Between fixed hierarchies and 'rule of code': A middle way toward a social ecosystem

The surge in connectedness that came with the internet propelled us into a new threshold of complexity and uncertainty. As a result, human societies now have to deal with global challenges in a world where change is the only constant. In order to navigate effectively the waves of change, social organizations have to become more agile and to rely increasingly on third-parties that escape their traditional chains of command and control. Therefore, new societal models would need to include an improved capacity for resilience on one hand and a capacity to exercise trust as a fundamental element of social relationships on the other hand. Having an upper limit on what social organizations can structurally handle, it is time for them to be re-designed for adaptability and reflexivity. As an example, we witness a global and lasting trust gap between citizens and their institutions. Alternatively, distributed technologies promise consensus based on a cryptographic proof instead of trusting a central authority. Yet, when the ‘rule of code’ fails, distributed initiatives fall short. A human-computer interaction could theoretically support the development of a robust distributed governance model at scale if human governance could be modelled on distributed principles.

Since ecosystems are champions at adaptability, we propose to apply their dynamics to the social fabric. And since they know no clear boundaries - which erases the concept of externalities - they are also champions at reflexivity. Yet, because ecosystems are self-regulated the challenge is to overcome the tragedy of the commons without central control. Thus, we propose to supplement the basic principles of ecosystems with a distributed social architecture that has the capacity to prompt interpersonal coherence at scale. Similar to ecosystems where synergistic relationships lead to stability, a global human organism would operate as an heterarchy and the regions of greatest authority would be those where trust, emotional resonance, and reciprocity have scaled the most across the social fabric, aligning intrinsic individual human needs with broader collective needs. We propose here a middle way between fixed hierarchies and ‘rule of code’ to propagate the relational dynamics of cohesive communities horizontally and at scale in multi stakeholder scenarios. Compelled to adapt to the ever changing societal environment, this capacity is especially relevant for institutions as social unrest now operates on increasingly complex networks without any formal leadership to negotiate with. Indeed, the systemic challenge that we are facing today calls for nothing less than a systemic solution.