Stigmergic collaboration: A theoretical framework for mass collaboration

Continuing work on my 5th competency:  Servant Leadership in Technology Facilitation and Collaboration.

Elliott, M. A. (2007). Stigmergic collaboration: A theoretical framework for mass collaboration (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Melbourne, 2007). Retrieved from

Notes (instead of a summary)

This work is incredible, detailed, and presented in an attractive way. I feel that I can’t do it justice, but here are a few notes.

Definitions: “Collaboration is the process of two or more people collectively creating emergent, shared representations of a process and or outcome that reflects the input of the total body of contributors” (Elliott, 2007, p. 31).
“co-created emergent shared representation” (p. 45).
“Stigmergy is a class of behavior in which collective activity is coordinated through the individuals’ response to and modification of their local environment—one agent’s modification becomes another’s cue (p. 8). (swarm intelligence)

Some principles: Non zero sum outcome (i.e. win win)
Includes creative activity (not just cooperating together); must create (p. 40).
Generate multiple solutions to a problem and one is selected by the collective (p. 40)
Collaboration transcends and includes cooperation which transcends and includes coordination (p. 41)
The Internet is fundamentally a stigmergic system in that it supports mediated indirect communication and inspires users to respond to its encoding by further encoding it (p. 92).

What does it take to create the environment for it?

The individual must relinquish some control to the collective, including sole authorship (p. 49)

Collaborative output requires “constant attention and redevelopment” through out the process, and the purpose needs redefining daily, each moment (p. 50)

Procedures must be previously agreed upon (p. 51).

What are the participants like?

Multiple participants with varying social capacities, personalities, histories and relationships (p. 53)

An ideal prospective collaborator…
1. is enthustiastic about the subject of our collaboration
2. is open-minded and curious
3. speaks their mind even if it’s an unpopular viewpoint.
4. gets back to me and others in a timely way.
5. is willing to enter into difficult conversations
6. is a perceptive listener. (p. 54)

Communication happens through all types of mediums, and may not stay in the same medium. It also isn’t two-way, it has multiple paths and multiple participants.

What does it take for digital stigmergic collaboration to happen?

Someone has to:

“Define an objective for which collective creative contribution is required in order to build value through user contribution.

Define a set of procedures designed to provide the capacity for participants to make such contributions.

Develop an online environment which caters for these contributions and enables the emergence of collectively created shared representations, and cultivate a community which supports the objectives.

[Then]  “Compliant participants make creative contributions and benefit from collective efforts.” (p. 104)



Wow. This deserves much further thought! Preferably stigmergic collaborative thought.

2 replies on “Stigmergic collaboration: A theoretical framework for mass collaboration”

  1. Janine,
    Your book reviews together comprise a great overview of the potential of technology collaboration for servant leadership and Christian ministry and mission, with so many challenging ideas. Particularly, I found the ideas of “Thinking on the web” and “Virtual team leadership” very thought provoking. Besides, I enjoyed learning about the innovative concept of “Stigmergy” and its collective impact on local environments via the web. This is very impressive.

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