Groups can provide more wisdom than individuals.
The wisdom of the crowd refers to the preference for the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert. A large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning generally are as good as, and often better than, answers given by any one individual in the group. This approach offers four advantages:
- Cognition. Thinking and information processing are much faster, more reliable, and less subject to political forces than those of individuals or expert committees.
- Coordination. Behavior coordination optimizes utilization. For example, creating the right flow helps optimize pedestrian access to a popular restaurant while avoiding overcrowding.
- Cooperation. Cooperation helps groups of people form networks of trust without a central system controlling their behavior or directly enforcing their compliance.
- Common understanding. Common understanding within a culture allows remarkably accurate judgments about specific reactions of other members of the culture.
However, not all crowds (groups) are wise. Consider, for example, those who rely on YouTube videos rather than scientists for guidance. These are the key criteria that separate wise crowds from irrational ones:
- Diversity of opinion. Each person has private information even if it’s just an individual interpretation of the known facts.
- Independence. People’s opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them.
- Decentralization. People can specialize and draw on local knowledge.
- Aggregation. Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.
- Trust. Each person trusts the collective group to be fair.
The wisdom-of-crowds effect can be applied in prediction markets, Delphi methods, and extensions of the traditional opinion poll. The most common application is the prediction market, which asks people to answer questions like, “Who do you think will win the election?” The Delphi method consists of panels of independent experts who answer questionnaires in two or more rounds. After each round, a facilitator provides an anonymous summary as well as the reasons provided for his or her judgments. Prediction markets, Delphi methods, and extensions of traditional opinion polls prove to be more accurate than forecasts made by individuals. Then there is human swarming, a method designed to implement real-time feedback loops around synchronous groups of users to achieve more accurate insights from fewer numbers of users. Human swarming (sometimes called social swarming) is modeled after biological processes and is enabled among networked users with mediating software. Early testing shows that human swarms can out-predict individuals across a variety of real-world projections.
Collective wisdom and nursing
The collective wisdom of the nursing establishment tends toward using the Delphi method to determine our standards of practice, which are:
- considered the baseline for quality nursing care
- developed in relation to the law governing nursing practice
- applied to the RN practicing in any setting
- used to govern the practice of the licensee at all levels of practice.
If you don’t know the standards for your area of nursing practice, I strongly suggest you learn them ASAP. After all, you’re legally required to practice at least at that level, and the wisdom of the nursing “crowd” means the standards are designed to benefit patients.
-Leah Curtin, RN, ScD(h), FAAN