Can We Harness Crowd Collaboration?

Last Updated Aug 27, 2009 6:22 AM EDT

Crowds act co-operatively in emergency situations, according to one of the latest posts on the British Psychological Society blog. According to research published in the September edition of the 'British Journal of Social Psychology' by John Drury and colleagues, people tend to act altruistically towards others, even complete strangers, in a mass-meeting during an emergency.

Drury et al conducted interviews with people who experienced a number of emergency situations, including the crush at Hillsborough and the Harrods bomb attack. The subjects recalled people helping each other, rather than looking after their own welfare at a ratio of four to three.

The respondents who reacted positively said they had a feeling of a shared fate with those around them and a sense of orderliness in the crowd they were in.

The authors cautioned the study may have limitations in that survivors who experienced more selfish activity may not be so willing to come forward and report their experiences, and in the reliability of the memories of the subjects across the board.

However, the findings do seem to support the apparent willingness of workers in big companies who have accepted pay cuts and unpaid leave when asked to by their business leaders. They do seem to have identified the emergency situation and acted in a unified way that supports the greater good of the company rather than looking after their own interests, even though they have to make a sacrifice to do so.

If the report's findings are reliable and this urge to act collaboratively is strong, how can that behaviour be used to motivate a workforce in a controlled way? Do people react to emergency differently in small groups? Is that feeling of shared fate affected by the immediacy or severity of the emergency? Hopefully a good business analyst will take this on and find out.

(Pic: James Cridland cc2.0)