Networks, Hierarchies, and Markets: Aggregating Collective Problem Solving in Social Systems

31 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2009 Last revised: 28 Aug 2012

David Lazer

Northeastern University - Department of Political Science; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Ines Mergel

Syracuse University - Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Curtis E. Ziniel

University of California, Riverside (UCR)

Kevin M. Esterling

University of California, Riverside (UCR) - Department of Political Science

Michael A. Neblo

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: June 2, 2009

Abstract

How do decentralized systems collectively solve problems? Here we explore the interplay among three canonical forms of collective organization - markets, networks, and hierarchies - in aggregating decentralized problem solving. We examine these constructs in the context of how the offices of members of Congress individually and collectively wrestle with the Internet, and, in particular, their use of official websites. Each office is simultaneously making decisions about how to utilize their website. These decisions are only partially independent, where offices are looking at each other for lessons, following the same directives from above about what to do with the websites, and confront the same array of potential vendors to produce their website. Here we present the initial results from interviews with 99 Congressional offices and related survey of 100 offices about their decisions regarding how to use official Member websites. Strikingly, we find that there are relatively few efforts by offices to evaluate what constituents want or like on their websites. Further, we find that diffusion occurs at the "tip of the iceberg": offices often look at each others' websites (which are publicly visible), but rarely talk to each other about their experiences or how they manage what is on their websites (which are not publicly visible). We also find that there are important market drivers of what is on websites, with the emergence of a small industry of companies seeking to serve the 440 Members. Hierarchical influences - through the House and through the party conferences - also constrain and subsidize certain practices.

Keywords: Institutional Entrepreneurship, Collaborative Learning, Information Technology, Congress, Diffusion, intra-, inter- and extra-organizational influence, online practices

Suggested Citation

Lazer, David and Mergel, Ines and Ziniel, Curtis E. and Esterling, Kevin M. and Neblo, Michael A., Networks, Hierarchies, and Markets: Aggregating Collective Problem Solving in Social Systems (June 2, 2009). HKS Working Paper No. RWP09_17. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1413298 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1413298

David Lazer (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Boston, MA 02115
United States
617-373-2796 (Phone)
617-373-5311 (Fax)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Taubman Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-0102 (Phone)
617-496-1722 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.davidlazer.com

Ines Mergel

Syracuse University - Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs ( email )

215 Eggers Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States

HOME PAGE: http://faculty.maxwell.syr.edu/iamergel/

Curtis E. Ziniel

University of California, Riverside (UCR) ( email )

900 University Avenue
Riverside, CA 92521
United States

Kevin M. Esterling

University of California, Riverside (UCR) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Riverside, CA 92521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.politicalscience.ucr.edu/people/faculty/esterling/index.html

Michael A. Neblo

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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