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In many areas, people collectively develop shared representations of the quality of artefacts. Scientific communities produce collective evaluations of what counts as good research in their field. Teenagers evaluate music, fashion, and what is ‘cool’ amongst themselves. Families develop shared opinions about what is good and bad, which they transmit to their offspring. Collaborative annotation systems allow large communities of Web users to rank the quality of content in a decentralised way.

As these few examples illustrate, shared representations of quality may be only vaguely related to objective features of what is being evaluated: these representations are often in continuous flux and the process behind their production is intrinsically social. Competing evaluations of the quality of the same artefacts may coexist and evolve as a function of the different communities that sustain them.

Although collective quality assessment processes are a very widespread and important characteristic of human societies, they have rarely been treated as a topic for empirical enquiry. We have few recent studies of questions such as:

  • how do shared conceptions of quality emerge within communities?
  • how do these conceptions develop over time? Are there patterns in the dynamics?
  • how are standards of quality enforced within communities?
  • do the processes of quality definition and evaluation differ between, for example, communities involved in peer production (e.g. science) and those mostly involved in consumption (e.g. music)?
  • are there similarities in the processes of collective quality assessment in off-line and on-line collectives (e.g. local communities and social networking sites)?
  • what are the implications of centralised vs. distributed control for the production of collective quality representations?
  • how are collective quality assessment processes affected by individual incentives, organised action or institutional policies?
  • what are the effects of social network properties on processes of collective quality assessment?

The Workshop

The Centre for Research in Social Simulation (University of Surrey, UK) and the Centre d'Analyse et Mathématique Sociales (EHESS/CNRS, France) are hosting QualityCommons, a workshop bringing together contributions from a range of fields, including sociology, anthropology, economy, social epistemology, social psychology, cognitive science, social computing and complexity science, and offering the opportunity to develop ideas with a selected interdisciplinary audience.

The aims of the workshop are to:

  • clarify research questions about the emergence of collective quality definitions
  • consider preliminary ideas about the topic as applied to a number of domains (e.g. science, social computing, art, etc.)
  • promote links between participants to encourage the development and submission of research proposals on the topic
  • plan the writing of an edited book/special journal issue with chapters partly contributed by the participants and partly solicited via an open call for papers after the workshop.

Invited Speakers

  • Petra Ahrweiler, University College of Dublin, Ireland
  • Victoria Alexander, University of Surrey, UK
  • Alex Bentley, University of Durham, UK
  • Riccardo Boero, Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy
  • John Casti, Technical University of Vienna, Austria
  • Ciro Cattuto and Alain Barrat, ISI Foundation, Italy
  • Edmund Chattoe-Brown, University of Leicester, UK
  • Claudio Cioffi-Revilla, George Mason University, USA
  • Bruce Edmonds, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
  • David Hales, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
  • Dirk Helbing, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland
  • Victor Henning, Mendeley, UK
  • Andrzej Nowak, Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poland
  • Paul Ormerod and Greg Wiltshire, Volterra Consulting, UK
  • Gloria Origgi, CNRS, France
  • Mario Paolucci and Stefano Picascia, Institute for Cognitive Science and Technology, Italy