Collaborative Thinking and Collective Intelligence

The underlying theme of the project was collective intelligence – how the latent potential of the different researchers and research groups at the University, together with existing and possible business and community partners, could be realised. The key aim of the project was to develop the processes, systems and services to facilitate this. There are very many approaches and dimensions to collective intelligence and this introduction can only just mention a few. A key concept is that of knowledge as an emergent phenomenon – that evolves out of connections and interactions. Looking at things from the standpoint of this knowledge network is the basis of one important approach to this – Connectivism. The project carried out interviews with two leading proponents of this, George Siemens and Stephen Downes.

George in his interview ( highlights the importance of being adaptive as at the centre of this approach. “The sheer abundance of information requires a reconsideration of how we manage that information … that’s only amplified by the development of social media … social media contributes in a secondary level by allowing each of us to have a voice, have an opinion, have a say … at the heart of it an education system needs to be able to adapt in terms of what it teaches and in terms of how it teaches and that for me sets the stage for thinking about a networked view of learning … we turn to networked views of learning not because they are the drivers of change but because the entire context in which education is situated has changed and our need then is to create a model and respond with a model which is capable of adapting as that system as a whole evolves as well”.

Stephen in his interview ( outlines the relevance of this approach to research. “If you look at research networks now outside of the formal structures of institutions and peer-reviewed journals, you see this kind of network effect will already being created and as soon as the Internet came into focus you can see researchers around the world doing things like exchanging paper preprints … and the use of e-mail to facilitate academic correspondence … so the idea that we can foster research efforts, research communities and research collaboration through the provisioning of network enabling technologies … is very likely to have a positive effect on the research community.”

How does this principle manifest itself in practice to help break down the boundaries between research areas? Etienne Wenger, a leading theoretician in the area relating to Communities of Practice, talked about some of the challenges of crossing boundaries in an interview with the project ( He discussed the need to find bridges, which could be through individuals, “who have a foot on both sides”, or through a project – “two communities who have a common project.” He describes how in some cases new disciplines can arise. “Sometimes at the boundary you can find a brand-new community that can combine the elements of the communities that give rise to it”, and gives the example of the research area of Psycho-Neuro-Immunology which arose in the 60s and 70s. How to find potential new links to encourage such interdisciplinary interactions was the focus of one of the key project developments, described in Tools to Find Connections.