| News

Mobilizing Society, Quickly

MIT researchers demonstrate ways to mobilize society quickly. Hint: they paid them.

Last December UK students marched on Westminster to protest against a dramatic increase in tuition fees. Despite police tactics which were seen by many at the time as heavy-handed, a huge number still managed to avoid 'kettling' and arrive at Parliament Square. Mobile phone applications, particularly Google maps, and constant communication helped them navigate a path through the various concentrations of police. In July, Blackberry's messaging service was implicated in the organisation of the London riots. Peaceful protesters at Occupy campouts across the globe may wish to get in touch with researchers at MIT to  talk about research on mobilizing societies. They'll need it.

Source: AAAS Office of Public Programs

The Best Way to Mobilize Societies?:

Imagine that you are part of a search-and-rescue team looking for a lost child — or perhaps part of a neighborhood that is looking for a group of outlaws on the lam. What’s the fastest, most effective way to inform other people of the situation and then recruit them for your cause? It’s a question that many social scientists have been trying to answer. A recent competition held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is shedding light on the kinds of incentives that can be used to accomplish tasks that require this kind of society-scale level of mobilization.

In the competition, 10 red weather balloons were placed at different locations around the continental United States and competing teams were challenged to locate them all as quickly as possible. In this Report, Galen Pickard and colleagues, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team that won the competition, explain how they were able to use the World Wide Web to find all 10 weather balloons in less than nine hours. Apparently, before the competition even began, these winners were able to recruit almost 4,400 individuals from across the country to help them find the balloons.

also offering money to any individual who informed a balloon-finder about the competition in the first place

They accomplished this by not only offering some of the competition’s prize money to anyone who located a balloon, but also offering money to any individual who informed a balloon-finder about the competition in the first place. This strategy of “recursive incentives” beat out other altruism-based strategies, such as the one attempted by a team from Georgia Tech which offered to donate all of the prize money to the American Red Cross. Pickard and the winning contestants explain their strategy and tree-structure of recursive incentives graphically, and they hope that it might be used in the future for social mobilization campaigns.

Alternatively, you could forget the balloons and use some police brutality instead. Here's a VERY fast mobilization:




Comments are closed.

Our weekly newsletter

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.