Robert Metcalfe coined the term ‘network effect’ to mean the phenomenon whereby a service becomes more valuable as more people use it, thereby encouraging ever-increasing numbers of adopters. He was referring to networked computers but the term has increasingly gained wide spread use.
One of the most interesting applications is around network effects for social change, and last Thursday saw the beginning of an interesting experiment in this space. The Royal Society of Arts is seeking to transform the diverse fellowship into a network to create positive social change. Mick Fealty describes the event as follows (here):
James Surowieki notes in his Wisdom Of Crowds’ critique that diversity of opinion and experience is a prerequiste for a crowd to be smart. Next is independence, ie people who are not likely to be swayed by people around them. Then decentralisation, where "power does not fully reside in one central location, and many of the important decisions are made by individuals based on their own local and specific knowledge rather than by an omniscient or farseeing planner."
Finally aggregation, some means of determining the group’s answer to the question, in this case: what might RSA Networks do and how might they deliver?
This last should begin to be determined through a number of outputs from the day, but the Open Space technology is a good match for Surowieki’s first three determining factors. RSA Fellows, or at least this bunch here today, are indeed a ‘smart crowd’.
Of course this is just the start of something and it is too early to say whether this will reach the all important ‘critical mass’ but we are watching it progress with interest (see here for exactly how we are observing and participating). However, it’s been a while since I attended an event with such a buzz and determination, so I strongly believe that the right conditions are there for successful collaborations to flourish.