Self-Organizing Social Systems
Can social systems really self-organize?
This purpose of this page is to explore the hypotheses:
“All groups of people self-organize.
The possibilities are limited only by
the integrative abilities of the members.”
I. All groups of people self-organize.
We don’t have to cite a lot or research to prove this. Just look around you. The data are ubiquitous. Every time a group gets together they form some sort of structure.
If you need more proof than your own experience, try these websites:
II. The possibilities of group evolution are limited only by the integrative skills of the members.
First, what limits any group?
Too much order and not enough chaos.
To understand this, we have to go a little deeper into self-organizing systems.
Many interesting phenomena arise from the interaction of a large number of individual components. Examples include turbulent fluids, the stock market, the ecosystem, and the brain. Recent advances in computing permit such systems to be studied using simple models with a large number of variables. These models exhibit many of the general properties of natural complex systems such as self-organization, evolution, adaptation, and artificial intelligence.
Characteristics of Self-organising systems
1. Bottom-up Organisation
•No central controller.
•Parts of the system interact locally, and respond (and maybe even learn) on the basis of local interactions. The are each adaptive systems within the large whole they are part of–which is another adaptive system.
•The global behaviour of the system is the emergent result of local behaviours.
2. Graceful Degradation
As parts of the system are removed, the system’s performance will slowly worsen.
There is no sudden failure in the systems performance.
3.The “Edge of Chaos” Bifurcation
The basic idea here is that
The ability to adapt is the ability to respond to changing conditions. The systems which are best able to adapt are the ones which are least locked into particular patterns of activity.
Some degree of order is however necessary. The less stable a system is, whilst still retaining a degree of order, the better able to adapt it will be. The boundary between order and chaos is called the edge of chaos bifurcation. For more on how facilitators help their groups progress by staying on the edge of chaos see the page on conceptual pluralism.
Ilya Prigogine is a good basic source on systems on the edge of chaos or non-equilibrium systems. Or you can explore the foundations of this field by looking into von Bertalanffy and the origin of systems.
Building groups on the edge of chaos
In social systems, the group must first stay on this boundary if it is to progress. Then it is open to the integration of conflicting approaches which will enable it to progress. To learn how to integrate conflicting perspectives, see the page on integration, synthesis and innovation
As these skills become established in the group, the group must be steered away y from stagnating stability. Any successful manager of the group, team-builder, or facilitator becomes an inducer and manager of chaos.
To do so, the manager must understand social motivation. To explore it, you might look at the slides on group motivation from my Fulbright lectures in Ukraine in 2010.
The jumping off point of these lectures is how traditional motivation theory misses the powerful motivations of altruism, curiosity and cooperation. The selfish motivations of humans are coupled with motivations which urge development of social groups. Groups are then systems composed of adaptive systems which are themselves adaptive systems. Just as humans are a mass of multiple conflicting impulses, so are groups. Successful groups are sustainable and resilient because they maintain the diversity of impulses within the group. The best managers or team-builders focus all available resources on the tasks at hand but do not destroy the diverse approaches which may be needed in the future.