Thomas Grammig

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Expert-interaction Variables for Social Processes

Development projects bring knowledge from different experts together, with a view to improve economic efficiency.  The variables of a project, e.g. time, roles, management, input, output and so on, are defined to accommodate the knowledge content these experts bring with them.  Their interaction can hinder the application of expert knowledge because the knowledge content also reflects personal beliefs, heuristics and experiences of these experts.  Project planning combines their expert knowledge, but in practice this combining rarely occurs.  The expert interaction is limited by the experts´ capacity to reflect on their professional differences.

A frequent error made by planers, managers, experts and theorisers alike is to assume that expert interaction is rigid and unchangeable.  Some tend to see experts´ character, psychology or personality as being in the way of achieving goals.  Others assume the opposite, that wider social factors were stronger and whatever their communication skills and experience, individual experts cannot break out of the historical, geo-political or cultural factors which determine their work.  Sometimes one or the other assumption is partially correct.  Personalities can get into the way of combining expert knowledge, and wider social factors can prevent individual experts from achieving a clear goal which they attain elsewhere at ease.  In all cases, both assumptions are simplifications because there are also factors for expert interaction which are neither individual psychology nor the macro context.  Instead, these are created during expert interaction, i.e. they are due to the particular actions undertaken.  In other words, these factors do not reflect individual psychology pre-existing expert interactions, nor the macro context which surrounds that interaction, but they originate in that interaction.

That expert interaction appears rigid and unchangeable is mostly due to the complexity of expert interaction.  Planers, managers, experts and theorisers shape project variables which are too crude to affect that interaction.  The tools frequently used are meant to link projects to the knowledge and the individuals, those variables which pre-exist the interaction.  Only rarely one finds the time and resources to analyse the interaction and derive remedies for it.  It is easier and quicker to ask experts to fill in a questionnaire in isolation, or to get the literature on politics and history together and then decide on project variables.  Considering the interaction is more risky, more open to interpretation and conflict.  For the project planer, manager or evaluator, it is preferable to stick to the aspects which are found in many other logframes, plans, reports or evaluations.

Shaping expert interaction is thus a problem of understanding, but it is also a problem of institutional sensitivities and politics, and it is a problem of ideology.  In sum, addressing expert interaction is not just a question of the appropriate object of analysis, it is also a question of compatibility of that object with the interests involved in the origin of a development projects.  The expert knowledge concerns some medical condition, or some economic condition, or some industrial condition, but not other such conditions.  The expert interaction can bring aspects to the table which did not appear before, it plainly makes things much too complex.  Addressing expert interaction quite frequently leads to changes in project plans, even in the causality underlying logframes.  Not examining expert interaction can be purely pragmatic, an unfortunate and resented necessity.

Objects in Expert Interaction

Putting aside these problems what can one gain by analysing expert interaction ?  When expert interaction is taken to re-define a project, does that then lead experts to run after their personal hobby horses, or does it ask them questions they are not used to handle and thus tends to paralyse them ? 

Undoubtedly there is overlap between individual factors and the wider context.  For example, an expert is well aware of colonial history, and his/her individual past even reflects some of this colonial history, but instead of burdening him/her, it enables that expert to credibly challenge and put this colonial heritage aside.  Another possibility is that an individual with years of experience has 'internalised' wider social factors and without knowing s/he has developed a personal trait that allows him/her to make use of these factors in a positive way.

On scientific grounds one finds little basis to distinguish objects for analysing expert interaction.  Psychological assumptions have not allowed management researchers to reveal intercultural patterns (Hofstede, Trompenaars, etc.), and cognitive or historical assumptions have not provided reasons why development projects would lead to modernization or to under-development (Huntington, Geertz or Galtung).

To express it in more condensed words, overcoming the problem of understanding the interaction can be rewarded by effective actionable remedies.  The overlap is even larger when the individual expert´s professional baggage, professional habits, rules-of-thumb, 'tacit knowledge' and 'paradigms', while brought in by the individual actually carries wider social factors. It is possible that wider social factors brought in via the individual and vice versa, psychological factors reflecting wider social factors, are more important than what is purely individual and what is purely macro contextual.

 Wider social processes

Which wider social processes are reflected in interactions and which individual factors override these ?

When wider social processes are rigid, one chooses different experts, when individuals shape them, this is impossible.

The processes are defined so that they are templates for practitioners.  A template is a concept that allows to create indicators, parameters and hints that allow to refine the question.


The process management workshop enhances the experts´ interaction by enabling them to identify project variables to be modified.  The workshop discusses first the so-called content process, then the exchange process and finally the interface process, ideally over two days.  The workshop material provides experts with key elements of these processes which they can relate to their individual interaction experience.  Therefore the workshop material can only be used after a sufficient time of project implementation, often around 6 months.  Experts can then re-interpret the events during the preceding months and reconstitute how they have produced these three processes in the particular project.  In doing so, they can contemplate modifications to project variables, the changes to roles, management, inputs and outputs are elaborated with the views and insights of all experts.