The Many Faces of Expertise: Theres more than one way to define an expert!December 10, 20193 min read
As the lead researcher at ExpertFile I spend a lot of my time thinking about the nature of expertise. I often get asked about the criteria that we use to identify experts, and it’s actually a very difficult concept to pin down. One of my favourite services that we provide to our clients is sitting down with them and helping them articulate what exactly “expertise” means to them. Sometimes this is an easy question, sometimes it is very, very difficult. The fact remains that there is no definition of expertise that perfectly encapsulates every organization’s requirements.
How do you begin to select your experts to showcase? Well, there are many different ways of exhibiting expertise. A lot of our clients are higher education institutions who are seeking to promote their academics. The evidence demonstrating their unique experience in their respective fields are easily encapsulated in their academic credentials, awards, grants, publications and professional affiliations. Academics are often at the cutting edge of their fields, and are very experienced telling meaningful stories about them. If a reporter is writing a story about the mountains of Pluto, then an astronomer who has dedicated their lives to the study of extra-Neptunian objects is a perfect choice.
By contrast, expertise in the corporate realm is more based on personal experience than academic credentials. This significantly differentiates corporate expert marketing programs from higher education. Although education and credentials remain important, it is generally more graded with a personal experience with the topic at hand. For example, a senior engineer at Google (with extensive media experience) would obviously be a tier A source for explaining the science behind contemporary web search engines, despite potentially having no university education in computer science! (Note: Some fields in computer science, such as machine learning, have a much more academic basis).
Both the astronomer and computer scientist are clearly experts, but the means that we used to evaluate their expertise are very different. I’m sure that you can see that both academics and practitioners have meaningful comments to add to news reporters. At ExpertFile, we think that the most important skill an expert can have is the ability to distill their domain-specific knowledge into a compelling, relevant and meaningful story. This ability to tell stories transcends experience, or credentials. A Harvard professor may be a nobel prize winner, but unless he can effectively communicate his research to the media and the public, he will not be perceived as an expert. In contrast, a professor at a local community college may have less august credentials, but if they can tell a good story, then they will engage with the public and media much more effectively. In fact, in some cases “lowly” adjuncts bring vibrant life-experiences and direct understanding of the real world applications of academic theory, and may therefore eclipse the atrophied viewpoints of some tenured faculty isolated for decades in the academy.
So at ExpertFile, we feel that a balanced representation of both academics and practitioners at every level is crucial for creating a balanced marketplace of experts that is a valuable resource for all our users. Although our platform contains thousands of academics, some from top flight institutions, we also list thousands of incredibly credible, engaging experts with real world, contemporary experience that can often eclipse that of tenured faculty. We are very proud of our network, and curate an active and vibrant community with a diversity of different voices and perspectives on topics of breaking news interest. We don’t open our network to anyone, the ability to distill meaningful and engaging content for others is crucial, so those who are only shilling a product or self-promoting are not welcome.
Some people think that only academics belong on an expert network, but at ExpertFile we believe that would exclude many people with extensive expertise. Similarly, it would be the height of elitism for us to restrict our database to tenured academics from top-tier universities. This would do our users a great disservice by removing those voices with a perspectives gained from practical experience.
Peter Evans Co-Founder & CEO
Recognized speaker on expertise marketing, technology and innovation