The Co-Intelligence Field of Social Systems

The intelligence manifested by groups, communities, organizations, networks, cultures, societies, and humanity as a whole

Central inquiry: What enables human systems to learn, create and respond coherently and successfully to the challenges and opportunities they encounter?

Forms of co-intelligence particularly useful in this field (see Five Dimensions of Co-Intelligence): Of course, the natural focus here is on collective intelligence.

Sample projects in this field: Most importantly, create a culture of dialogue and co-creativity. Individually and collectively we can: Establish systems whereby information needed for positive change gets produced and made accessible to those who could use it. Build inclusive, readily accessible and continually updated collective memory. Create public spaces and forums for collective reflection and dialogue. Increase public awareness of diverse forms of dialogue -- and help people practice them. Create contexts which support fruitful self-organization and the co-creation of shared stories. Create a feedback-rich environment to provide balancing and course-correcting dynamics for organizations and societies. Create systems to ameliorate extremes of domination and powerlessness which impede cooperation. Develop a sense of shared meaning, shared undertaking, shared destiny, and shared responsibility for those things we all depend on (a healthy environments, peaceful communities, a just and thriving culture, etc.).

Comments: In building collective intelligence, we need to realize that the intelligence of the participants can help or undermine the intelligence of the whole system. To the extent a system creatively weaves together the intelligences of its members, it tends to generate collective intelligence. To the extent it pits them against each other, or isolates them from each other, it tends to generate collective stupidity.

I care most about societal intelligence -- the societal sector of this field. I believe our societies urgently need more collective intelligence to deal with the dangers and opportunities of the 21st century. There has been considerable research and development of the collective intelligence of organizations because that information is of use to corporations in their efforts to thrive in rapidly changing global markets. But building intelligent organizations will not, in itself, create an intelligent society. More attention needs to be given to building structures and cultures that support collective intelligence in communities and in society as a whole.

I find hope in the proliferation of projects devoted to participatory politics, civic society, community renewal, and reinvigorated democracy. I am particularly excited by efforts which reach beyond individual responsibility and citizenship to facilitate systemic transformation. People are addressing our social systems, cultures, and power relationships with unprecedented creativity -- proposing campaign finance reforms; establishing non-expert citizen consensus councils to influence government policy; producing performance art that promotes deep insights into community polarization. Furthermore, recent developments in science -- systems thinking, chaos and complexity theories, ecology, etc. -- provide us with new ways to think about the dynamics of large systems. With these insights we can address the structural and cultural dimensions of societal intelligence and increase the creative engagement of individuals and groups in public life.