I got interested in Lego® Serious Play® because I do social science research--focus groups, interviews, and the like. Over the years, I became frustrated by the quality of information--people said what they thought I wanted to hear, some people just didn't talk--they needed a better way to express themselves. So I triedLSP® on one of my projects, layperson views of experts.

Before getting to highlights, I'll digress briefly to explain why I bother to research this topic. Experts are everywhere in a complex technological world. But if you look at lay opinions of science, foreign relations--anything big and complicated--you'll see that many people distrust or dismiss expert opinions. Experts can provide important information, but a lot of people don't want to listen, which puts them, and us, at risk. Why won't they listen? What should experts do to help?  A lot of research into this problem concludes that laypersons lack information that would assure them that the expert knows what he/she's talking about--the fault is with the layperson, in other words. But I took an approach from risk communication studies that insists we have to begin with understanding the mental models people have about risks--or, in my case, experts.

Here's one of the things I found: laypersons care a LOT about how an expert handles safety. The models below represent part of mental models on safety and experts.

ABOVE LEFT: The expert shields and protects people, using the high vantage point to survey dangers. The wheels are for "getting around" to help and warn people, and the blue globes are the expert's understanding and knowledge. This model reflects fiduciary trust--the layperson expects the expert to put the layperson's well-being first.

ABOVE RIGHT: Here, the anti-expert entices a layperson into a situation of great danger (tiger and shark, high dive; the gravity is seen also in the use of the skull face). But the "expert" is the clown on the bike, who can distance himself from the mess he created. I've seen experts express concern for lay safety, but they may also dismiss the tigers and sharks the layperson sees. When an expert does this, she becomes that clown.

TOP: One person argued that a bad expert cannot hide their self-interest and their badness. The pirate in the model in the banner is the badness that is hidden, and the giveaway in the larger model is a single black brick. You have to look carefully at inconsistencies in an expert's public persona, our participant suggested.

Overall, I found that (1) laypersons have a pretty good idea of what makes an expert trustworthy, and it's not degrees from elite institutions, and (2) using LSP® yields rich data for a qualitative researcher. And, to end with the classic line, more research is needed.