Note: the following article would not have been possible without generous contributions from Dr. Carina Antonia Hallin. She is the Founder and Research Coordinator of the Collective Intelligence Group at the IT University of Copenhagen (ITU) and a Research Affiliate at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI). Hallin has published in the disciplines of collective intelligence, decision support systems, artificial intelligence, computer science, strategy, and management. Hallin is also the founder of the first collective intelligence and crowdsourcing course in Denmark launched in 2015 at the Copenhagen Business School.
Hallin is a listed knowledge partner to the United Nations Development Programs (UNDP) on collective intelligence. She is also a regularly invited speaker on collective intelligence at international and national gatherings, such as The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Microsoft, Novo Nordisk, and Dreamocracy on collective intelligence for the common good in Brussels.
Since the rise of our pervasively digital world over the last two decades, a new phenomenon has emerged that has changed the way we solve problems together at both organisational and societal levels.
Crowdsourcing, the act of distributing work previously performed by employees to large groups of people, can produce outputs that are often aptly described as ‘collective intelligence’. These collective intelligence outputs are typically enabled by technology platforms that allow large networks of people to contribute to a shared goal.
Collective intelligence has varying definitions, but, to us, the most useful way to think of it is as the output of a systematized process. In collective intelligent systems, many people provide input and insights in pursuit of a specific goal. Collective intelligence is a characterisation of the work product they produce.
What makes collective intelligence so powerful?
In its ideal state, collective intelligence is more innovative, more accurate, and less biased than traditional methods of solving problems. It can also give us a greater understanding of the problems we need to solve in the first place.
By engaging the collective, you get a greater set of potential solutions and ideas to work with. Those ideas come from varying backgrounds, areas of expertise and perspectives. So right away, you have more raw material to work with in pursuit of a solution. You also have that same diverse group of people to iterate and improve upon the original ideas. The collective can weed out poor or flawed ideas earlier and more effectively in the process, leading to a better output arrived at more efficiently.
What is collective intelligence being used for?
Collective intelligence has several use cases across industries and sectors. Some of the most common ones include:
Innovation – At this point, we’ve all heard the phrase ‘most of the smartest people work for someone else’ and, of course, it’s true. Open innovation and crowdsourcing models can help organizations leverage the collective intelligence, that is the knowledge and insights and creativity, of hundreds or thousands of people to design innovative solutions. A couple of examples: Commercially, the LEGO Ideas platform has de-risked product innovation, and produced a potent line of co-created, sell-out products for the Danish toy giant. On the social impact side, over the years USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) has launched a number of crowdsourcing challenges to bring in new voices, source new solutions, test new ideas, and scale what works. These challenges have generated innovative, locally applicable solutions to complex, international social problems. That wouldn’t be possible without harnessing the power of collective intelligence.
Predictions – Individual actors produce less reliable predictions than do larger groups of people with insights into an industry or business. Therefore, leveraging collective intelligence inside a structured process can be lucrative and effective for private organisations in things like financial markets and corporate performance.
The Future of work – Collective intelligence is also at the root of business innovation. Organisations are creating new business models that leverage the power of collective intelligence in virtual hybrid work models to solve problems in previously impossible ways. For example, here at Exfluency, our model brings together subject matter experts and professionals from around the world. They’re able to unlock new markets and revenue streams for their skills and knowledge and our clients get the benefit of their collective intelligence in solving business challenges.
What’s important in designing a collective intelligence output?
You need the effective, strategic design of an underlying process to produce the optimal collective intelligence outputs. In fact, failures in process design can undercut or sabotage the results you’re after. Depending on the exact use case, factors of importance in the process design include:
Diversity – A variety of perspectives, opinions, knowledge, insights and judgements help produce true collective intelligence. Diversity is critical for almost any collective intelligence use case.
Independency – The ability for individuals to contribute their independent judgements are particularly critical for predictions, which rely on the collective wisdom and synthesized insight of a group of people to avoid bias and groupthink.
Collaborative process – In the case of innovation, which relies on the iteration and development of ideas and concepts by multiple people, you need to ensure that solutions are not developed in a vacuum. The virtue of collective intelligence is the ability to subject any individual solution to testing and refinement by the many, often working collaboratively together. Building a process that protects independency, but enables collaboration, is important to produce true collective intelligence.
Local insights – Local insights can be important for predictions. If solutions are produced too far from the root or location of a problem, even collective minds can fail to address it effectively. For example, an international corporate hotel chain attempting to address underperformance at their hotels across multiple countries would be well advised to gather insights from those in local areas rather than solve it from a centralized point-of-view.
Distant search – In innovation, on the other hand, distant search is problem-solving outside the domain of what is already known. Research has shown that organisations (both public and private) can significantly improve their problem-solving effectiveness by tapping into the knowledge of diverse groups and individuals from different fields of expertise to explore new solutions.
Collective intelligence at Exfluency
Exfluency has collective intelligence at its core.
Every time someone in our community creates a unique linguistic asset, it can be leveraged by everyone else in our ecosystem. Every time someone trust mines a colleague’s work; they raise the quality of the data in our ecosystem.
Through the collective intelligence of our community, everyone contributes to the productivity, quality and overall output of the ecosystem. There’s a long-term value being created each day, and everyone in the ecosystem participate in this value.
Over time, we believe that the collective intelligence of our community will contribute to making language the most valuable natural resource in the world.