Trying on zebra print trousers
I was once loitering outside the ladies changing rooms in my local department store, waiting for my wife to try on an outfit.
There was tangible excitement amongst the store assistants and I overhead much muted discussion about a lady, “trying on the zebra print trousers”.
It went quiet when the lady appeared. She was not served well by the aforementioned garment. (It was in fact difficult to imagine anyone being well served by these monstrosities.) Despite this “modom” was assured by the assistants that she looked fantastic.
The store assistants’ opinion was clearly compromised by the need to shift the zebra print trousers. Their sartorial assurances were not to be trusted.
The importance of an objective opinion
Similarly, to be free, and be seen to be free from anything which might influence the opinion of an expert is crucial to the credibility and reliability of their evidence.
In our experience, however, the objectivity of an expert and any potential conflicts of interest are not always given due consideration when experts are appointed.
This applies equally to the selection of experts to conduct your cost verification audit, contract audit and commercial or programme assurance.
As well as potentially influencing the opinion of an expert, a lack of independence can also undermine their effectiveness. We have seen a number of examples where a party was unwilling to provide completely free access to information as it was concerned that commercially sensitive data might be compromised by an expert.
Things to consider in assessing the independence and objectivity of an expert are:
• The existence of a clear professional ethical framework backed by the requirements of a professional body
• The existence of a client relationship with the other party in the dispute. Some professions are better than others at declaring these.
• The need to win more work. The objectivity of some experts can be compromised by their need to generate fees.
• An over eagerness to please. Some experts will try to be, “useful” by attempting to make the evidence support a favoured argument rather than expressing an opinion which is formed by the evidence.
The lady who tried on the zebra print trousers went away to think about it and I’m fairly certain she didn’t return to buy them. Fortunately she was able to see past the unreliable sartorial experts.