The book reviewed here is ‘Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge” by Cass Sunstein and narrated by Marc Cashman. Firstly the production standards are good. Cashman delivers a solid performance and was able to hold my attention through the 7 hours and 43 minutes of the audiobook and the audio quality was clear on the 106 Mb version. Sunstein begins by looking at aspects of group psychology which influence how group decisions are arrived at during deliberation. He explains phenomenon such as reputation cascade and polarisation which have a significant influence on the outcome of group deliberation. Then Sunstein looks at some solutions to how group deliberation can be improved. Sunstein provides us with a very interesting take on future’s markets. I thought these particular insights were fascinating. He points out that future’s markets can be very accurate for the purposes of predicting events. He then takes a step back and compares this with the deliberation process to show that this is an effective means of integrating the wisdom of crowds and that this can factor in the ‘hidden’ knowledge of individuals even when using systems where there is no financial incentive. It was certainly interesting to think of the parallels between science which essentially is about making testable predictions on the basis of an understanding of phenomenon and the predictions that are inherent within the futures markets. He also goes onto give examples of companies such as google which have been making effective use of these principles. Sunstein then looks at Wikipedia and the more generic wikis and I was interested to learn that Wikis can apparently reduce project time by 50%. I didn’t see the original study but if this is the case for certain types of projects then it is certainly an area that is potentially very important for the type of information intensive work that might be involved in certrain aspects of mental health service delivery for instance. Sunstein discusses other forms of social media.
In summary I thought Sunstein’s book is a great introduction to a very important area which has maintained a relatively low profile – how groups can arrive at better decisions in the digital age. The approaches described here would benefit from further investigation in the context of healthcare delivery. In healthcare settings, there are many situations in which groups allocate time to discussing aspects of healthcare delivery on a number of levels. If the collective group time can be more effectively utilised then this would be relevant both economically and to quality of healthcare delivery. This is speculation however and the benefits could be investigated by means of small pilot research studies.
Cass Sunstein. Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge. Narrated by Marc Cashman. Audible Inc. 2009.
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