In a recent conference call of CI practitioners somebody brought up the question â€œwhat collective intelligence really ISâ€. Here, I suggest an approach to define CI in terms of a domain of practice shared by a community of peers.
A domain, in the context of communities of practice, is a â€œdomain of knowledge worthy of the collective attention of a group of peers.â€ (Etienne Wenger) Suggesting the â€œcommunities of practiceâ€ approach to describe what CI is, we recognize that the definition of no domain of knowledge is separable from the community using and developing it. It helps us avoiding the trap of semantic debates, abstract theorizing, and the typical misunderstandings when practitioners of very different disciplines try to describe an object common to all.
In that sense, the question is not what is CI but what is CI to us as a potential community? What is our shared sense of the domain that we are engaged in? â€œWhat makes our domain a coherent body of knowledge? Where does it fit in the broader scheme of things? What exactly is our domain? Where does it stop?â€ (Etienne Wenger) There are as many definitions of CI as different kinds of discipline-oriented or mission-oriented communities practicing it. I imagine that CI for the intelligence community, or marketers using it for predicting consumer trends, has a meaning quite different from what I suggested (see upper left corner), in an evolutionary perspective, to use by a potential community of evolutionary agents.
This differentiation does not imply that either of those definitions is wrong or right. It just means that they reflect different domains of practice engaged by different communities of practitioners.
Of course, there are community straddlers with membership in multiple communities, and tools and techniques that can span and help cross-fertilizing multiple domains. All that becomes possible on the basis that each community defines CI as a domain of knowledge and practice that attracts the learning edge of, shared attention and stewardship by its members.