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Redbrick

Directing the Crowd

Getting a group of people to act in unison can be an impossible challenge, both theoretically and practically. The diversity, complexity and quantity of people who interact in the crowds can turn the most simple question into a statistical problem that could never be definitively answered. In many cases there is no way that you can create an effective incentive that will have the same impact upon all of the participants’ actions.

You do not need to look far for an example of this issue. Wednesday’s Guild-sponsored protest on campus did not go to plan. The route was not adhered to and as a result events took place that the Guild will need to review. Irrelevant of the repercussions, if there are any, re-assessing the incident will be a difficult task. Understanding why a crowd of people acted as they did (and then placing responsibility) can at times become a guessing game based on witnesses simply because of the nature of a protest.

This is a problem that can effect people at almost every level of society, from the incumbents of Number 10 to a simple group decision such as choosing a restaurant.

One problem that can frequently arise for a policy decision is conflicting incentives, leading to completely different outcomes. For instance, a lower rate of interest is often used to try and impact the way people spend. In the majority of the Western world a rise in interest usually means that people spend more instead of saving more as it becomes cheaper to take out loans and the benefit of investing decreases.

Yet in Asia the reverse can often be true. Many in the continent place so much importance on saving that they decide to save more to make up for the loss of interest made on their investments as opposed to taking out more loans while money is cheaper. Accounting for these preferences in aggregate when making policy decisions can be close to impossible. Going to show that getting groups of people to work together to complete a task, even in the age of the internet, is a difficult thing to do.

The task is even harder when the policy is more abstract, such as the Conservatives ‘Big Society’, or even more recently their attempt to curb Britain’s consumption of alcohol.

Within Redbrick there are similar problems. For example, approaching the changes that the world of journalism is experiencing as the internet becomes more omnipotent. We need to shift the way people work to encompass the needs of all of the mediums we now use in the context of our readership. How do you create an incentive for every member, from writers to section editors, to make that shift? When you start adding concepts like ‘digital first’ to this problem, the title’s ambiguity means that the message will likely become convoluted.

In spite of the difficulties, it is always important to at least try to understand the aggregated beliefs of groups of people. Yet a decision will have to be made given an uncertain outlook, in which case you could but only hope that the final result is one that people understand.

 

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