Experts on tap, not on top - RSA

Experts need to be on tap, not on top


  • Picture of Reema Patel
    Research Director and Head of Deliberative Engagement, Ipsos
  • Creative economy
  • Economics and Finance

The RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council spoke to, and heard from the Bank of England, leading local government officials and representatives, and stakeholders from the pensions and financial services industry in Day 2 of its deliberations. Reema Patel introduces key themes raised by citizens as part of this dialogue, including trust and trustworthiness, accountability, humility and competence.

Introducing the RSA Citizens' Economic Council from The RSA on Vimeo.

Trust and accountability are really important. These are needed to make sure an economy works.

 (Citizens' Economic Council Participant, Manchester)

The RSA Citizens’ Economic Council brought together 50 citizens deliberating on the future of national economic policy. They deliberated with spokespersons from the Bank of England, with a councilor housing advisor to the Metro Mayor of Greater Manchester, with the Chief Executive of a large London borough, as well as with representatives from across the financial services industry, business and pension experts to talk about the relationship between citizens and economic institutions.

Rebuilding trust and trustworthiness requires reliability, competence and integrity

Citizens had the opportunity to hear directly from, respond to and ask questions of each of our experts in small groups. These were not easy conversations to have – some of the more probing questions to the Bank of England, for instance included, ‘Why didn’t you spot 2008 was going to happen?’, and ‘Why are you the Bank of England – and not the Bank of the United Kingdom?’

Many of our citizens felt that there needed to be a clearer explanation  of how economic institutions are scrutinised and held to account. Many of the discussions on the table illustrated the ways in which there was no clear, embedded or systematic way in which citizen voice could directly influence, or hold to account national economic policy.

For many of the institutions that participated in the day, it was an opportunity to set right some misconceptions – for instance, upon reflection, one participant felt that the ‘Greater Manchester Chambers of Commerce was more of a social and ethical organisation than I thought,’ and others reported far greater clarity on the role and relevance of the Bank of England than previously experienced.

An interesting discussion about reliability, competence and integrity also emerged – one reflection of some citizens was the importance of economists and economic institutions both having the best interests of citizens at heart and being able to manage the economy competently. One without the other, some citizens reflected, might undermine citizen trust in those institutions.

Experts need greater humility…

The term ‘expert' is no longer a term of endearment

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist, Bank of England 

Another theme that emerged from the discussion was the importance of communicating economics as a discipline that made use of assumptions and economic models and the importance of humility from experts; particularly within the context of the 2008 financial crisis, and widely acknowledge failures in economic forecasting – as Andy Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England has already pointed out, the failure to predict 2008 was the economics profession’s ‘Michael Fish’ moment.

Throughout the process, citizens expressed the desire for more meaningful public engagement – feeling that their voices were genuinely heard, not simply listened to; they spoke about some of the institutional and structural barriers that were in place that prevented them from being able to engage more effectively. As an illustrative device, some used the map of the economy to highlight the ‘distance’ they felt between the institutions and those on the map; and citizens also explored the conditions and the standards for trustworthiness throughout their conversations with policymakers.

 …But the Citizens’ Economic Council showed that citizens haven’t quite had enough of experts

Far from reinforcing a prevailing political and economic narrative that the public have ‘had enough of experts’, conversations such as those held through the RSA Citizens’ Economic Council show that – when experts have the requisite humility to promote a two way dialogue, and to really, truly listen – the public enjoy the process of dialogue , find experts refreshing, interesting and stimulating, and have plenty to say that would be helpful, interesting and insightful. In feedback that we have gathered from sessions, we found that citizens really valued and gained a great deal from having our experts in the room. 

Accountability, engagement and empowerment are core economic values for our citizens

Throughout the deliberative process, citizens have been tasked with co-creating a Citizens’ Economic Charter, outlining a set of values underpinning a good economy - which form a starting point through which they explore the trade-offs between those values.

It is worth noting that out of eight of those values, two currently read as follows (please note, this may be subject to revision by the citizens!):

 A good economy is one in which:

-          Leaders and decision makers are accountable

-          Citizens are engaged and empowered

A clear message from the Citizens' Economic Council is this - accountability and engagement – these are not just ‘nice-to-haves’ in a political economy; they are proposed as core values that form a good economy. As our citizens have deliberated, there has been an increased recognition that economic and political institutions need to seek new and innovative approaches to bringing economists and policymakers together with citizens – approaches that look beyond informing citizens and that seek to engage and empower them, that look a little like the Citizens' Economic Council but that are also connected to the way economic decisions are taken.

This was just the start of the conversation: tell us how citizens can be more meaningfully engaged by institutions

We believe that experts must be on tap – in service to citizens – supporting, advising and guiding them, responding to their values and perspectives. This is a far cry from the traditional role of the expert - a dominating voice assured and convinced of the validity of a particular solution or course of direction. Deliberation and dialogue is essential if the term 'expert' is ever again to become a term of endearment.

Off the back of this conversation we have convened between our citizens and institutions we are now crowdsourcing ideas from the wider public on economic institutions can engage the public in more meaningful ways on decisions about the economy.

You can submit your ideas in response to this call for ideas on a platform supported by our partner Wazoku. Our deadline is 23rd May 2017.



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