Monday, August 15, 2011

Smart Crowds in the Networked Commons

Strong networks have the characteristics of strong communities. People know and look out for each other, they learn and share with each other. In weak networks, people are isolated and fragmented in cliques.

Whether a network is stronger or weaker has significant implications for the nature and place of crowd sourced engagement in governance.

Even today with technologies that could support otherwise, democracies still practice representational governance. People indirectly influence policy makers through informal communications and demonstrations and formal hearings and voting.

In any vote on any issue, there are four kinds of engagement in networks. There are the expert informed, the informed enough, the not informed enough, and the inaccurately informed.

In network structure and culture, the not informed enough and inaccurately informed are the result of three factors: weak redundancies, small reach, and low resonance.

Weak redundancies are when someone has only one or a few paths to accurate and complete information about the issue at hand. The more path redundancies created by more connections to information, the more accurately and completely informed someone is.

Small reach is the dynamic of having a small scope of connections that do not make larger network awareness accessible. People in cliques do not know what people outside their cliques know because their scope of connections represents a tight circle. People with small network reach are most vulnerable to being not informed enough or inaccurately informed.

Low resonance is low social credibility. Resonance is the ability to feel what someone else feels. It can take the form of identification, empathy, and compassion. Uninformed and inaccurately informed people may have connections to more informed others, but when they not resonate with them, they are not influenced by their information. Weak links in networks are links of weak influence.

Creating the most informed people possible when an issue is on the civic table then means three strategies of building redundancies, reach, and resonance.

We can identify those in the network with the stronger network awareness, credibility, and capacity for connecting people. We can make sure they are many and strongly informed. We can facilitate more introductions within and across networks in formal and informal ways. And we can make sure these introductions are personal and build resonance through personal story sharing, which is the most significant factor in resonance.

These strategies give people more access to complete and accurate information. They facilitate the emergence and attention to questions people have that enrich the conversation and shared learning, which is more important as issues become more wicked and complex.

When networks become stronger, networks can even become capable of the kinds of conversations that make the divisive nature of voting less necessary.

What if we invented an approach to democracy where voting was not a design element in the model? Voting continues to be the root cause of unchallenged excesses, bad decision making, unethical special interests, and leadership incompetence.

In most cases, voting is an excuse to avoid conversations that are information-based, inclusive, and innovative.

There is no wisdom in crowds of weak networks, only strong ones. Managing assets in the commons can happen in strong networks of people as long as the commons are at the scale of networks where the degrees of connection are relatively close. In these networks, people come together to create commons they manage through conversations that matter. A very different world indeed.

One model of transition can be where people in regions vote on key principles that then shape local civic actions that emerge from richer networked dialogue. Civic leaders in this model who enact policy decisions become conveners, facilitators, and trustworthy interpreters of civic conversations. Everyone directly participates and contributes through formal, informal, and technology media.

This results in crowd sourced alignments that are more wise, inclusive, and resilient. With stronger networks, we become smarter and better together.

1 comment:

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