The IRG Solution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The IRG Solution is a book written by David Andrews and published in 1984.


The book, written in 1984,[1] developed from a number of research papers at the Open University Energy Research Group, and an article appearing in The Guardian newspaper which attempted an information- and communication-based approach to analyzing why things often went wrong (i.e. inadequate policy responses with counter productive unintended consequences) in centrally governed societies equipped with hierarchic bureaucratic organizations (governments) and what the book called “central media” – i.e. print, and broadcast media,[2] and predicted that a general environmental / energy / pollution / food catastrophe would inevitably ensue from these features alone, unless the mechanisms at work were recognized and appropriate information-based solutions devised (as defined in the book) and implemented. It was argued that home computers and modems could be harnessed to create lateral media,[3] or interactive computer-based social networks (essentially the internet as we know it today) as the only form of media which would adequately understand and describe the complexity of the emerging environmental, energy and water crises the author claimed we were rapidly heading into.

Lateral communication[edit]

Main article: Lateral communication

One of the central claims in the book was that for millennia, all life had been controlled, organized and responded to by other organisms, species, and environmental issues on a lateral communication / dispersed control basis – communication and signalling between individual cells, bacteria, amoebae and species – all created via Collective intelligence to form self-sustaining, self-regulating ecosystems. Examples cited included “primitive” cultures with no king or power structure, slime moulds which are communities of individual amoebae but which can come together to form a single purposeful organism, a school of fish, a flock of birds, insect colonies, and the human body. All of these the book claims indicated a high degree of organization and co-ordination using lateral communication instead of central control, resulting in control being dispersed between the cells or individuals in the community.

The book claimed that environmental damage began to occur as soon as centralized control emerged, initially dynasties and monarchies using the tools of warfare, and then further centralization of communication with the advent of the printing press.

The book claimed that only by using technology to develop mass lateral media - the organised sending of messages between individuals - could we hope to recognize and solve our problems. The proposed necessary technology was the widespread use of computers in individuals' hands to mediate person-to-person communication on a mass scale, using modems and telephony at that time a relatively unfamiliar idea (it is being popularly reckoned that the internet was invented around 1990).

Claimed inherent problems of hierarchies and central media[edit]

The book first described what were claimed to be the inherent deficiencies of hierarchies and central media - Hierarchical incompetence - and their alleged inability to recognize and deal with complex issues, and secondly to suggest the urgent development of what the book termed “lateral media” which were described in some detail and were what we would recognize today in may respects as “the internet” and social networking. The book proposed that we should develop a system where a PC in every home would be linked by modems and the telephone network and be equipped with software to enable messages, news and inquiries to be forwarded selectively to create a cloud of lateral communications hopping from computer to computer (similar to the way a flock of birds or shoal of fish communicated in order to stay in a coherent whole – this is similar to what we today call social networking / email and many other features of the internet but at the time these ideas were not widely considered.

The book cited the Small World problem as proof that such messages would diffuse to the appropriate people anywhere in the world between hierarchies without any central cataloging using informal self-generating networks and the book’s central argument is that just as the technology of the printing press had amplified central communication, with many disastrous social and environmental side effects, so too should we apply technology (computers and email) to amplify the already existing but informal lateral communications - gossip, the grapevine, and other informal networks.

Information Routing Groups[edit]

Such a network of interlocked “Information Routing Groups” the book claimed would be able to discuss and process information much more effectively than highly centralized media and hierarchies, "silos" which inevitably produced, it claimed, non-sustainable solutions to almost any problem for intrinsic and inherent reasons; the book went into some detail to describe why this was the case.

The book claimed that by diffusing information laterally between individuals knowledge of the true problems facing us and their solutions would automatically become apparent, these problems which the book claimed were due to a lack of integrated thinking between organizations and individual leading to narrow, partial world views and hence decisions.

It was argued that these lateral communication networks would form a dispersed control system able to truly map and respond to the complexity of the problem,

Interlock research[edit]

The book proposed a method of research / administration / policy formulation called “Interlock research” which was a formalized method of creating interpersonal networks and dialogues between specialist across whatever professional or hierarchical boundaries needed to be spanned.

This concept took in all the various ideas in the book, such as defeating the relevance paradox, spreading tacit knowledge, and avoiding unintended consequences.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The IRG Solution"
  2. ^ The IRG Solution Chapter 10 - Central Media problems
  3. ^ The IRG Solution Chapter 5 Lateral Media

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. details of lateral referral, diffusion
  • Andrews, David; The IRG Solution - Hierarchical Incompetence and how to overcome it. Souvenir Press, London, 1984. Pages 200 - 220. ISBN 0-285-62662-0. Detailed description of the proposal.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • "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 The Guardian newspaper, London March 20, 1980. Discussed Bilharzia / schistosomiasis relevance paradox.
  • Graham, Taylor; The Hidden Manager, Communication technology and information networks in business organizations. 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
  • 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.
  • Martin, Brian; "Beyond Mass Media", Science, Technology and Society, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia. General discussion of the IRG concept
  • Martin, Brian; The Power Of Open Participatory Media And Why Mass Media Must Be Abandoned. March 20, 2006. General discussion of the IRG concept
  • Social Networks Meet News Aggregation And Filtering: Information Routing Groups
  • Yewlett, J. L. Town Planning, Wales Institute of Science & Technology. "Networks: Developments in theory & practice". The paper reviews developments in the United States & UK 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, Nos. 2-3, Winter, 1986