Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More On Groups Of Five

Roy offered the following comment. which I'm bringing to the "upper" level to be sure it's visible to casual passersby:

I cannot, at first sight, see anything against groups of five and it would seem to negate the fears of Urbano.

The groups are still small enough to enable face-to-face meetings with little effort or expense.

In addition, groups of five reduces the number of levels in the process, speeding things up and possibly being cheaper.

I'd like to hear your take on this Fred.



Good Morning, Roy

The reason I prefer groups of three to groups of five is to reduce extraneous psychological pressure on the participants. People are influenced by other people. The larger the group, the less some individuals in the group will be able to function at their best. In an effort to illustrate the basis for my concern, I'm going to cite the observations of two noted professors:

1) "What I call 'internal' exclusion refers to the way that some people's ideas and social perspectives are likely to dominate discussion and decision making even when a forum has diversity in the room. There are a whole set of practical norms about what 'proper' speaking involves that are biased against people with accents, not to mention people who don't speak the dominant language --- and biased against people who speak in a high voice or softly, biased against people who express themselves emotionally or haltingly, and so on."

2) "... a lot of the psychological literature, summarized by Tali Mendleberg, reveals the tendency of small groups to press for consensus in ways that tend to silence potential dissenters."

3) "An early and famous psychological experiment, the Asch experiment, showed that people were likely even to doubt the evidence of their own senses ... when confronted with a unanimous group of other people saying that what they perceived was wrong ..."

The point is, the larger the group the greater these pressures on some members of the group. Conversely, the smaller the group, the more freely each member will contribute. Our goal is to seek the best among ourselves, so it behooves us to do all we can to encourage everyone to participate to the maximum of their ability. The smaller the group and the longer the exposure of the members of the group to each other, the smaller the impact these adverse effects will have on the participants.

On the other hand, as Roy points out, groups of five would speed the process somewhat. In the final analysis, group size will be set by the implementors of the concept. Implementation should be preceded by sets of experiments and testing to establish the optimum conditions.


Footnote: The citations above are taken from a set of questions Archon Fung, an associate professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, posed to Iris Marion Young, Professor in Political Science at the University of Chicago (until her death on August 1st, 2006) and Jane Mansbridge, Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard University. The purpose of the discourse as to examine participatory and deliberative democracy. The material I cited above was taken out of that context. The questions and the responses provide interesting insight into participatory democracy in their own right, and are worthy of serious consideration. They are available at:

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