Social self-organisation?

Is it possible to self-organize action in a crowd without leaders? I have been wondering about this question a long time and now I found some answers in a seminar of a Finnish project SOMUS. It has published a final report of many small projects to activate people in different areas. The orientation to self organisation comes here from sociology and social self-organisation is understood on a general level: it is a form of collective action without formal leaderships or roles of hierarchy between the participants.

Kari Hintikka is the researcher, who wrote Chapter two, about the premises and enablers of self-organisation. Chapter 2 has following parts:

  • anchor objects,
  • organised by someone,
  • self-organisation in real time web.

I am very interested in these questions and give here copies from the final report of SOMUS. I believe they want to be open and republishing is OK. All boldings are mine.

Generally, and slightly paradoxically, our findings are that social selforganization on the Internet is a functional model for temporary collective action and collaboration, but it needs something or someone to coordinate and facilitate it. The requirement to coordinate itself is scale-free, from small working groups to nationwide, large-scale networks, campaigns and movements

It is arguable whether social self-organization really is self-organization at all and whether it is coordinated or facilitated. Recent theories such as The Wisdom of Crowds (Surowiecki, 2004) or crowdsourcing (Howe, 2006; Leadbeater, 2008; Viitamäki, 2008) actually suggest that self-organization-based collective action and collaboration imply some kind of coordinative element such as an object, communication tool or people. The former means that under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent and often smarter than the smartest people in them.

These parts come from the chapter 2.3. Self-organised by someone. Many people living in the web know Shirky I suppose.

In the introduction to collective action, Shirky remains on a general level. In his case studies, collective action on the Internet consists of teamwork by a core group and repetitive collective action by the masses. The former includes planning and negotiation and the latter actions such as signing petitions, clicking Like buttons on Facebook, forwarding a link of a meme link or a link to a plea tosign a petition, changing one’s own profile image to green to support the student movement in Tehran 2009.

One of the key premises for self-organizing is to solve the communication problem that has been addressed by the so-called ‘birthday problem’ (Shirky ibid.): three people can quite easily decide and select, for example, which film to go to as they have 2 + 1, e.g., etc.  … Even if voting is arranged by self-organization-based action, there is still a need for some kind of coordination or management in order to select and decide on the available choices.

According to the scale-free network theory (Barabási, 2002), in every given (social) network or population, there are about 1–2 per cent of very active or highly connected participants, 9 per cent sometimes active or connected participants and roughly 90 per cent who mostly just follow the participants with a few or no connections at all (Nielsen, 2006; Swartz, 2006). This phenomenon is called the 1-9-90 rule.

When I had finished the first CCK course and 20 people wrote to the course blog at the end, someone told me quickly that is was 1-9-90 rule. In CCK08 we had two facilitators, about 20 students at the end and about 2000 beginners. But why do we speak about self-organisation of these 2000 students? There are good guides for CCK11 how to find one’s own way: Do what you want, you have to find the way. Dave presents the right orientation in his videos.

Perhaps I give the funnel model of Kari Hintikka, hope it helps somebody in understanding.

somusfunnelCheck the report please – I gave the link above. For instance the differences between cultural memes and anchor objects are fascinating.

In sociology we are interested in the behavior of people, participants. My main interest is to find psychological phenomena behind self-organisation in open courses or anywhere.

Emergent learning and its enablers in different circumstances will be my next theme. My blog friends Jenny Mackness and Roy Williams are working on it.  Jenny has blogged about ELESIG session about their new article.

Rita Kop and Helene Fournier are working on self-directed learning in open courses. Here you can find their newest slidecast with audio. Great times we are living just now 🙂

4 thoughts on “Social self-organisation?

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  3. Thanks Heli, that is an interesting study – and especially timely considering what has been happening recently in North Africa.
    Do you think there is any relation between the types of leaderless organization studied in the SOMA project and other examples of people working towards a common goal without active coordinators such as sometimes happens in covert political resistance groups? (Or even with more primitive examples like bacterial colonies and “cellular automata” such as Conway’s ‘Game of Life’?)

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