By  Elena Maria Crescenzi, Psychologist, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Crescenzi&Partners collaborator in the AI sector.

Collective Intelligence




Open innovation

Collective Intelligence in Social Web Applications


  1. Social Categorization
  2. Social Identification
  3. Social Comparison
  4. In-group (us) and Out-group (them)

Collective Intelligence

COLLECTIVE: “describes a group of individuals who are not required to have the same attitudes or viewpoints. Different members can reveal different perspectives and approaches, and thus leading to better explanations or solutions to a given problem”. (Leimeister, 2010)

INTELLIGENCE: “the learn, to understand, and to adapt to an environment by using own knowledge. This enables people to deal with changing and difficult situations. A widely accepted definition goes back to Wechsler (1964, p. 13) who defines intelligence as composed or global ability of an individual to act purposeful, think reasonably, and to effectively deal with its environment.” 


The notion of collective intelligence (CI) is that a group of human beings can carry out a task as if the group, itself, were a coherent, intelligent organism working with one mind, rather than a collection of independent agents (Leimeister, 2010).

Another definition widely accepted is from Wechsler’s  (1964, p. 13) who defined collective intelligence as global ability of an individual to act purposeful, think reasonably, and to effectively deal with its environment.

 In the Handbook of Collective Intelligence (2022), the following definitions were found:

Hiltz and Turoff (1978) define It as “a collective decision capability that is at least as good or better than any single member of the group”. 

Smith (1994) define it as “a group of human beings carrying out a task as if the group, itself, were a coherent, intelligent organism working with one mind, rather than a collection of independent agents”. 

Levy 1994 defines it as “a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills”.

Collective intelligence is often defined as the ability of a group or community to solve problems, make decisions, and create innovations more effectively than any single individual (Lévy, 1997).


In the Handbook of Collective Intelligence (2022):  Collective intelligence intersects with the realm of biology that specifically examines group behaviours that can be considered intelligent (Malone & Bernstein, 2022). For example, research on beehives and ant colonies often delves into the interactions among individual insects that lead to adaptive collective behaviours.

A widely used approach traces back the roots of collective intelligences to evolutionary processes and refers to intelligence in groups. For example, in fauna where animals coordinate themselves in order to achieve a common goal (e.g., for hunting or navigation purposes, also often referred to as swarm behaviour). Best examples of this behaviour are in team sports and in music bands, where  group member evaluates the overall situation (the match, the play/the music) and acts accordingly to achieve the overall goal (winning the match or achieving a good band performance). 


In “The Wisdom of Crowds,” published in 2004, James Surowiecki explores the intriguing concept that, under specific circumstances, a collective of ordinary individuals can outperform any single member within that group. This phenomenon holds true even when one individual possesses higher intelligence than the rest of the group. Examples illustrating this idea include the “Ask the audience” lifeline in the popular TV show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which consistently yields correct answers in 91% of cases (Leimeister, J. M. 2010). Another case in point is the localization of a missing submarine, accomplished by aggregating expert estimations from various fields, resulting in more precise outcomes than any single expert could provide (Leimeister, J. M. 2010). (for more examples, esp. for IT-enabled examples see also Libert and Spector 2007; Tapscott and Williams 2008).

Surowiecki outlines several key prerequisites for the effective utilization of the “Wisdom of Crowds.” These conditions include: the presence of diverse opinions, individual independence, and decentralization of group members or within a group. Consequently, optimal collective decisions emerge not through the process of consensus-building or compromise but rather through the competition of varied, independent viewpoints. This concept embodies the idea of “collective intelligence” as put forth by Surowiecki in 2004.

Open innovation

In the paper from (Leimeister, J. M. 2010) Collective intelligence finds practical application in the concept of Open Innovation. This concept involves companies opening their innovation processes and actively including the external environment in these activities. This expansion of innovation capabilities helps in creating new products and services with a broader range of uses (Chesbrough, 2003, as cited in Leimeister, J. M. 2010).

Companies can tap into the collective knowledge and innovation potential of internet users at various stages of product development. For instance, LEGO collaborates with its customers through the LEGO Digital Designer (, which provides a tool for users to create their unique product models. Other companies like SAP (, BMW (, and IBM ( purposefully harness the creativity of the collective to design innovative products and services (Leimeister et al., 2010).

Through what’s known as open innovation business models, as demonstrated by Davenport (2005), companies can effectively gather customer knowledge and discover ideas vital for their survival. This underscores the importance of integrating customers into the innovation process as a valuable strategy.

Collective Intelligence in Social Web Applications

Today, people can get more involved and express their opinions on the internet, giving them collective power. This can be seen in various activities, like rating products and shaping public opinion through group efforts, which leads to what we call collective intelligence.

We also have a term for this: Technology-Mediated Social/Civic Participation, as defined by Preece and Shneiderman in 2009 (as cited in Leimeister, 2010). It means that many individuals can work together online to achieve common goals, something that no single person or organization could do alone. For example, when there’s a natural disaster like Hurricane “Katrina,” people use and remix user-generated content to respond effectively. Similarly, during Barack Obama’s election campaign, the internet played a big role in shaping public opinion.

In some ways, collective intelligence can also be observed in social networks, as  members of a crowd form a network of relationships that might translate into levels of trust, similarity of taste and viewpoints, or other common characteristics that might cause individuals to feel an affinity for one 

In the article written from Leimeister (2010): Collective intelligence offers valuable opportunities for businesses through the use of social software applications designed for collaboration. Value creation emerges from the cumulative contributions of the collective. One of the most well-known examples is Wikipedia, a Wiki-based platform (, which serves as a prominent illustration of successful social collaboration and collective intelligence, as discussed by Tapscott and Williams in 2008. With over four million English-language articles, Wikipedia stands as the largest English-language encyclopedia globally. Remarkably, it maintains a level of quality comparable to that of Encyclopedia Britannica, despite its open editing structure, as highlighted in a widely cited article by Giles in “Nature” (2005).

This model of collaboration has been adopted not only by organizations like T-Systems and but also by government agencies, including the CIA’s Intellipedia. Furthermore, individuals have embraced this approach. For instance, the project network Amazee ( functions as a social collaboration platform where users can collectively publish and work on projects. Additionally, other platforms, known as Social Sharing platforms, empower users to store, manage, and share various types of content, such as bookmarks, videos, and photos. These platforms facilitate cross-references and categories through tags, enhancing the understanding of user-generated content by other users.

In YouTube, every user is associated with a “channel.” On these channels, users can upload their own videos and/or link to selections of other users’ videos, via a favourites option. Users can subscribe to other users’ channels and receive notifications when their favourite channels have been updated. Users thus form social networks that affect their choices of what videos to watch.

In, a product review site, users form trust networks with other reviewers. Empirical evidence suggests that users weigh reviews written by members of their trust network more heavily than other reviews, leading to personalized assessments of individual product quality.


Four types of identity (Brewer, 2001; Chen, Boucher and Tapias, 2006)

  • Person-based social identities: internalisation of group properties by individual group members to self-concept
  • Relational social identities: define self in relation to specific other people with whom one interacts
  • Group based social identity: defining self in terms of group membership.
  • Collective identities: not only self-defining but actively engaging as a group to influence external perceptions of the group and its members.

Social identity theory of intergroup relations (Tajfel, 1969; Tajfel & Turner, 1979):

1. Social Categorization

  • This refers to the tendency of people to classify themselves and others into various social groups based on attributes like race, gender, nationality, or religion.
  • We categorize objects to understand them and identify them. In a very similar way, we categorize people (including ourselves) to understand the social environment.  We use social categories like black, white, Australian, Christian, Muslim, student, and bus driver because they are useful.
  • Categorization helps individuals simplify the social environment but can also lead to stereotyping. If we can assign people to a category, that tells us things about those people.

2. Social Identification

Once individuals categorize themselves as members of a particular group, they adopt the identity of that group. This means they begin to see themselves in terms of group characteristics and adopt its norms, values, and behaviours.

If for example you have categorized yourself as a student, the chances are you will adopt the identity of a student and begin to act in the ways you believe students act (and conform to the norms of the group).

There will be an emotional significance to your identification with a group, and your self-esteem will become bound up with group membership.

3. Social Comparison

After categorizing and identifying with a group, individuals compare their group to others. This comparison is often biased in favour of one’s own group, leading to in-group favouritism.

This is critical to understanding prejudice, because once two groups identify themselves as rivals, they are forced to compete in order for the members to maintain their self-esteem.

Competition and hostility between groups is thus not only a matter of competing for resources (like in Sherif’s Robbers Cave) like jobs but also the result of competing identities.

4. In-group (us) and Out-group (them)

Within the context of SIT, the ‘in-group’ refers to the group with which an individual identifies, while ‘out-group’ pertains to groups they don’t identify with.

The theory asserts that people have a natural inclination to perceive their in-group in a positive light while being neutral or even negative towards out-groups, thus enhancing their self-image.


  • The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki: This book by James Surowiecki explores the idea that large groups of people can make remarkably intelligent decisions when their collective knowledge is aggregated. It provides several examples of how diverse groups of people can outperform experts in certain scenarios.
  • “Collective Intelligence in Action” by Satnam Alag: Satnam Alag’s book delves into practical aspects of collective intelligence and how to harness it for better decision-making within organizations. While not specifically focused on intergroup behaviour, it provides insights into how collective intelligence can improve group dynamics.
  • “Group Intelligence: Measuring and Applying Collective Intelligence” by Louis Hébert and Enrico Coiera: This paper discusses the measurement and application of collective intelligence within groups, emphasizing its potential in healthcare settings. It touches on the importance of intergroup behaviour in the context of healthcare teams.
  • “Collective Intelligence: A Review of the Field and an Integration Proposal” by L. Moreau, M. M. Engelmann, and L. Chao: This academic article offers an in-depth review of the collective intelligence field, discussing various perspectives and theories. It also touches upon intergroup behaviour and its relevance to collective intelligence.
  • “Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioural Sciences” edited by Robert Scott and Stephen M. Kosslyn: This comprehensive reference work covers various topics in the social and behavioural sciences, including collective intelligence and intergroup behaviour. It provides a wide range of perspectives and insights from different authors in the field.


Wechsler D (1964) Die Messung der Intelligenz Erwachsener. Huber, Bern

Leimeister, J. M. (2010). Collective Intelligence. Business & Information Systems Engineering2(4), 245–248.

Malone, T. W., & Bernstein, M. S. (2022). Handbook of Collective Intelligence. MIT Press.

Surowiecki, J. (2004). The wisdom of crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies, and nations. Doubleday & Co.

Libert B, Spector J (2007) We are smarter than me: how to unleash the power of crowds in your business. Prentice Hall, New York

Tapscott D, Williams AD (2008) Wikinomics: how mass collaboration changes everything. Expanded Portfolio, New York

Hogg, M. A., Abrams, D., & Brewer, M. B. (2017). Social identity: The role of self in group processes and intergroup relations. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 20(5), 570–581.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin, & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33-37). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. trovi il riassunto qui: Social Identity Theory In Psychology (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) (

Lévy, P. (1997). Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace.

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