Evolving Distributed Power In Online Communities

By SamuelRose, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 12 years 17 weeks ago.

The following is from a Comment at BeyondYes in MeatballWiki. We are discussing possible ways that Meatball wiki decision making can happen in a way that distributes power and responsibility to the community in efficient/effective ways. Following the links will take you to pages that explain the concepts in the text:

BeyondYes processes bring to mind the old way that the Apache group used to govern itself. During one phase of the old Apache group, any developer could express an opinion by voting, but only the votes of the “core members” of the group were binding. One thing that the Apache group found was that their voting system worked better for incremental changes, than for periods of rapid and intense development (probably because there are too many decisions that need to be made a consensus process to keep up). However, I think that BeyondYes and ConsensusPolling could work with intense/rapid periods of development. Let’s look at the example of the evolution of living things, which might provide some useful metaphors.

We could say on the one hand that life evolves without “consensus”. We could say that organisms adapt and change over time without stopping to “take a vote”. But, I think we would be partially wrong if we said this. Because there is a hidden order in the way that life evolves and changes ove time. Living things seem to have come to a sort of internal and complex “consensus”, with their total environment about the simple rules that they follow on smaller scales. We see this in the form of genes and “genetic algorithms” present in all life forms. The evolution of life has found, and so far stuck with, a core “standard” from the earliest bacteria to human beings. In the timescale of the evolution of life, this has allowed “rapid and intense development”. The “oversight” is an emergent process of gene, organism, and environment.

Living things have a built-in infrastructure for (relatively) rapid development and decision making. Living things continue to develop, evolve and refine ways to process and use information about themselves and their environment. Within aliving organism (based on frameworks we are using at http://cooperationcommons.com, and in particular drawing from http://www.rheingold.com/cooperation/decisionmaking.pdf)

  • Information flows freely, there are no “boundaries”, only thresholds, such as the physical limits of the biological “hardware”.
  • Information and knowledge are organized in a flexible chaotic/ordered ways within living systems
  • Living things detect patterns of synchrony in information flows in volitile environments. Living things then sync themselves up with these patterns. Their genetic systems equip them with increasingly effcient ways to recognize and remember patterns.
  • From http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.04/quorum_pr.html :New research suggests [..]that microbial life is [..]: highly social, intricately networked, and teeming with interactions. (Bonnie) Bassler and other researchers have determined that bacteria communicate using molecules comparable to pheromones. By tapping into this cell-to-cell network, microbes are able to collectively track changes in their environment, conspire with their own species, build mutually beneficial alliances with other types of bacteria, gain advantages over competitors, and communicate with their hosts. Even the earliest living organisms devise ways to catalyze the sharing of information. Even the earliest living organisms created GroupFormingNetworks?. They did not hoard information. They strategized collectively locally to compete globally.
  • The evolutionary process in living things evolves forms of “trust” system adaptations, and group identity system adaptations.
  • The evolutionary process equips living things with “parsing signal from noise” adaptations, both on individual organism, and groups of organism scales.
  • Simple organisms, like bacteria, resolve conflicting “agendas” of the individual vs. collective good by genetically programming themselves to sacrifice themselves for future generations. Yet, we also discover that some of the bacteria instead evolve genetic programming to “cheat”, and not kill themselves when the rest of the colony sends out the “die-off” signal.
  • Simple organisms evolve swarm-like behavior that make collective decisions “on the fly” about real-time conditions.

(Note that Meatball already displays many of these properties to some degree).

BeyondYes, or ConsensusPolling could harness some of the properties of complex adaptive living systems for decision making processes. The http://www.rheingold.com/cooperation/decisionmaking.pdf paper recommends to:

  • “Develop both stocks and flows of information.”
  • “Cultivate ongoing cycles of sense making and interpretation”
  • “Identify surrogates for rapid trust to build social capital”
  • “Distribute control to optimize creative freedom”

For instance, the StaticContract? and the DynamicPlan? could be merged into one ongoing EdgeOfChaos? system. This merged Plan/Contract could be an ongoing and open plan/contract, built off of “stocks and flows of infromations, and ongoing cycles of sense making and interpretation”. Participation can be more open, more oriented towards RadicalInclusiveness, if there are transparent reputation and rating systems that allow the “rater” to rate the “ratee” and vice versa. This can also help distribute control. Each person is really only “in charge” of what they do personally, thus all of their work is part of an ongoing greater community DynamicPlan?. There is only a StaticContract? for the duration of the time when one more other people agree to work on my piece of the greater DynamicPlan? with me. In order for this to work, then every person in the community would have to agree to try their best to work within a system that develops their piece of the DynamicPlan? based on what they are believe are the best Info Stocks and Flows, and every person in the community would have to do their best to cultivate ongoing cycles of sensemaking and interpretation of their info stocks and flows (viauslize data to improve pattern recognition, test hypotheses on an ongoing basis, “think out loud”, encourage an environment that makes tacit knowledge explicit). Every person would have to agree to do their best to employ transparent trust building systems, and every participant would have to do their best to understand how these elements empower them, and how they distribute control to them. We already see many of these elements emerging in many different pages around MeatballWiki. Particularly in ConsensusGroup.

ConsensusGroup is, in my opinion, more flexible and in line with everything that I’ve talked about in this comment so far. This does not mean that I think that BeyondYes can’t work. But, I think BeyondYes might be a better system for an larger-participant environment like Wikipedia, for instance. BeyondYes might be a good reforming strategy for Wikipedia’s current governance system. BeyondYes could also be a good and possibly efficient route to encourage civic engagement in systems that already employ voting, like state or city governments, or for- and/or non-profit cooperative business models. – SamRose