2018 ICRS Annual Debate

In November, ICRS members met to debate one of the hottest topics of the year, something that has captured the CRS zeitgeist.


Experts vs the Crowd: Whose voice should responsible organisations prioritise?

Anita Longley (Chair of ICRS) summed up our choice in her opening remarks:


As professionals we tackle some of society’s most pressing issues: social inequality, human rights violations, environmental degradation, and climate change. Every day, we hear from stakeholders about how we must fix these emotive problems. Some views are from subject experts in academia and the media, while others are from different stakeholders (who we’ve loosely defined as the crowd) – people who wish dearly for a problem to be solved, but perhaps lack the detail of how best to solve it. Thanks to the ubiquity of social media the crowd have the means to make their views known to a larger audience than ever before. How do we navigate this? When it comes to setting strategy and planning actions, whose voice should responsible organisations prioritise?

To illustrate the question and warm up our debating muscles, the team from Debate Mate took to the historic stage at Conway Hall for a thought provoking ‘show debate’. Their motion? This House has had enough of Experts.


In a lively debate, arguments were put forth both for and against …


We need experts to expedite our own learning. Experts help us gain greater knowledge, and understand our own bias and the wider picture.


The media present individuals as ‘experts’, but are these true experts or are they funded by a small group of wealthy individuals who want to manipulate the media?



Experts know the field best and can help us make better decisions. Their superior knowledge benefits us all.


Experts can present subjective views as objective facts – and in turn these obscure the picture and cloud debate.



If Experts aren’t right, then who can we trust? What’s the alternative? We will listen to individuals who shout loudest; people with the means/power to motivate and manipulate the wider public.


Experts represent a certain minority of people. Can Experts speak for everyone, objectively? The trouble with experts is the ‘average’ persons opinions are not given the same credence and are seen as less valid.



There are different kind of experts. There’s the ‘tech’ expert (e.g. surgeon, pilot), someone you’d trust with your life, and then there are the others … the ‘social scientist’ media experts.


One expert might be manipulated, but that’s not a strong enough reason to inhibit our collective knowledge. We need more than one to safeguard against corruption. We need a collective of experts.


The motion was put to the vote and the result was close, but ultimately the house decided it had NOT had enough of experts. As one ICRS member concluded: Experts are either a dangerous weapon or a force for good, it depends who uses and pays for them.

New for the ICRS Debate this year, once the onstage discussion concluded, members continued debating around their tables. Simon Hodgson, Senior Partner at Carnstone opened the debate by introducing the topic. The subject of a recent parliamentary debate (after its petition had garnered over 100,000 rapid signatures from the public in a short period) our motion was: This house believes supermarkets should offer plastic-free options for all fruit and vegetables. 



With Debate Mate on hand to keep the discussions flowing, each table debated the pros and cons. Soon there were a range of opinions for and against, and a general feeling that supermarkets must speed up the process of change.


Missing from the debate was an expert voice. This was eloquently provided in a fact filled presentation from Stephanie Attal-Juncqua, a partner at Carnstone who leads with clients on plastic packaging. She made a case for its benefits. Here are some soundbites from her talk:



Plastic plays an important part in a cucumber’s life. Without plastic, cucumbers would last three days - the time it would take its water to evaporate.

With plastic film, it lasts up to 14 days.


Plastic avoids contamination, protects against microbes, moisture and UV, and prevents physical damage, leading to waste. Currently a third of all food produced annually worldwide is wasted.


Plastic is lightweight and strong, which means fewer vehicles and less fuel for transport, keeping transport costs and CO2 emissions lower than otherwise.


There is a higher risk of food contamination with recycled plastics as ‘legacy chemicals’ (banned substances) can re-enter the supply chain when old plastics are recycled.


Armed with these new facts our members reconsidered the motion. On conclusion the house was split. Change must happen, but it must be considered … and any alternatives to plastic must be better for the environment.


We only gave Stephanie ten minutes to speak. She had a wealth of facts and could have spoken for a longer. Therefore we are pleased to announce that Stephanie will return to do just that, as she joins us for an ICRS webinar on plastic in the new year.

With the discussions over, we moved to the final part of our debate with keynote speeches from not one, but two subject matter experts.


First to speak was Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos Mori.

A frequent writer and speaker on trends, leadership and performance management, Ben has directed thousands of surveys examining consumer trends and citizen behaviour. Most notably, his work on the Perils of Perception. A global report that compares people’s opinions on a range of social topics and compares them to the facts in each case. If you are a member of the ICRS you can read through Ben’s presentation in the link at the end of this write up -  it is an excellent source of information, highlighting the difference between what people think and reality.


Next to speak was David Goodhart

David is Head of Policy Exchange’s Demography, Immigration, and Integration Unit. In 2017 David published his bestselling book ‘The Road to Somewhere’- a compelling investigation of our changing culture and how that is shaping the context for political debate and decision making.  If you are member of the ICRS you can read David’s presentation at the end of this write-up.

Following Q&A with both speakers, Anita Longley returned to the stage to conclude proceedings and relay her thoughts on all that she’d heard.

Whose point of view should we trust? An important factor to consider is who is paying the expert and how they are paying them…

It’s important that we’re not just listening to those who shout loudest. I was heartened to hear Ben Page say trust in experts is rising.

But what about the wisdom of the crowd? In today’s post-industrial society, do smart people have too much power? Have we lost our values? And if so, what are the consequences of that?

Experts vs the Crowd? I think we need both. I feel strongly there is a role for the Crowd in providing challenge and an alternative view. And we also need more Experts, so we can be sure of their diversity, not just gender and ethnicity, but also age, experience, and diversity of thought.


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