Stigmergic Collaboration

Mark Elliot talks about Stigmergic collaboration. Stigmergy, a term coined by Pierre-Paul Grasse in the 1950s with his research on termite behavior, describes self organization of complex tasks by collective inputs of a large number who are responding to changes in their local environment through small simple actions.

The concept of stigmergy therefore provides an intuitive and easy-to-grasp theory for helping understand how disparate, distributed, ad hoc contributions could lead to the emergence of the largest collaborative enterprises the world has seen.

There are four findings of Mark’s Ph.D. research that he provides:

  1. Collaboration is dependent upon communication, and communication is a network phenomenon.
  2. Collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components, without either of which collaboration cannot take place: social negotiation and creative output.
  3. Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.
  4. Collaboration in large groups (roughly 25-n) is enabled by stigmergy.

I think this is an important way of looking at stages of evolution of learning formations insofar as it describes scale as a dimension for differentiation for those stages.

5 thoughts on “Stigmergic Collaboration

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  1. There is an assumption here that I would like to identify: ant behavior is small and simple. From outside the system it might appears so, but is it? Perhaps it doesn’t get truly simple until one observes a few layers down into the system. I like the complexity term ‘initial conditions’, but I think it still has the same probs–it posits “simplicity” yet doesn’t define it. I am guilty of this all the time. Sometimes I say in response that you have to start somewhere. Still it is a problem–is it really simple? And the idea that it is small, well…how does that get defined? Anybody who has been bitten by a fire ant knows that they are not as small as they seem.


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