An equation (Beta) of Collective Intelligence for Democracy (II)

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collective shoulders

In the previous post, I argued my thesis of why collective intelligence for democracy can be understood, and improved, from the point of view of Design. In this second post of the series, I will propose an equation (now in beta) that intends to summarize the factors that determine, and enable evaluation of, the effectiveness of a collective intelligence mechanism for democracy.

Going to the point, I propose to work with the following equation that can serve, in principle, as a frame of reference for building participatory design that can work well for the purpose:

Equation (Beta) of Collective Intelligence for Democracy:

CIforD = Effectiveness + Efficiency + Autotelic Process + Legitimacy

I will now describe each of these variables separately:

  • EFFECTIVENESS: How the architecture helps to achieve the proposed objectives. How the design satisfies collective expectations of real impact and repercussion. A different question, but also pertinent, is whether the collective objective pursued is “intelligent”, although it is an issue that probably escapes what the equation seeks to capture.
  • EFFICIENCY: How the system contributes to accomplish its objectives at the lowest cost possible. From this perspective, the purpose of an optimal participatory design is minimizing “avoidable costs” and/or get more results at the same cost. Improving “collective efficiency” is a goal that interests me a lot as a design objective because it is an area that has been neglected and studied less. An erroneous underlying design generates too many avoidable costs. Being clear, if you look for real impact, you must worry about some degree of efficiency because the available resources are always (relatively) scarce.
  • AUTOTELIC PROCESS: As defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his well-known book “Flow”, an autotelic process is one that it is enjoyed by itself. The participants are focused on the Here and Now. An architecture conceived to experience the participatory process as the main objective, fosters involvement without the need for external incentives and attenuates the anxiety to obtain predetermined results. The gratification (ludic, learning, social capital, self-esteem, etc.) is in the process, in the experience regardless of the results finally obtained.
  • LEGITIMACY: This variable provides the political dimension of the equation. When a collective process leads to legitimate results then the result obtained is accepted without coercion. It is perceived as fair and valid. But this depends a lot on the process followed and specially on who made the decision and how. This is a critical factor to which any participatory architecture design should pay special attention.

The most interesting thing about this equation is the possibilities that it offers to analyze the interrelations that exist amongst the different variables, because they show some degree of interdependence and tensions with each other.

It can be stimulating, as reflexive exercise, to play to weight different factors of the equation at the expense of others, to predict what the impact on the overall outcome might be.

I usually do this exercise in collective debates to help the group to self-identify, and to prioritize objectives because in the last instance there is almost always a tradeoff between some of these factors. I invite you to experiment with this equation as a device to open a dilemmatic space of collective learning that helps the participants to express their priorities, and then to be able to negotiate them together.

The effectiveness of any collective process is a very important factor to consider. An ineffective participatory process, which does not achieve the intended objectives, can generate so much frustration that it ends up triggering rejection towards the mechanism itself, no matter how stimulating it could be. This requires, of course, first agreeing on the collective goals of the group, and this is not always easy. Sometimes, some actors prefer not so intelligent aims, even that the objective proposed by the group could go against the genuine interests of the group itself. Examples of this are unfortunately many.

Other people, however, consider the collective nature of the process or method as the purpose itself, and for this reason they believe that what is really important is that the group learns and enjoys the process in an autotelic way without giving as much importance to factors such as effectiveness or efficiency. In some way, it can be thought that a good process today (with mediocre results today) can contribute decisively to a (great) result tomorrow.

Those who prioritize the process above the result, unless in the short term, seem to think in these terms: “The most important objective of creating participatory spaces in politics is perhaps not so much to achieve more effective policies, nor better decisions, but to train, educate the citizens in the exercise of democracy”.

Not only does the “what” matter, but also the “how“. We can have a good final “product” (made by an elite of brilliant people), but not have changed anything in the culture, or in context, to prepare society to exercise its democratic rights more proactively. On the other hand, when measuring effectiveness (i.e. obtaining results with impact) in collective processes, one should set the time horizon further. It is a mistake to look only at immediate results.

The third and final post of this series will advance, only in a summarized way, some principles of participatory architectures for democracy based on collective intelligence.

Notes: The image of the post belongs to the album of Ted’photos in Flickr. You can also visit the author’s personal blog o his Blog de Inteligencia Colectiva in its spanish version.
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