What about Credit in Collective Intelligence?

One of the most striking ideas from the National Media Education Conference for me was Henry Jenkins’ notion of “collective intelligence,” a concept he develops in his white paper that’s been making the rounds in youth media circles. Building on Levy, Jenkins says collective intelligence kicks in when…

“Like-minded individuals gather online to embrace common enterprises, which often involve access and processing information. In such a world… everyone knows something, nobody knows everything, and what any one person knows can be tapped by the group as a whole.”

This notion of collective intelligence resonates for me in lots of ways. My own personal youth media practice and research have always centered on learning environments that leverage collaborative thinking and making, and I often find myself trying to pull back the veil on individual accomplishment or exceptionality to expose all the joint work that takes place behind any meaningful production–whether through peer critique or collegial pedagogy or conversational production.

That said, I’m wondering if there are ways that “collective intelligence,” if embraced unequivocally (and certainly no one’s saying it should be, but you know how that can happen anyway…), just might sometimes work against youth producers… Jenkins used the model of Wikipedia to talk about the amazing potential of joint authorship and knowledge production, saying that Wikipedia culture allows “many different minds operating in many different contexts to work together to solve problems that are more challenging than any of them could master as individuals.” Can’t argue with the greatness of that.

But here’s one possible glitch. I find that some of the most important work we do at Youth Radio, even within our hyper-collaborative production method, is to secure individual on air credit for the organization and our youth reporters and artists. We take those radio “back announces” (when the host credits the contributor you just heard) extremely seriously. Lots of digital media scholars say the wisdom of crowds can prevail despite anonymity (and certainly the academic convention of peer review places a whole lot of stock in the freedom that comes with the absence of identification). But it seems like young people can’t always afford to be just part of a crowd, no matter how intelligent that collective happens to be, if they are to convert their media productions into concrete new opportunities in higher education and/or living wage work.

Jenkins offered a provocative response to this line of questioning. He said it reminded him of the observation that scholars started proclaiming the “death of the author” at the very moment when women and people of color started getting traction in academic departments and publishing.

So perhaps the issue I’m drilling down to here is: in youth media, how do we negotiate questions of credit in the spirit of collective intelligence?

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2 Responses to What about Credit in Collective Intelligence?

  1. Mindy Faber says:

    This is such a fascinating topic about credit ing that is worthy of discussion in our field. I also think about how the youth join together to produce a work collectively and credit themselves equitably even though some invest more than others.. Do you ever have discussions with youth after they jointly produce a piece on how to issue credits that are fair and accurate? How public and transparent should these decisions be? Youth media facilitators are often powerful and influential forces in the production of youth media – does that work get credited ? I think Jenkin’s idea of collective intelligence is liberating for many reasons particularly if it can allow the idea of multiple authorship to be acknowledged and recognized, rather than disguised.

  2. We do have those discussions for sure–and as an organization, we have a pretty clear policy that the reporter/commentator is always credited individually by name, along with Youth Radio as the production company behind the project, but not the adult producers. The tricky bit comes when you’ve got young people serving as producers whose voices never get on the air. If it’s for an outlet where we have total control over the whole broadcast, including intro and back announce, we can and do list as many young people as were involved–and we do this as well when we apply for awards. But some of our outlets have their own guidelines for credit, and that’s where we will sometimes only get to name the on-air narrators, but still always make sure everyone involved is acknowledged as a contributor and “claims” that credit on their resumes, etc.

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