Group Physics

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From an essay by Beth Simone Noveck on the political role of the Group:

"Group physics gives shape and direction to the work of groups. By “physics,” I am referring to the rules and structures, which define the boundaries of the group and shape how participants in a group interact. I prefer to use the term group physics (or what John Clippinger has termed “Social Physics”) rather than structure, because it conveys something of the dynamic, complex and messy social interaction that characterizes human relations. Physics is not the same as legal structures or external interventions [96]. Physics describes all the forces that define the group and its behavior. Group physics gives shape and direction to the work of groups.

The social physics are the basic rules governing the interactions that allow the group to form. Having a structure ideally gives participants, not only a sense of the group as a whole, but also a clear indication of their role and function within the group, which, in turn, contributes to a sense of belonging. Structure generally takes the form of some kind of governance or organizational rules. Without such rules, the division of roles necessary for collaboration cannot take place. Is it legally incorporated or simply a loose agglomeration? How large is the group? (Differently sized groups behave very differently from one another, on average). Does the group have an explicit policy about who can join and what membership requires? Who makes the decisions and by what means? Is there prior discussion and deliberation or is the decision an aggregation of individual opinions? Structured interaction is necessary to coordinate participation within a group to produce a result, focus a conversation or achieve a desired goal, especially where members are distributed and working from a distance without the benefit of physical proximity or social cues and clues to coordinate their work. The structure and rules may be embedded in legal rules, perpetuated through informal norms or even encoded in the tools the group uses to manage its collective action."

More Information

Related concept: Social Physics

Full essay by Noveck: A Democracy of Groups