Information Routing Group
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An 'Information Routing Group' (or 'IRG') is a component of social networks consisting of a semi-infinite set of similar interlocking and overlapping groups. Each IRG contains a group of 3 to 200 individuals (IRGists), and each IRG loosely shares a particular common interest; IRGists exchange information, as a group, a sub group, or individually within that IRG, via lateral communication. Any IRGist might be in 2 or 3 IRGs peculiar to them but with different IRGists. The idea was proposed in 1984 in the book "The IRG Solution - hierarchical incompetence and how to overcome it"  before the advent of the Internet although personal computers plus modems were conceived as mediating contact. Nowadays they are referred to as a social networking services and are intended to foster information and innovation exchange and to enhance group intelligence and Collective intelligence.
The Original Conference Paper
The idea was first presented in a paper at a conference celebrating the joint Centenary of the Institute of Electrical Engineers with the Society of Information Scientist and the Library Association at the IEEE London Headquarters, ( Library Association Record to a seminar run jointly by IEE and the LA on 'Biblionic man', held at the IEE on 26 November 1980, David Andrews) then of the Open University Energy Research Group. (Full reference presently unavailable)
The paper envisaged that due to the principle of six degrees of separation specific messages sent by a particular IRGist, IRGist 1 to some or all members of his local IRG could be routed to all relevant but unknown IRGists even though in IRG space they may be geographically and socially remote from the source IRGist, and who may need or appreciate the information (whether or not they are initially aware of the need - Relevance Paradox) by the process of lateral diffusion from IRGist 1 to IRGists abc, IRGists pqr, IRGists xyz etc., the number of copies multiplying at each transit, and mainly going to those IRGists likely to be interested.
The paper envisaged the widespread creation of a network of personal computers inter-linked by modem, which was at that time a relatively new concept, and wherein software automatically mediated the exchanges, ranking and rating the information's interest, reliability, relevance, the performance of each other IRG and IRGist, by noting how it was treated and used by the recipient IRGist who would also be able to append a personal rating on various dimensions. This meant the envisaged software in effect impersonated the individual and his preferences, and would do all the forwarding and selecting for him, apart from specific personal messages - much as a newspaper editor sifts and presents a daily quota in a newspaper – the user doesn’t of course have to read all the newspaper or IRG digest, but picks out the bits he is interested in depending on how much time he has on that particular day.
The paper foresaw that users would continuously change by means of key words and rankings which topic was of current interest and set a daily quota of info and the software would deliver up to that limit.
These ideas were subsequently developed and appeared in The IRG Solution - hierarchical incompetence and how to overcome it
Even if the IRGist doesn't read any of it, his "impersonator" still forwards bits of his daily digest to his other friend and colleague IRGists, all selections individually tailored to their perceived needs, and the feed back received from their remote impersonators.
The paper foresaw that unlike the monologues of newspapers, the IRG network would actually interact with users – perhaps sending them information they weren’t initially aware they needed, (thus solving the Relevance Paradox ) Such sends could be prompted by a question, which may have revealed it ignored certain important considerations.
Of course each user’s software could reach out to other unknown IRGists and perform the same service in response to a submitted query or piece of information. They could do this by sending out an information probe that would be transmitted from IRG to IRG until it reached any potential users – all such transits mediated by impersonator software to pick the most likely route from IRG to IRG and IRGist to IRGist.
In another paper published in the Journal of Information Technology, then edited by Professor Igor Aleksander of Imperial College,( Andrews, D. (1986) Information routing groups – ( Towards the global superbrain: or how to find out what you need to know rather than what you think you need to know, Journal of Information Technology, 1, 1, Feb, 22-35) ) it was described in detail how a sophisticated information economy could develop, with users charging virtual access and transit fees for other IRGist's probes to transit their various IRGs. Thus users could earn credit, simply by being well connected and held in good information stead, i.e. by building up an electronic reputation (similar to eBay ratings). These ratings could apply to various parameters - relevance, reliability, rigor etc.
The same impersonation software could organise the IRGists information in the IRG "public" domain area of his own PC, meaning that once an IRGist was identified as a credible expert in a particular area, other, even remote IRGists would have access to his files by means of searching that file space, but note, the search would be assisted by a local context and language changer - see later.
The IRG notion was triggered by the awareness of the various environmental social, medical, health and other difficulties with which human societies and organisations are faced; the fact that organizations and policies often don’t work efficiently or deliver expected results and sometimes delivering counter intuitive and counter productive results.
Andrews claimed that they were caused in large part by the failure for active professionals within and across different organizations, or even within the same organization to communicate laterally (failure of lateral communication leading to unintended or unforeseen and often highly undesirable interactions and consequences. It was claimed this often led to the Relevance Paradox, whereby individuals, not being aware of the relevance of certain information (often relating to unwanted effects in domains outside that individuals knowledge) did not seek the information which could have avoided them making a costly error.
It was claimed that informal lateral communication, in informal IRGs have in the past mitigated or prevented many potential disasters before they happen by throwing up potential unintended consequences early on by informal Interlock research.
IRGs were intended to speed up and automate these pre-existing informal processes by resolving the Relevance Paradox the transmission of tacit knowledge and the synchronization of language across different specialties, disciplines, organisations, and departments; something central media and purely hierarchical organizations it was argued cannot readily do.
An examples cited of the failure of lateral communication to create coherent world views interlock diagram from which coherent policy and actions can emerge was the then and still occurring extraordinary and not widely appreciated fact that the UK and the USA (with the strange exception of New York city,) wastes heat from power stations equal to and able to replace the entire usage of natural gas for heating, unlike in say Denmark, Russia and Finland, an amazing example of Hierarchical incompetence given present fears of imminent energy shortages.
Other examples cited were the construction of large dams, where frequently the increased value of the water and power is more than offset by the extra cost of chemical fertilizer (needed due to loss of seasonal silting, the use of any power to create that fertilizer, the creation of disease epidemics e.g. Schistosomiasis (see Charnock, Anne (1980) Taking Bilharziasis out of the irrigation equation. New Civil Engineer, 7 August) and the loss of food production downstream due to traditional fishing grounds based on the loss of silts previously deposited in the deltas.
Another aspect dealt with in the book "The IRG Solution - hierarchical incompetence and how to overcome it" was the problem of universal languages and referencing systems and the effect of jargon on insulating specialist groups, and preventing inter departmental, inter organizational communication and collective world view development. Specialist get stuck in sub worlds partly due to the isolation brought about by the specialist languages and associated thought processes they develop, making outsiders difficult to hear, understand or take seriously.
There is not and cannot be, any universal language and categorization systems understood and used by all, and attempts to define and build them inevitably lead to massive problems of disambiguation. The IRG approach to this, was that at least initially, if individuals laterally communicated across boundaries then human IRGists would develop cross boundary languages - this is after all how language continuously develops largely through dialogue.(Language development is quintessentially an informal process of the development of tacit knowledge) By extension, the IRG impersonator software would simply do the same thing - an incoming article from a remote system, would have keywords automatically attached local to the domain it was now in, thus solving the language disconnect and cataloguing problem.
Whilst the Internet, discussion groups, blogs, email have to some extent tacked some of the issue raised in the various articles / books written around the IRG concept, by no means all.
For example Google queries still only returns you the information you think you need - you can still be the victim of the relevance paradox.
Systems like Google, and Wikipedia, superb for what they do, do not tackle the language aspect - users simply have to know exactly the words they are looking for on Google, or Wikipedia - otherwise they can only locate information they want with difficulty.
Email on its own, still tends to predominantly promote internal communications, not across boundaries.
Information Routing Groups are related to the notion of and predates the Collaboratory and are much more general.
Modern actually existing versions of IRGs are for example Linkedin which operates on precisely the principles laid out in "The IRG Solution" and the Claverton Energy Group, currently assembling a global energy solution diagram.
- Central media
- Social network service
- Collaborative innovation network
- Delphi technique
- Hierarchical incompetence
- Hierarchical organization
- Interlock diagram
- Interlock research
- lateral communication
- Lateral diffusion
- lateral media
- Law of unintended consequences
- Relevance paradox
- Tacit knowledge
- The IRG Solution - hierarchical incompetence and how to overcome it
- The Wisdom of Crowds
- Innovation - Knowledge engineering - Knowledge management - Semantic web
- group intelligence
- Collective intelligence.
- http://www.claverton-energy.com/energy-experts-library/downloads/worldenergypolicy "The IRG Solution"
- The IRG Solution - Hierarchical Incompetence and how to overcome it. David Andrews. Souvenir Press, London, 1984. Pages 200 - 220. ISBN 0-285-62662-0. Detailed description of the proposal.
- Many of the references listed below are on: http://lateralaccessnetworks.wikispaces.com/
- "Beyond Mass Media" Brian Martin. Science, Technology and Society University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia. General discussion of the IRG concept(http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/pubs/95metro.html).
- The Power Of Open Participatory Media And Why Mass Media Must Be Abandoned. Brian Martin, March 20, 2006. General discussion of the IRG concept http://www.masternewmedia.org/news/2006/03/20/the_power_of_open_participatory.htm
- The IRG Solution - Hierarchical Incompetence and how to overcome it. David Andrews. Souvenir Press, London, 1984. Pages 200 - 220. ISBN 0-285-62662-0. Detailed description of the proposal. http://www.claverton-energy.com/energy-experts-library/downloads/worldenergypolicy
- The Hidden Manager Communication technology and information networks in business organizations. Taylor Graham Cambridge / Los Angeles,1986. David Andrews and John Kent. Much tighter description of IRG concept and its application to business management. ISBN 0-947568-15-8, 198 6 http://www.taylorgraham.com/books/hidmancon.html
- Mogens Niss Professor of Mathematics and Mathematics Education IMFUFA, Roskilde University, Denmark "Om folkeskolelaereruddanelsen i det vigtige fag matematik" in Peter Bollerslev (ed.): "Den ny matematik i Danmark - en essaysamling", Copenhagen, Gyldendal, 1979, pp107–122. The relevance paradox is defined on p. 111.
- Niss, M. (1994) Mathematics in Society. In Biehler, R., Scholz, R. W., Straesser, R., Winkelmann, B. Eds. (1994) The Didactics of Mathematics as a Scientific Discipline. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 367-378. Relevance paradox
- Energy Research Group, Open University. Communication Within the Agriculture, Water, Waste and Energy Industries. Discussed examples of how the industries mentioned can be integrated to a greater or lesser degree, leading to lower pollution and energy use. Discussed the need for IRGs and how they might be organized. Emphasizes problem is lack of co-ordination and lateral communication between organisations. Describes interlock research in detail, the relevance paradox and the Bilharzia/schistosomiasis issue, central media, lateral diffusion, tacit knowledge, and Lateral Access Networks, later renamed Information Routing Groups, development of private languages as a barrier to inter communication, also describes how computers can be used to speed up lateral communication, and lateral referral . DC Andrews. ERG 033. Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, England 1980.
- "The Importance of Knowing the Right People" (Article based on ERG 033 on Lateral Access Networks - the forerunner of Information Routing Groups). Printed in the Guardian Newspaper, London (The National Newspaper) March 20 1980. Discussed Bilharzia / schistosomiasis relevance paradox.
- Energy Research Group, Open University . Information Routing Groups. DC Andrews. ERG 037. Generalisation of ERG 033, advocated development of software and automatic phone answering modem to link up private PCs effectively creating an Internet. Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, England 1980. David Andrews
- Library Association Record to a seminar run jointly by IEE and the LA on 'Biblionic man', held at the IEE on 26 November 1980. Covered same ground as ERG 033 and ERG 037.
- Andrews, D. (1986) Information routeing groups – Towards the global superbrain: or how to find out what you need to know rather than what you think you need to know, Journal of Information Technology, 1, 1, Feb, 22-35. details of lateral referral, diffusion.
- Yewlett, J . L . Town Planning, Wales, Institute. of Science & Technology . "Networks : Developments in theory & practice". The paper reviews developments in the U .S .A. & U .K . in recent years, progressing beyond network analysis to explore the structure & use of networks. The paper seeks to address questions of how to construct multi-actor policy structures, & build networks for particular purposes. Contributory concepts explored included the 'Reticulist', the 'Leader/Co- ordinator', the 'Segmented Polycephalous Network' & the 'Information Routing Group' in CONNECTIONS Sunbelt Social Network Conference World Congress of Sociology American Sociological Association VOLUME IX NUMBERS 2-3 Winter, 1986 http://www.insna.org/Connections-Web/Volume09/connections1986_IX-2-3.pdf
- ( see Charnock, Anne (1980) Taking Bilharziasis out of the irrigation equation. New Civil Engineer, 7 August) Bilharzia caused by poor civil engineering design.
- Social Networks Meet News Aggregation And Filtering: Information Routing Groups http://www.masternewmedia.org/news/2006/10/02/social_networks_meet_news_aggregation.htm