Collective intelligence refers to the enhanced capacity that emerges from the collaboration, collective efforts, and competition of multiple individuals. Collective intelligence (CI) emerges when the contributions of teams or groups of people become more than the sum of their individual parts. Indeed, Harvard Business review suggests collective intelligence refers to “the ability of a group to self-organize and to demonstrate a global behavior that demonstrates a greater cognitive ability than that of any individuals who comprise the group.”
Understanding collective intelligence
While the concept of collective intelligence has existed for a long time, technological advancements enabling millions of people to share knowledge have redefined what is possible.
During the 19th century, it took almost seven decades for the Oxford English Dictionary to source the 400,000 words necessary for its first edition.
Today, modern equivalent Wikipedia receives almost two edits per second with 6 million pages created monthly.
CI encompasses many participatory methods such as prediction markets, citizen science, deliberative democracy, open innovation, and crowdsourcing.
Principles of collective intelligence
According to theorists Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, the group behavior characteristic of collective intelligence is based on four principles:
In a group context, collective intelligence suggests intellectual property take a back seat to the open and collaborative sharing of ideas.
When more people are encouraged to share their ideas, there is a greater depth of scrutiny.
In business, leveraging the diverse creative capacities of others facilitates new use cases and allows for the ecology of complementary products to expand.
This means projects are based on a foundation of equality, where people can champion personal ideas and pursue their own projects without having to seek approval from someone else.
These projects are still open for peer review, but collective intelligence gives contributors greater freedom in choosing how they will achieve goals.
Knowledge is freely shared throughout the group and individuals share new insights with original group members and any new members.
Sharing is critical to the fluid exchange and critique of ideas.
With technology allowing people to join increasingly larger networks, collective intelligence transcends borders, countries, markets, and cultures in favor of diversity of input.
Examples of creative intelligence
Aside from the example of Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary, here are some other examples demonstrating the power of collective intelligence:
Companies such as Google perhaps best exemplify modern collective intelligence.
Google’s technology indexes the knowledge created by millions of people and then uses this information to serve relevant search results.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) campaign to eradicate the disease in Africa and Asia began in 1967. Since smallpox had a mortality rate of 20-40%, the WHO set out to vaccinate as many people as possible.
Outbreaks in Nigeria, where there was a shortage of vaccines, were controlled by containing the disease in certain villages.
The strategy only worked because health workers on the ground knew what type of exposure could be handled without adequate vaccine supply.
Complex problem collaboration
Arizona State University’s Decision Theatre organizes researchers, policymakers, and the business community to better understand and explore solutions to complex societal issues.
Here, collective intelligence is based on software-integrated models and big data provided by transdisciplinary partners.
Some of Decision Theatre’s recent work addressed complex challenges in health care, energy, water policy, smart cities, trade agreements, and humanitarian operations.
Examples of Creative Intelligence
- Search Engines: Google’s search engine is an excellent example of collective intelligence, utilizing the knowledge and content created by millions of people to provide relevant search results.
- Smallpox Eradication: The World Health Organization’s campaign to eradicate smallpox in Africa and Asia relied on the collective knowledge of health workers on the ground to control outbreaks in areas with vaccine shortages.
- Complex Problem Collaboration: Arizona State University’s Decision Theatre brings together researchers, policymakers, and businesses to address complex societal issues using software-integrated models and big data from transdisciplinary partners.
- Wikipedia: The collaborative online encyclopedia is a prime example of collective intelligence. It harnesses the contributions of volunteers worldwide to create and edit articles on a vast range of topics.
- Prediction Markets: Companies like Microsoft have used prediction markets to tap into the collective intelligence of their employees, predicting outcomes and making decisions based on the aggregated insights of their workforce.
- Crowdsourcing Innovation: Many organizations use crowdsourcing platforms to collect ideas and solutions from the public, leveraging collective intelligence to solve problems and drive innovation.
- Open-Source Software: Projects like Linux and Apache are successful examples of collective intelligence, where a community of developers collaborates to create and improve software freely available to everyone.
- Citizen Science: Scientific research is enhanced by citizen science projects, where volunteers contribute their time and knowledge to collect data, expand research, and make new discoveries.
- Deliberative Democracy: Collective intelligence can be harnessed in the political realm through deliberative democracy, where citizens actively engage in decision-making and policy development.
- Crowdfunding: Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo rely on collective intelligence to fund and support innovative projects based on the collective backing of individuals.
- Collective intelligence refers to the enhanced capacity that emerges from the collaboration, collective efforts, and competition of multiple individuals. Collective intelligence describes many participatory methods such as citizen science, deliberative democracy, and crowdsourcing
- Collective intelligence is based on four characteristics of group behavior: openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally.
- Collective intelligence can be seen in the way search companies such as Google utilize the collective knowledge of internet users. Collective intelligence has also played a part in smallpox eradication and is used to tackle many of the world’s most complex problems.
Connected Thinking Frameworks