THE PULSE - What to do about the death of expertise? > The Society for Simulation in Healthcare

I’m writing to you as I wrap a phenomenal week of learning, growing, and expanding at my own professional conference – the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting.

Held this year in Nashville, Tennessee, I had the invaluable experience of soaking in that attendee experience that, usually, I’m helping create for you and others at the International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare (IMSH), SimOps, and more.

One session I attended – The End of Expertise and How Associations Must Adapt – stood out as I realized there were more than 100 association professionals in the room that represented a wide variety of industries. (Unfortunately, I believe it shows the dissolution of trust in expertise has affected nearly every facet of our culture.)

That said, this assault on expertise is something ASAE’s Research Foundation has been considering for some time. In fact, inside that group’s Foresight Works, “a deliberate, evidence-based research initiative”, ASAE identified dozens of Drivers of Change in 2021 that associations and their boards can and should examine as they chart forward courses. One of those Drivers: Rejection of Expertise.

“Public skepticism toward credentialed experts and institutions is growing,” ASAE wrote. “Expert pronouncements have reduced impact on public perception, with the public turning instead to non-credentialed and “unofficial” sources for guidance and information.

You know better than I do how much the healthcare industry has been affected by that “skepticism.” Also in that Driver, Foresight Works presented four forecasts, two of which I think are incredibly pertinent and would offer to the healthcare and healthcare simulation community’s conversation:

1. “New ‘experts’ develop credibility not from experience or academia but rather from peer-to-peer channels—podcasting, YouTube, online networking, etc.—that afford them greater public influence.”

2. “The bifurcation between people who prize traditional expertise and those who don’t will grow. This divide is amplified by political polarization, with debates over expert credibility becoming entangled with political partisanship.”

I think we could agree those things have happened, and this is where I wish I could say concrete solutions came out of the session I attended. They did not. So, instead, I catch myself thinking … where from here? What can associations do if they feel they have been or will be affected by these the rejection of expertise? What can SSH leaders and members do to help curb and reverse this rejection of expertise? I wonder if the following thoughts have a place in the conversation:

In answer to the first forecast, stressing the value of demonstrated professional development and achievement has never been more important. Now that people can “learn” virtually anywhere and from everywhere, having the ability to show a credential – from a legitimate source – matters more so now than ever. That’s equally true for individuals and institutions. Maintaining a strong voice in a sea of influencers is a must. The other option is to not be present and allow those other influencers full reign of the expertise marketplace.

The key in there is the “legitimate” piece. What makes something legit today? That leads to the second forecast, where it certainly is likely that the number of those who don’t prize traditional expertise will continue to grow.

A growing part of legitimacy, I believe, is, or should be, acknowledging the expanded relationship and heavier responsibility that a group’s core values now have in building and preserving trust in an association’s subject matter experts and leaders. It was always important, but the spotlight is incredibly bright now.

If the public doesn’t believe in your association’s core, it won’t accept the expert information you provide, no matter how correct. For example, 30 years ago, content ran on television with things like “doctors say…” or “experts will tell us…” Now, when such a claim is made, almost immediately, the public asks “which doctor?” or “what expert?” or “what group?” And they’re out looking for answers. (That’s not a bad thing, actually, if the questions are in good faith.)

With that in mind, as it plans forward, an association should think about its core values and if they are in trustworthy shape. Dig deeper introspectively. Keep showing or finding ways to show the value of certification and accreditation. Find ways to inspire loyalty to your brand and information. Keep up the good fight in supporting and promoting those subject matter experts who carry your brand forward.

And keep thinking.

Curtis Kitchen, CAE
SSH Director of Marketing

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