How do decentralized systems collectively solve problems? Here we explore the interplay among three canonical forms of collective organization—markets, networks, and hierarchies—in aggregating decentralized problem solving. We examine these constructs in the context of how the offices of members of Congress individually and collectively wrestle with the Internet, and, in particular, their use of official websites. Each office is simultaneously making decisions about how to utilize their website. These decisions are only partially independent, where offices are looking at each other for lessons, following the same directives from above about what to do with the websites, and confront the same array of potential vendors to produce their website. Here we present the initial results from interviews with 99 Congressional offices and related survey of 100 offices about their decisions regarding how to use official Member websites. Strikingly, we find that there are relatively few efforts by offices to evaluate what constituents want or like on their websites. Further, we find that diffusion occurs at the “tip of the iceberg”: offices often look at each others’ websites (which are publicly visible), but rarely talk to each other about their experiences or how they manage what is on their websites (which are not publicly visible). We also find that there are important market drivers of what is on websites, with the emergence of a small industry of companies seeking to serve the 440 Members. Hierarchical influences—through the House and through the party conferences—also constrain and subsidize certain practices.


Lazer, David, Ines Mergel, Curt Ziniel, and Michael Neblo. "Networks, Hierarchies, and Markets: Aggregating Collective Problem Solving in Social Systems." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP09-017, June 2009.