Four pillars of the design of participatory architectures

street wisdomIn return to my recent reflection on the “participatory architectures” for innovation, the issue that really fascinates me; the essential question I’ve been asking is: What can explain that some participatory projects work better than others? Are there any patterns of the collective behavior that help us to improve the participatory initiatives´ design?

Learned by several recent experiences (some good and some bad ones), the invisible hand of participation is an effective filter for innovation only if it´s conceived within an intelligent architecture of interactions.

On a further consideration, I consider there are four pillars that have a decisive impact on the success or failure of that “architecture”: 1) Ability of call, 2) Ability of structure, 3) Filtering capacity, 4) Synthesis capacity.

Let me explain it in detail:


Quality is a daughter of quantity, so any Collective Intelligence (CI) initiative needs to have high participation rates to be able to produce good/significant results. The more people at the base of the pyramid, the better ideas come up.

The key is power of summon capacity to attract the attention (among so many choices that exist out there) of the potential participants. We have to answer questions as the following: What makes people participate? Why are they willing to “sacrifice” their time at this project? How can we perform to connect with their inner motivations?

At this point, I´d like to introduce what one friend  of mine calls “the Bareto Effect” (in reference to a common practice that occurs in Spanish bars), that simply means “if the place is empty, nobody else will get in“. This is a common problem that could explain the failure of many initiatives 2.0 that displayed empty, without any content, expecting people will just sign up and provide that content.

To break the vicious cycle, we must at first create a critical mass of “work-already-done” that will serve to attract users, or just like at the Bareto Effect, we have to invite trusted friends to come first in order to encourage the others to enter the bar.


Once we manage people visit us for the first time, and they feel motivated by the proposal and willing to “play”, we must provide them with well designed space, where the interactions are perceived as intuitive and inviting as for to perform tasks.

Social spaces for innovation need a structure, a thematic division and friendly design of interactions that will right away make the visitor feel like in common well-known territory.

A critical element is to provide granulated tasks to make the participants adjust their availability depending on different grades of dedication: small, quick tasks for people in a hurry (e.g. voting), demanding tasks for committed people (e.g. commenting).


On the assumption that we have already achieved a high level of visits, and that users show high grade of interaction; that means, they really “participate”; the next requirement is to filter the information and knowledge generated by the group, in any way.

We must provide mechanisms for evaluation, selection and establishing a hierarchy  of ideas, in order to translate quantity into quality. Whether we like it or not, the success depends not only on the creativity and inventiveness of the participants, but also depends on the rigor and efficiency with which the contributions are filtered.


The filtering of the good ideas is necessary but not sufficient to extract the value from the participatory spaces. This architecture must also be provided with “capacity for synthesis and aggregation”.

The best results of Collective Intelligence don’t occur additively, just only summing up ideas, but through the integration, and synthesizing the best ideas.

To achieve this, the system must model the interactions (to conceive “participatory algorithms”) that will serve to contribute for collective dialectic translation into concrete decisions and more valuable solutions, than the isolated opinions are.

That is why James Surowiecki insists that there must be a mechanism to integrate and to synthesize the individual contributions in order to become a sole collective result: “It needs a way of summarizing people’s opinions into one collective verdict“.

Note: Read this post in Spanish (Lee este post en Español)

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.