and the end of centralized democracy as we know it

Over-reliance on centralization is a common flaw of modern socio-economic and political systems. What’s flawed about centralized systems is that top-down decision making by a few individuals cannot respond to the information flows of complex problems, embodying all the interdependencies within and outside the system, in real time. One way to circumvent this flaw is to take into consideration technology-enabled decentralized models of organization.

Our Complexity Salons on Distributed Organizations take place bi-monthly. Everyone is welcome to join.

On March 11th, during the first Complex Systems Salon on Distributed Organizations at NECSI, we discussed the possibility of further enabling decentralization through social media (Social Machines Director and Chief Media Scientist at Twitter Deb Roy), technology (Wikipedian Sam Klein), and open software-mediated community response (FLO solutions activist Devin Balkind).

Below you can find a wrap-up of the remarkable ideas, #vizthink drawings, videos, tweets, presentations and visualizations shared during the first Complexity Salon on Distributed Organizations. The Salon was inspired by Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam’s “The End Of Democracy?”, an excellent resource for framing the centralization problem from a complexity perspective.

“The participatory nature of a democracy should lend itself to more effective decision making by drawing on a diverse pool of knowledge and skill.” — The Future of Democracy, Yaneer Bar-Yam and Mark Woolsey
Deb Roy is a Tenured Professor at MIT, Director of Social Machines Laboratory, and Chief Scientist at Twitter. Watch Deb Roy’s talk here.

Twitter, Social Machines and Information Flow in Distributed Networks

Deb Roy kicked off the Salon with examples of his work at the Social Machines Lab, analyzing, amongst many things, the possibility of emerging Governance models. Via responsive feedback loops for towns and cities that connect citizens, city officials and the commercial sector can use social media like Twitter to radically increase transparency and accountability.

Willow Brugh’s #vizthink during Deb Roy’s talk

His presentation also shed light on how stories are created and distributed, considering the type of networks and groups journalists are connected to via Twitter. As news stories leave footprints on Twitter, the next logical step is to analyze the impact and distribution patterns, identify biases and measure veracity and engagement levels. The future of decentralized governance is being shaped by emerging social dynamics and communication patterns, currently embedded in social media networks.

“Expanded communication and significant changes in the process of decision-making can provide a foundation for a system that utilizes the talents and abilities of the many instead of the few.” Yaneer Bar-Yam
Samuel Klein is a Wikipedia Board of Trustees Member. Watch Sam Klein’s talk here.

The power of distributed networks in the creation and dissemination of knowledge

Sam Klein, Wikipedia Board of Trustees member, talked about Wikipedia as an example of an online, decentralized community, working on the creation and maintenance of knowledge databases over an extended period of time.

Sam shared a few ideas on what makes people work together, not as teams, but as independent individuals who come together to solve a problem and who are motivated to come up with solutions without being asked to, out of a deep sense of devotion to the cause and a desire to contribute.

Distributed organizations are strongest when you give people the freedom to use their skills and talent for the greater good. Wikipedia is both an example of decentralized community working on a common goal, and an example of a platform that empowers people to take action without being asked to.

“Using a new understanding of social imperatives and emerging technologies, we may identify a better form of participatory government.” Yaneer Bar-Yam
Devin Balkind creates open software solutions to support grassroots movements like Occupy Sandy. He is an activist.

Occupy Sandy and the power of open source software in distributed networks

Devin Balkind, is the director of Sarapis, where he creates free/libre/open-source solutions, which he believes are the answers to many types of social ills. Google Slides supporting his presentation are up for grabs here. The presentation covers a many topics relevant to decentralized movements, from grassroots disaster relief response, to using open software solutions to coordinate immediate responses from individuals and groups collaborating with each other to reach a common goal.

The magnitude of decentralized movements like Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Sandy are extraordinary. Devin showed data and insights into how free/libre/open source solutions can mediate large scale movements from an operational standpoint.

Watch Devin Balkind’s talk about open source technologies supporting grassroots movements around the world.

The concept of e-democracy has become a serious area of research around the world, and the potential it has for creating a more participatory and equitable form of direct democracy is great indeed.” Yaneer Bar-Yam


If you are interested in Distributed Organizations and would like to follow our conversation further, here is a list of helpful resources, some of which were created during the Salon.

The End of Democracy

Complex Systems and Occupy Wall Street

Scientific Guide for “Complex Systems and Occupy Wall Street”

Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, a Complexity Profile

Video recording of the first Salon on Distributed Organizations

Hackpad notes during the event, thanks to the collaborative participation of Willow Brugh and Sam Klein

Vizthink doodles, created on the spot by Willow Brugh: Deb Roy #vizthink here, and Sam Klein #vizthink here

Devin Balkind — Occupy Sandy and Open source software Slides

Register for upcoming Salons here