Democratizing diagnostic protocols

The peer 2 peer (P2P) production of advanced levels of comprehension eliminates a vast variety of breakdowns in learning processes. Problems generated by the classroom delivery of expert content, anonymity in large gatherings, boring textbooks, flawed instructional designs, objective grading pressures, and mass produced comprehension -- don't happen when peers collaborate effectively. Diagnosing what's gone wrong in when working together is potentially much simpler than figuring out why learning is not happening in conventional settings. It's relatively easy to democratize diagnostic protocols so the peers are equipped to solve their own comprehension problems.

Here are some of the patterns for every peer to red flag when they get identified:
  • Inadvertent consolidation of power: Collaborations thrive on the distribution of power, the disaggregation of control and the dissemination of personal discretion. Peer production of comprehension can breakdown when power, control and discretion become concentrated in a few individuals. Power naturally gravitates to those in a gathering who get perceived as exceptionally competent, articulate, outgoing, resourceful or popular. Power can also be grabbed by those who are exceptionally ambitious, controlling, domineering or intolerant of others. Resilience and sustainability can be restored by expecting the few "power-trippers" to empower their peers and delegate their confiscated control with commensurate authority to then make changes on their own.
  • Depletion of intrinsic rewards: Contributing to collaborative outcomes can be deeply significant, satisfying and self sustaining. The more we give in a personally meaningful way, the more we want to give. Our altruism repays itself with enhanced self concepts for relating effectively to others, self respect for trusting one's own judgment and self confidence for expressing oneself amidst potential critics. This vast payback from contributing to peer production can be eroded by time pressures, personal anxieties, guilt trips, blaming, and other forms of toxic interactions. The efforts then feel heartless, like merely going through the motions or keeping an empty commitment. Intrinsic rewards get restored by cleaning up the toxicity.
  • Covert rewards for disengagement: Shared expectations can emerge to hold back, to "wait and see" or to keep involvement to a minimum. Those that meet these expectations then get rewarded with inclusion, validation and tribal identity. This occurs when a subset of the gathering takes off with early successes while the others feel left behind or labeled as losers. It also occurs when the initial challenges are too difficult for everyone to realize an early success which spawns personal misgivings and collective cynicism. It sometimes occurs when the challenge is too easy or too irrelevant to count as a significant accomplishment. Engagement can be restored by starting over and creating early successes for everyone involved.
  • Activation of emotional baggage: Particular interactions during P2P collaborations can push individual hot buttons. It suddenly seems like old times, previous losses, or familiar dangers. People overreact, lash out, flip their lid and misdirect their anger. When others take the outbursts too personally, a meltdown can occur. Damage control gets introduced with a play-by-play commentary that covers what happened, what reactions got provoked, and what that reveals about the baggage that got activated. As everyone gains competence at making play-by-play observations, individual outbursts more often remain contained and observed with detachment.
  • Shortchanging fair exchanges: Most of us have experiences with "class participation","team projects" and exercises completed in groups. These practices usually create no expectations of justice among peers. Giving to the group, team or class is expected without any concept of mutual fairness. P2P production of comprehension balances requesting with contributing to others requests and self valuation with valuing others. The production of comprehension can break down when participants feel exploited, abused or depleted by others who fall short of reciprocating. This is an emotional consideration, not a question of formal accounting. When people feel that justice has been restored and they're getting treated fairly, the problem has been alleviated.
When any peer has red flagged one of these patterns, a timeout needs to be called as soon as possible. A different process gets launched from the process of producing comprehension. Each member has this power to "stop the production line" and switch the gathering into problem solving mode. It has become each individual's right and duty to call the shared effort on these malfunctions. The democratic dynamics of the peer production processes get strengthened when any diagnostic protocols get invoked and explored.


  1. I have only skimmed your postings as I am busy with other work right now. However, (and you might have already addressed this--in which case I apologize), it is important to distinguish between group comprehension and group "learning". Also between group processes and group product. In a paper I coauthored, we found that codes of conduct made group work processes more efficient with less group problems, but not necessarily creating better outcomes.

    I would also add one more "red flag". Lack of conflict and/or conflict resolution processes. Often this is an indication of "group think" which results in a decrease in the checking and exploration of multiple ideas. It is also related to the first red flag "consolidation of power." Often when power has been consolidated, groups do not want to have "conflict" to mess up the power structure. Jehn, et al's research found that emotional conflict was disruptive whereas cognitive conflict was constructive in group processes.

  2. Thanks for taking these thoughts further! When there's a disconnect between process and outcomes, I would expect to find a contrived context. The participants would be "going through the motions" rather than pursuing outcomes deliberately because there appeared to be no genuine relevance, significance or subsequent use for them personally. High quality group processes resemble playing games well for tribal feelings of bonding, solidarity and cohesion. For the quality of process and outcomes to be connected, I suspect the factors I explored in today's post would have to come into play.

    Thanks also for the added red flag. Besides relating to the consolidation of power, group think might also tie into disengagement. Participants may feel sufficiently indifferent, distanced and disheartened to silence their dissent.

    The distinction between cognitive and emotional conflict is new to me, though it makes sense that emotional is disruptive and cognitive can be constructive. The costly pursuit of "no hard feelings" could easily compromise the outcomes and pass up opportunities where people could "agreed to disagree".