This special issue studies the International Crisis Group (icg), one of the most notable and widely referenced producers of knowledge about conflict areas, used extensively by policy makers, the media and academics. The authors take different theoretical and methodological approaches to make sense of this hard-to-ignore conflict expert, exploring the icg’s daily operations and role in international politics. This introduction sets the scene by offering a critical exploration of the organisation and its approach to the construction of political knowledge. It analyses the icg’s position in the conflict-related knowledge market and the sources of its expert authority. It then discusses the organisation’s roles – from mediation to instrumentalisation – in the ‘battlefield of ideas’ in conflict and intervention contexts and its potential to make an impact on policy framings and outcomes. It shows that studies of the icg need to ‘unpack’ the organisation in order to account for it as both a highly successful international expert brand and a very heterogeneous actor in specific contexts and at specific times.