds of perspectives, different ways of thinking and experiencing the problem. Solutions can come together and all of the different kinds of expertise are on tap for the larger collective realization about what makes sense. And the wisdom that comes out of that ideally would affect both people’s personal decisions – the decisions they make in their lives – and the collective decisions that govern policies and programs and allocations of resources.
So we want to acknowledge the power of expertise and not have the official experts control the discussion or make the decision.