4 May 2009

LIKE 3 - Wisdom of Crowds and Financial Knowledge

The London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) had their third meeting (LIKE3) and their first workshop recently and I was delighted to participate.

About eighteen of us (I forgot to count!) gathered in a snug room at The Perseverance in Lamb Conduit Street, Holborn for an evening of discussions fuelled by a good buffet and, in my case, some of Thwaite's fine Wainwright Ale.

The format of the evening was based on the World Cafe approach with four tables each discussing the same subject with some movement between the tables to cross-fertilize the debates.

Key points were written down on post-it notes or on the paper tablecloths provided for that purpose but the point was to capture thoughts in your own head.

After the initial mixing, drinking and eating, I started off the first topic on experts versus crowds. This was a subject that I was keen to explore following some previous related debates and talks but I was not sure exactly what I wanted to get from the discussion so I made the topic pretty wide and left it to the participants to discover what it was that I was looking for.

This was our first LIKE debate, though many of us had been to similar events such as the Gurteen Knowledge Cafes before, and we were a little unsure how it would work out.

We should not have worried.

The broad mix of participants quickly got into their debating stride and soon we were engulfed by vibrant conversations.

Not sure how we managed to get an all women table at one point but to prove that there were men there too you can check out some other photos on Flickr.

My session overran a little but I think that this was just because we were all immersed in the debate, including myself and the official timekeeper!

We ended the meeting with a second session looking at the knowledge aspects of the current financial crisis and this proved to be an energizing debate.

It's my job to write up some sort of conclusions from my session and while it is a little early to comment on that in detail it is worth remarking on some of the common themes.

The media has an important role in selecting, promoting and giving a voice to experts and that our personal preferences (or prejudices) colour our view of which experts to believe.

Another theme that came up on more than one table was "information literacy" (e.g. how do we validate expertise) and a variant of this came up in the finance debate. Financial illiteracy was given as one of the reasons that people trusted dodgy products from dodgy banks and that bankers accepted dodgy loans from dodgy people.

We had a well deserved celebratory drink afterwards and started making our plans for LIKE4 on Thursday 28 May. It will be brilliant!


  1. virginia henry5 May 2009, 17:00:00

    Beautifully encapsulated, Mr Rees!

  2. Matthew Rees is a very generous man for taking the time and making the effort, and that's not just here. It's appreciated Matthew.
    Anybody look at the 'wisdom of the crowd'? I'm not sure what that is.
    I have occasionally been part of the 'passion of a crowd'. I think it's quite easy to whip a crowd up and manipulate them, so we lose our own sense of wisdom for awhile and do things we might not otherwise do.

  3. Ray, the point about the manipulation of crowds came up in the meeting and is clearly an important factor. I'm still not sure what the physical outcome from the meeting will be but there will be a hook there for further discussion on the wisdom/ignorance of crowds.


All comments are welcome. Comments are moderated only to keep out the spammers and all valid comments are published, even those that I disagree with!