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Applying swarm theory to networked union organising | Cyberunions

Applying swarm theory to networked union organising | Cyberunions


Beautifully demonstrated by this video, swarm theory is an idea from biology that proposes that large groups can solve complex problems very efficiently. For instance, ant colonies can quickly find the richest food source, bees choose a new hive or birds fly in exhilarating patterns like the starlings above.


Individual ants or starlings don’t understand the big picture, they follow simple instructions based on local information. And yet collectively, they are able to perform tasks of stunning complexity.

So what does this mean for union organising? Can swarm theory be applied to human attempts to change the world? Humans are a lot more complex than ants, and we have competing stimuli pulling us in different directions. Yet when people act in unison, we’re capable of incredible creativity.


Can new technology create a collective intelligence that we can tap into?

The practice of crowdsourcing ideas is well established on twitter and other online communities: twitter users often already refer to the medium, half-ironically, as Hivemind – as in “Hey, Hivemind – what can we do about X?”

Swarm theory looks at how action can be organised through the Hivemind. It’s explained well by Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party: A swarm

“…is a scaffolding set up by a few individuals that enable tens of thousands of people to cooperate on a common goal in their life. These tens of thousands are usually vastly diverse and come from all walks of life, but share one common goal. The scaffolding set up by one or a few individuals allow these thousands of people to form a Swarm around it and start changing the world together.”

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