Posted tagged ‘opinion’

The trouble with experts

May 31, 2012

I don’t know everything.  There, I’ve finally said it – there are things which I simply don’t know.  I don’t know how to perform open heart surgery, I don’t know how to land an aeroplane in an emergency and I don’t know how to make Piers Morgan likeable.

I don’t feel bad about this lack of knowledge though, because for all the things I don’t know (except the latterly mentioned Piers Morgan conundrum) there are other people out there who do know how to do these things.  For each of these problems and for many, many others there are experts who have spent their lives (or at least 10,000 hours) learning about a specific topic and becoming the people who deliver solutions.

And then on the other hand are those people who speak with authority on subjects, yet have little to substantiate their attitudes and opinions.  Admittedly this is more of an immediate issue when faced with heart surgery or a descending 747, but in the less extreme world of local government these individuals have the ability to cause more pain, confusion and blockages than a street bought burrito after a night out.

I will use a recent experience to demonstrate my point here, but please don’t think this is confined to any single field of work; these people and attitudes permeate every service and level of local government. (more…)

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We know best?

December 7, 2011

Advice: often asked for, not always followed

Whilst attempting to remain within the bounds of anonymity, I am happy to share the fact that I have two children.  They are at the age when they not only have their own opinions, but they are increasingly willing and (more worryingly) able to eloquently explain how their opinions differ and are superior to my own.  Where they are explaining why their choice of music is better I’ll smile and wave, but when they try to explain why you can eat a diet of nothing but fast food and still stay healthy I can’t help but disagree.

In my mind, and despite their protestations, there are simply some situations where I know best.  I can disagree with them about what I perceive as small things, but when it comes to more major issues like their safety or their health I am loathe to let them make decisions which I have clear evidence to support my assertions that they are wrong.

This head to head battle came to mind recently when I witnessed a version of the same struggle taking place between an officer, some local residents and a handful of councillors.  To provide an outline, the former had recommended a course of action for a project which was different to the ambitions of the residents and therefore against the wishes of the councillors.  This had been going on for some months, and eventually resulted in the elected officials simply noting the officer’s concerns and overruling them.

In this situation, both sides were both right and wrong.  The officer felt that it was entirely within their role to robustly defend their position and push for their professional opinions and recommendations  to be followed.  The councillors felt it was their job to represent the interests and desires of their constituents, and the residents simply wanted the project to be delivered as they believed that it would make a positive difference to their area regardless of the contrary advice from the professionals.

It seems that there are those of us who are officers who are generally very happy to engage with the public on either of two areas; where we expect the end result to match up with what we are recommending, or when the issue being discussed is non-controversial or not actually that important in the grand scheme of things.  Of course, it goes without saying that there are many who take a more enlightened view and offer multiple and real opportunities for residents to get involved, but those who don’t usually see engagement as a part of their job description often aren’t as willing to do so.

Essentially we are happy to discuss things when it addresses what residents want, but not when it addresses what they need. (more…)