Coping with overwhelming expertise
There's a significant difference between basic and applied science. Likewise, research disciplines "in the lab" call upon different skill sets from practitioner disciplines "in the field". For instance, medical researchers ask different questions from clinical practitioners -- even though both contexts can be hotbeds of innovation. Because the skills and collegiality are different, there's an added concern about the transfer of advances from basic to applied research and then empirical research to clinical practice. When expertise gets confined to a silo, (vertical space, protected turf or institutional fortress), the transfer of innovations gets abandoned, neglected or blockaded. The status quo persists while costs soar, effectiveness declines and people suffer the consequences.
When the established knowledge base was small years ago, budding professionals in most fields could benefit from exposure to research disciplines before immersing themselves in professional practice. The knowledge base in most professions has now outgrown our human limitations. Physicians now have their choice among 13,000 pharmaceuticals and 9,300 medical procedures. The complexity involved with making an accurate diagnosis of better understood diseases boggles the mind as well. I'm aware of similar advancements in the fields of film making, product design, architectural practice, instructional design, economic policy formulation and social services. I suspect every field of professional endeavor exceeds anyone's capacity to grasp the overwhelming quantity and quality of expertise. Everywhere we turn, we're faced with TMI (too much information).
One strategy to cope with this explosion of expert knowledge simply requires trainees to learn how to learn in preparation for continual, life-long learning. Knowledge management explores how the knowledge base of individual enterprises and fields of expertise can be structured and expanded to be immediately accessible and then worthy of keeping up-to-date. Promoters of the semantic web are exploring ways to get much more useful search results from queries of the data cloud that reference the context of the inquiry. All three of these developments may prove to be extremely valuable.
I'm coming to the conclusion that a fourth strategy is required. The three appear to be sustaining innovations. On their own, they fall short of disrupting the institutional morass. They can be co-opted into making a show of innovation that predictably backfires while depriving us of authentic value or useful solutions. Regarding research and practitioner expertise as notably different sets up separate educational processes and business models to deliver these differentiated offerings. In the next post, I'll contrast these two approaches.