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Solicitation of experts in an undetermined environment: the case of a polar exploration

Jean-Philippe Bootz (Humanis, EM Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France)
Pascal Lievre (CRCGM, Universite d'Auvergne, Clemont-Ferrand, France)
Eric Schenk (BETA CNRS, INSA de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 14 September 2015




The purpose of this paper is to understand the solicitation of outside experts in the upstream phase of innovation projects, which fall within the scope of the exploration and which take place within a context of radical uncertainty: how are these experts identified, selected and mobilised? While companies are compelled to manage exploration projects, the processes underlying the expansion of knowledge in these projects are not well known.


Based on the literature, this paper first presents a conceptual view of the notion of expert. Then, the research question is analyzed by means of a case study of a polar expedition. The project leader seeks a knowledgeable person who has never been identified as an expert, but whose knowledge is essential.


The expert appears both in his cognitive and social dimensions. Moreover, he emerges out of the situation, on the basis of neither strong nor weak signals. The rationality of expert solicitation falls within a pragmatic logic where the acquired knowledge must reduce the uncertainty so that the project can progress. The learning process enables to increase gradually the knowledge of the actor but also to build the legitimacy required in order to have access to the expert.

Practical implications

Findings can be translated in more general situations. Indeed, polar expeditions projects and exploratory innovation projects (Garel and Lièvre, 2010) possess some common characteristics: lack of knowledge concerning, timing issues, need to implement a pragmatic, enquiry-based learning. These projects strongly rely on external expert knowledge. This case study suggests that, while it may be useful, planning should not strictly define the course of action. A central competence of the project leader is to manage the duality between planning and adaptation. This implies the ability to adapt, to detect and to assess human resources and knowledge flows rapidly, as well as to weave social links inside and outside the organisation.


The existing literature offers a comprehensive view of experts in an organisation. However, the questions of expert selection and identification remain open. This paper fills a gap in the literature concerning the way experts are identified and selected. The case study shows that identifying experts does not solely depend on weak signals (reputation) or on strong signals (the expert’s social status). Rather, the expert emerges in the situation, in an unexpected way. The expert’s social dimension is not sufficient and one must look to the cognitive roots of the expertise. On the other hand, the fact is emphasised that the expert is a social construct which emerges from the solicitation process.



Bootz, J.-P., Lievre, P. and Schenk, E. (2015), "Solicitation of experts in an undetermined environment: the case of a polar exploration", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 900-911.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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