On Thursday, Nov. 3, Dr. Michael Hogan, Senior Lecturer of Psychology at the National University of Ireland in Galway, gave a lecture on “Facilitating Collective Intelligence: Advancing Applied Systems Science,” focusing on efficient and social methods of solving real world problems.
Hogan began his talk by verbalizing the basic social dynamic within which his collective intelligence research takes place: individuals coming together in small groups. The challenges faced in such a dynamic was the pinnacle of Hogan’s interest, and the further resolving of these challenges is the initiative of his research.
Hogan referenced two authors and their unique critiques of the technological age. The first, American computer philosophy writer Jaron Lanier, explained the algorithms created for and used by the internet to direct people to information. Actions such as Googling information, using Facebook and the utilization of other technological amenities are controlled through mathematical algorithms.
Author Cathy O’Neill, in her novel “Weapons of Math Destruction,” expresses a similar critique of algorithms facilitating/resolving societal problems. Prevalent flaws in these algorithms raise questions on the legitimacy of algorithms versus the time-true method of human interaction and communication.
“We have to have mechanisms that allow for our own voice,” Hogan emphasizes, explaining that through the writings of these authors there is an appeal for people to work collaboratively and creatively to solve societal problems.
Algorithms are both too qualitative and not understood by the public, becoming altogether unreliable.
Hogan has executed research on the function of people in groups. The most problematic circumstances in problem solving groups include dominant voices prevailing over less vocal individuals, coupled with the theory of “Group Think.” This theory implies that irrational ideas can become reality due to popular individuals’ opinions going undisputed.
To “promote positive group dynamic,” “prevent under-conceptualization” and “avoid cognitive overload,” Hogan pushes the concept of “Interactive Management” primarily developed by John N. Warfield, the past president of the Society of Systems Sciences.
Based off of the theory of system design, this concept establishes a collective basis for working and thinking. Warfield promoted ideas that people use different mental models to describe problems, and therefore even the most complex mathematical models often cannot facilitate social problem resolution.
Requirements for “Interactive Management,” Hogan listed, are numerous informed participants, a facilitating team, group methodologies, software support and a productive workshop pace.
The steps to complete the process with prime results begin with a trigger question to incite idea generation. The second step is to categorize the ideas that have been independently generated by each individual participant. The third step is a voting process in which the group selects and ranks subproblems within the problem field.
Through this step, Hogan stresses, “critical issues rise to prominence.” The fourth and final step is structuring, where the interdependence between problems can be visualized. This step is important as it identifies which problems influence and aggravate other problems. This is often done through graphic representations, where a visual “problematique” can be created through specific software.
“Small changes of individuals bring about huge changes on a societal level,” Hogan explains, emphasizing how this process resolves issues surfaced by “Group Think.”
This process further generated a range of fundamentals that, if completed properly, can lead to the solution of the problem at hand.
Hogan provides the example of the “Think Global, Act Local” campaign in the Irish city of Galway, where the Galway Healthy Cities Project analyzed barriers to well being of the population.
Through interactive management, they were able to generate projects that improved the overall wellbeing of the population. These projects went into the local city plan and were made a reality. Some of these plans were to focus on the early developmental stage of young children, as well as parents who have young children.
Overall, collective intelligence methods were found to be effective in solving problems regarding the wellbeing of Galway’s population.
The social science that goes into these collective methodologies can be seen in the role of the facilitator. This role involves eliciting the best possible critical thinking, in order to engage individual’s creativity. Hogan verbalized that there is such thing as a “good prompt versus bad prompt” obstacle. “You get much better argumentation if you facilitate well,” commented Hogan.
Hogan has applied his research of social sciences in collaborative methodology to several projects, including the European Union initiative for marine sustainability.
The European Union trained 40 facilitators from all over Europe, and analyzes barriers to produce projects that would overcome these barriers. The result of the project was an organization of 159 mobilizations across Europe, all with the intent of improving marine sustainability.
Kathryn Riter ’19 summarized the effectiveness of lectures such as Hogan’s on the student population: “I enjoy psychology talks because we get to learn from people who are experts in their study. They often talk about things that we don’t get to touch on in class.”