Friday, May 19, 2006

Tapping the wisdom of the crowd.

  Posted by Picasa Three times the last week or so I have heard, or read, references to a book called the ‘Wisdom Of Crowds' and so I was tempted to have a look about what it was all about on Amazon.

In our culture we have developed a default position that ‘experts know best’ and as a result we have learnt to distrust our own intuition.

In education, for example, we always await the next ‘silver bullet’ to be delivered by those who inhabit the Ivory Towers at the Ministry of Education. Who are we, we ask ourselves, to question their lofty deliberations? And in schools principal’s who know best ‘lead’ the teachers and the teachers, who know best, ‘teach’ the students what do. In between times we sit back and grumble and act like victims and blaming everyone else for the predicament we are all in. As Ronald Reagan said, ‘the ‘status quo, you know, is Latin for the mess we are in.’

There is no point in waiting for the 'experts' – if we want real change we have to make our collective ‘voices’ heard and do something ourselves.

And, it seems, we would be more often right than wrong if we do, according to New Yorker business writer Surowiecki, author or ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’. All we need is the right conditions and groups are more remarkably intelligent - more so than even the most intelligent members of them! To be more intelligent though we have to work in collaboration with others putting self interest to one side.

This is counterintuitive to us – that we actually know best and don’t have to wait around for distant experts to show us the way. Birds and fish can work together for their common good so why can’t we? We must have some residual collective intelligence left!

There are four basic conditions that need to be in place to ensure ‘wise crowds’ need:

1. A diversity of opinions
2. Independence of members from one another
3. Decentralization
4. A good method of aggregating opinion.

Diversity brings in differences and keeps people being swayed by a singe opinion leaders and it also brings in different information; peoples' errors balance each other out and, including all opinions, guarantees that the results are ‘smarter’ than if a single expert had been in charge.

One example is guessing the weight of a pig to be killed and dressed. Hundreds of citizens (some uniformed) guessed the weight of a live pig to be dressed as did an expert .The average of the ‘crowd’ was more accurate than the expert.

So we do count!

For example ask a group of teachers, who receive students from previous teacher, what they want from them and then negotiate with the teacher currently teaching the group – the decisions will be just as powerful (and more ‘doable’) than those of distant curriculum experts. The certainly won’t be as complicated!

Common sense it seems.

Schools need to develop their own visions, values, beliefs and curriculums; the experts have 'got us into a fine mess.'

Let’s start believing in ourselves - we coudn't do worse!.


Anonymous said...

It is tempting to let others tell us what to do - why should 'others' be experts' in what only each of has the responsibility to do. By sharing and uncovering what we know as a group we can develop shared 'wisdom' ( Vision and values and teaching beliefs)along the lines of the book you mention says.

Anonymous said...

I am sure the 'wisdom of crowds' could work in a school ( I am thinking of schools that include both primary and secondary teachers) but only if all involved could put their 'egos', or self interest, to oneside as you mention. And, even then, you would need someone to help them identify their different assumptions or 'mental models' about teaching that they are all too often unware of. I guess, if it were urgent enough, it could be done but secondary and primary teachers hold such different assumptions about teaching and learning which means, for students who transfer, it must be like going to a foreign country! Some students never learn to speak the new language and this ought not to be their fault!

Bruce said...

I am more than ever convinced that tapping the 'wisdom of crowds' is the only way to go - it all is too easy to fall into the trap that you know better. This applies to Governments, 'heroic' leaders in any organisation, principlas and teachers.

How to tap into the wisdom is the important thing for true leaders.

Kathy H said...

‘Wisdom of the crowd’ is a concept that is becoming increasingly important in many disciplines. Many people are realising that the expert ‘scientific’ path has not lead us to where it was suppose to, but instead to a large range of problems. As the concept of ‘human ecology’ is becoming increasingly focused on we can see that there are elements that are necessary in society that need to be recognised and valued.

One theory is that of ‘the warrior and the shaman’ the warrior can be seen as the expert and the shaman as the visionary. The shaman and the warrior work together with in the tribe instead of working exclusively and competing for attention. This ties in well with the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ as both are delegating the power of change with in a society, organisation or school to a diverse group of people. Bringing together those ‘experts’ with others who have a more holistic-forward view of the world. Perhaps this concept could be taken further to the warrior, the shaman and the tribe to acknowledge the value of all people within a system.

This illustrate the patterns that can be seen within all human systems, from schools to communities and even to large corporations.

Bruce said...

Wow Kathy H!

Very impressive stuff;thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. They will keep me thinking for a while! I think I might be shaman!?