Knowledge Management for Self-Organised Resource Allocation

David Burth Kurka, Jeremy Pitt, Josiah Ober
2019 ACM Transactions on Autonomous and Adaptive Systems  
Many instances of socio-technical systems in the digital society and digital economy require some form of self-governance. Examples include community energy systems, peer production systems, participatory sensing applications, and shared management of communal living areas or workspace. Such systems have several features in common, of which three are that they are rule-oriented, self-organising and value-sensitive, and in operation, this combination of features entails self-modification of the
more » ... odification of the rules in order to satisfice a changeable set of values. This presents a fundamental dilemma for systems design. On the one hand, the system must be sufficiently unrestricted (resilient, flexible) to enable a diverse group but with a shared set of congruent values to achieve their joint purposes in collective action situations. On the other hand, it must be sufficiently restricted (stable, robust) to prevent a subset of the group from exploiting self-determination 'against itself' and usurp control of the system for the benefit of their own narrow interests. To address this problem, we consider a study of classical Athenian democracy which investigates how the governance model of the city-state flourished. The work suggests that exceptional knowledge management, i.e. making information available for socially productive purposes, played a crucial role in sustaining its democracy for nearly 200 years, by creating processes for aggregation, alignment and codification of knowledge. We therefore examine the proposition that some properties can be generalised to resolve the rule-restriction dilemma by establishing a set of design principles intended to make knowledge management processes open, inclusive, transparent and effective in self-governed social technical systems. We operationalise three of these principles in the context of a collective action situation, namely self-organised common-pool resource allocation, and present the results of a series of experiments showing how knowledge management processes can be used to obtain robust solutions for the perception of fairness, allocation decision and punishment mechanisms. By applying this operationalisation of the design principles for knowledge management processes as a complement to institutional approaches to governance, we demonstrate empirically how it can satisfice shared values, distribute power fairly, and apply "common sense" in dealing with rule violations. We conclude by arguing that this approach to the design of socio-technical systems can provide a balance between restricted and unrestricted self-modification of conventional rules, and can thus provide the foundations for sustainable and democratic self-governance in socio-technical systems. pages. https://doi.org/0000001. 0000001 INTRODUCTION Many instances of socio-technical systems in the digital society and digital economy require some form of (potentially unrestricted) self-governance. Examples include community energy systems providing localised distributed and storage of energy [Steghöfer et al. 2013 ] which involve people, 'smart' meters and programmable appliances; peer production systems with local pooling of tools, machinery and resources [Rychwalska and Roszczynska-Kurasinska 2017] or knowledge commons such as Wikipedia [Hess and Ostrom 2007]; participatory sensing applications [Burke et al. 2006] where people pool raw sensor data in exchange for some beneficial service based on aggregated or processed data; and shared management of a communal living area or workspace [Picard 1997 ]. These systems have at least three features in common. Firstly, they are rule-oriented systems, and these rules are mutable and mutually agreed. Mutability implies that there are meta-rules for changing the rules (and meta-meta-rules, etc.), while mutual agreement implies that since these are conventional rather than physical rules, they can be violated or repudiated, so that there are also (multi-level) meta-rules for breaking the rules. Importantly, systems of meta-rules can be codified, for example using logical axioms [Artikis 2012] or grammars [Crawford and Ostrom 1995]. Secondly, these are self-organising systems: there is no centralised controller and, when it comes to the rules, their application, selection and modification is performed by the participants themselves. Thirdly, these are value-sensitive systems: an underpinning reason for having rules is so that the participants can satisfy (or at least satisfice) their shared values. These values may not even be explicitly referenced by the rules but values and rules should still be aligned. These Self-Governing Socio-Technical Systems need to be regulated by a type of governance based on the codification of conventional rules, which are self-organised and enacted by the system's participants themselves, and should respect some (perhaps implicit) value, like fairness or sustainability. One approach to design and development of these systems, complementing for example value-sensitive design [Friedman et al. 2013 ], is to use Ostrom's design principles for self-governing institutions [Ostrom 1990 ]. Yet, attention should be given to some risks, including: the paradox of self-amendment [Suber 1990] , where the enactment of a rule contains clauses for its own amendment, to the extent that the rules are logically contradictory, inconsistent or incomplete; path dependency, where a prior decision or series of decisions results in the transaction costs of change being greater than the benefits (to the current participants) of changing, so a supposedly mutable system stagnates [Collier and Collier 1991] ; and the iron law of oligarchy [Michels 1915] , which maintains that any conventional rule-based system, no matter how 'democratically' conceived and founded, will tend towards oligarchy as a subset of the participants manipulate the system in favour of their own sectional interests (i.e. prioritising or promoting values which are not shared by the collective as a whole). Therefore, a fundamental dilemma in the design of such systems is presented, which necessarily require self-modification of a set of conventional rules. On the one hand, the system must be sufficiently unrestricted (resilient, flexible) to enable a diverse group of people but with a shared set of congruent values to achieve their joint purpose(s) in collective action situations. On the other hand, the system must be sufficiently restricted (stable, robust) to prevent a subset of the group from exploiting this openness 'against itself', as it were, by usurping control of the system and running it for the benefit of their own narrow (un-shared) interests. In addition, restrictions (and supervision) may also be necessary to avoid path dependency and the paradox of self-amendment, and to address issues of scale in nested enterprises and attention as a scarce resource [Lanham 2006 ]. The solution that is proposed in this paper is based on the operationalisation of Knowledge Management (KM) principles, derived from a study of classical Athenian democracy [Ober 2008] . Athenian democracy was a governance model for a city-state that was successful and sustained for over 180 years, in the face of competition from other Hellenic city-states and external powers. The analysis proposes that classical Athens' superior economic and military performance was, at least in part, a product of democratic institutions and civic culture and its "use of knowledge in society" [Hayek 1945] . The investigation, however, shows that the idea of "one citizen one vote" was not the primary reason for this success (although it contributed). Instead, it was openness, transparency and inclusivity across multiple inter-dependent knowledge management processes, i.e. making information available for socially productive purposes. The historical analysis show how Athenians achieved unprecedented information processing abilities, transforming raw data and unprocessed information into politically valuable knowledge, by the consolidation of methods that aggregated, aligned, and codified knowledge. We examine the proposition that similar properties of knowledge management processes can be applied to socio-technical systems and be used to resolve the rule-restriction dilemma for selfgovernance, taking into account the necessary considerations implied in moving from an antique to a digital context. Thus, considering the challenges and reality of digital societies, we consider a set of eight design principles for developing and protecting open, inclusive and transparent knowledge management processes for democratic and sustainable self-organising socio-technical systems . As a way of demonstrating their applicability, we operationalise three of the principles in the context of a collective action situation, namely common-pool resource allocation -a classic, but challenging problem of group coordination and self-organisation [Araral 2014], and describe the implementation of a multi-agent simulation using this operationalisation.
doi:10.1145/3337796 fatcat:pkrvayl5u5foladil5jnpq45dq