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Ideas / Peergroup


‘Peergroup’ has quite a loose definition. Just who fits into your peergroup? People in the same age-brackets, interest-groups, professions?

Here, I will define peergroup as a group of people with whom you come into contact on a very regular basis, who are engaged in very similar activities to yourself. Good examples would be work colleagues, school mates and closely bonded social groups.

Recently I came to the realisation that I’m not a big fan of many of these groups. And an explanation can come from a look at the functions of peergroups.

  • They can allow the peergroup to obtain/use relevant resources more economically and effectively, through bulk-buying and shared use of resources too expensive to buy individually.
  • They also provide greater numbers of people for activities that benefit from that, or have a threshold below which the activity cannot take place, for example, team sports.
  • They allow the peergroup to share experience too: giving each individual the benefit of the experience of many other members in the peergroup.
  • Peergroups can also provide vital emotional support to members.

However, there are plenty of downsides to peergroups. For one, many of the benefits are broken, or suboptimal.

  • Shared resources are often poorly managed, leading to a reduced benefit over the resources of the individual, or side-resources of other peergroups.
  • Although they provide a pool of possible collaborators, many peergroups are filled with people who are poor at collaborating, or are simply greedy:
    • Most peergroups will be composed of a large proportion of ‘neutrals’ who get along doing the minimum possible.
    • There will be a small proportion of ‘positives’ who really contribute a lot to the peergroup, and get the most out of it.
    • There will in addition be a small proportion of ‘negatives’ who are out to sponge off the peergroup, and reduce the value of the peergroup in the process.

People may occupy these roles consciously or unconsciously, for a variety of reasons. For me, the high proportion of ‘neutrals’ in most peergroups is highly irritating, and I only tolerate very high proportions of them in a peergroup that I have no choice about occupying. The presence of negatives in a peergroup is also terrible, but they are less common and therefore easier to avoid within a large peergroup, and a small peergroup plagued by negatives will usually expel the negatives or die.

By their nature, peergroups tend to be have a few specialisations, so they inherit all the advantages and disadvantages that that brings. This can make some of them a choking hazard for some individuals. Some people thrive on being on the inside of peergroups, and functioning almost entirely within their confines.

I prefer a more dynamic model of multiple and often transient peergroup membership based on a foundation of transparency and openness. That way skills can be shared among peergroups, and specialisations of peergroups can be shared around people without any of the stagnation that occurs from the rigidity that a peergroup can confer on its long-term members.

Also, a peergroup that has a greater membership flux is more likely to be better at responding to its environment, by growing and shrinking, splitting and merging, as necessary. It also avoids the problem that many low-flux peergroups have which is that they’re existence is almost necessarily bounded by the membership spans of its vital members.

This topic links in well with the computing topic of multi-agent-systems.

written Sunday 26th March, 2006

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Page last modified on June 01, 2007, at 09:09 PM