We have the means to build a strong digital environment where citizens can connect with each other. This opens up the possibility of calling upon their collective expertise. So, why do we still put forward an institutional class of professionals as our go-to solution to solve today’s challenges?

Questions of Legitimacy

The consumer paradigm is over and done. The space for active participation has opened up and people are using it daily. Today, we have the means to collectivise our expertise to solve all sorts of problems. We can truly doubt the current organisational structure of our environment. In this article we will assess the value of an institutional class of professionals in dealing with everyday problems. But first, what is a professional?

The Professionals

A professional is a person who is considered to hold the legitimate means and knowledge to deal with specific problems. He is specialised in a certain topic, giving him the recognition of holding the properly attuned expertise to deal with specific issues.

The current paradigm is built upon the primacy of individual expertise, which can receive aid through collective collaboration with other professionals.A connected world

Institutions are found to deal with the burdensome communicative issues to connect professionals. This happens mostly offline, in a specified location with a specific focus on a certain problem.

However, we now find ourselves equipped with tools that allow to connect people with different sorts of expertise to each other. We can harness a broad range of knowledge efficiently, from the highly knowledgeable expert to the amateur enthusiast.

The Citizen Experts

The previous communicative function of the institution can be done more efficiently; online and without institutional ties. This process is called the democratisation of expertise. The question is now: does it work? Does the collective expertise of all types of individuals trump the knowledge of a particular group of experts?

The democratisation of expertise is the process of collecting knowledge from all societal layers to put it to the test in solving contemporary challenges.

The answer seems to be ‘yes’. For instance, Wikipedia shows that building an encyclopedia made by ‘amateurs’, relying on their active participation, creates a larger, more up to date and virtually as accurate collection of knowledge as the Encyclopædia Brittanica.[1] The collective participation of amateur and expert users generates value. The legitimacy of professionals dealing exclusively with specific problems appears hollow. After witnessing its success on a public level, we need platforms that enable participants to create this value on a civic level.

Granting the exclusive rights of dealing with everyday problems to an institutional class of professionals wasn’t the best way, it was the only way. But not anymore.

The democratisation ofCitizen expertise expertise on a governmental level not only raises its legitimacy, but also its efficiency. It holds the promise of a future of co-creation, of a government who is in direct contact with its citizens, of the possibility to real participation. All this to your individual preferences and efforts.

Paradigm Shift

So, let’s harness our individual expertise and share it collectively. Let’s open up the restrictions on the uses of knowledge and apply it’s force not only economically, but also socially and politically. But most of all, let’s shift the paradigm: the collective expertise of citizens first, with aid by the individual expertise of professionals.

[1] As was shown in a Nature study in 2005: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/full/438900a.html


If you liked this article, these books will please you:

Beth Noveck - Smart Citizens, Smart State.

Beth Simone Noveck – Smart Citizens, Smart State

Clay Shirky - Cognitive Surplus.

Clay Shirky – Cognitive Surplus


  • Drdean

    Intriguing assertions, Dylan. I want to agree with your position but can’t. At least not entirely. I’ve studied Kuhn and paradigms, and so I know you might consider critics as members of the old guard, unwilling to accept the new paradigm. But, I’ve also been involved in many efforts to solve community problems.You’ve created a false dichotomy. Yes, some problems are the near-exclusive domain of technical experts. But many–and perhaps even most– are not. Sure, more public expertise can be brought to bear with our new communication tools. And acceptance of consensus -driven solutions can be increased. But public expertise is not infallible. The public tends to prefer solutions that are simple. And as we know, for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong.