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A real expert knows that they are in the process of learning themselves…. They are fertilizer, tending to the soil.
“Expertise” is one of those concepts that seems to get a good vetting every now and then, and in the current climate of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) and networked approaches to change, there is certainly good reason for this. Mark Twain once quipped that what made the expert an expert was being from someplace else. There may be some truth and value to this view; when a set of “outside” eyes can lend fresh new perspective to a situation. And it is also the case that deference is often given to this version of expertise at the expense of local and other diverse sources of knowledge.
Expertise when left unexamined can create significant problems, especially in diverse multi-stakeholder settings. Typically, expertise has a very intellectual/academic ring to it. If someone says that it’s time to call in an “expert,” who comes to mind? There are times and places for a more formally studied brand of expertise. However, expertise can also be based in other forms of knowing, as pointed out recently in a great NPQ article by our friends at MAG, including lived experience, which can all too easily be marginalized and along with it the voices and engagement of many of those most negatively impacted by an issue/situation.
Expertise in many contexts is racialized and gendered to equate, knowingly or not, with predominantly outspoken white male perspectives.
So there is a call to vigilance in what Miranda Fricker calls “epistemic injustice.” That is, people can easily privilege something as “expertise” or someone as “expert,” which ends up having much less to do with actual content/value and much more to do with the (privileged) messenger. This can in turn lead to (continued) dismissal or marginalization of equally or more valid perspectives/knowledge, which produces/reinforces inequity and likely leads to erroneous conclusions.