Collaborative intelligence: Beyond collective intelligence

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Editor’s note: Ignasi Alcalde has given us permission to use this article from his blog in which he reflects on the path towards collaborative intelligence. We wanted to post it as we share his interest in technologies 2.0 as tools for working the collaborative and horizontal side of communication. At Zyncro we believe that enterprise social networks encourage creativity and shared learning and we see them as the best opportunity for collaboration and exchange. What do you think?

A few days ago I read in La Contra an interview with Jeremy Riffkin in which he made some curious comments about electricity. He said “what is revolutionary is its combination with the internet: the network brain. Authority will no longer be vertical, but distributive. The true revolution will spark when energy is transmitted by network and collective intelligence regulates its use.” When I read it, I instantly though of a quote by José Ortega y Gasset: “a civilization only endures if many contribute in the effort. If everyone prefers to enjoy the fruit, civilization collapses.”

According Wikipedia, collective intelligence is a form of intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals or living beings of the same species, which is a term generalized by cyberculture or the knowledge society. In fact, he sees it as consensus decision-making, as it has been done effectively in the past by bacteria, small animals and insects like bees or ants… and it is framed academically within the field of Sociology, IT science and behavior of the multitudes, a field that studies the collective behavior at quark level to bacteria, plants, animals and human society.

Extrapolated to people, Tom Atlee describes that collective intelligence can be encouraged “to overcome ‘groupthink’ and individual cognitive bias to allow a collective to cooperate on one process while reaching a higher intellectual performance” and George Pór defined the phenomenon of collective intelligence as the capacity of communities to evolve towards higher order complexity and harmony, through such innovation mechanisms as differentiation and integration, competition and collaboration.

For me, a difference should be made between collaborative intelligence and collective intelligence, which represents a specific case. In collective intelligence, a final product emerges from actions of a group of persons who do not interact among themselves. Collaborative intelligence looks after problems where individual experience and different interpretations of several experts are critical for solving problems.

A clear example of this application are practice communities, where professional groups and interested collectives exchange knowledge to develop a specialized knowledge, sharing learning based on shared reflection on practical experiences. Both types of intelligence are intimately related with the so-called Web 2.0 and more specifically, with some applications such as Management 2.0, E-Learning 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0.

On the other hand, in both types of intelligence, there is a series of nuances clearly expressed through the concept “Power Law of Participation” from Ross Mayfield. Mayfield lists a series of activities through which the transition from collective intelligence to collaborative intelligence is made, characterized by greater involvement. These activities include: read, tag content, comment, subscribe, share, network, write, refactor, collaborate, and lead. Wikipedia represents the most paradigmatic example that illustrates collaborative intelligence.

Collaborative intelligence also can be classified according to the degree and type of collaboration that individuals give to the end product. There are many modes of collaboration. For example, the “fusion mode” where each individual contributes something to the end product where that contribution is fusioned (as is the case of collective writing of articles in a Wiki system). Also there is the “molecular mode”, used in a book written by several authors where each contribution is maintained in its relative entirety within the bigger entity; the “collection mode” where each contribution is made to a greater whole that may be open (as is the case with YouTube, Flickr or blog systems like Blogger or WordPress); or a “agregator mode” , the most simple case being comments on a post in a blog, or on articles on news sites.

As Ramón Sangüesa and Irene Lapuente from Co-Creating Cultures point out, technologies 2.0 enable you to work the most collaborative side or horizontality of communication as experts and non-experts can coexist on the Internet. They also say “the Internet has provided an opportunity for mass collaborative exchange, but it is also true that over time, we are witnessing an inflation in purely commercial applications in the social media. What we are interested in is the initial value of a part of this collaborative technology and what we do is hybrid this collaborative work impulse, with participative design methods, to create a learning opportunity. This new reality can be brought to other levels and start knowledge exchange projects and the capacity for reflection and empowerment, giving many people a voice, and enhancing the capacity for creativity and learning”.

To do this, Design Thinking is a concept that is becoming more widespread in the business world, and more specially, in the areas of competitivity. It is linked with the way in which professional designers think, approach problems and reach solutions. It is an attitude towards problems and the challenges that the limits impose in problem solving.

Ignasi Alcalde (@ignasialcalde) is a Graduate in Multimedia from the UOC and holds a Master’s degree in the Information and Knowledge Society. He is consultant in IA and teaching consultant at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. He shares his thoughts on collaborative work on his blog and his twitter feed.