[2020.08] SOCIAL BIOMIMICRY: EMPIRICAL STUDIES

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Name Sojung Kim Date20-07-16 14:03 Hit53 Comment0

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ABSTRACT

Social biomimicry is the attempt to use inspiration gained from the principles of natural phenomena and apply them to human societies. Researchers of social biomimicry state that it has an advantage in both social innovation and management. Because there is fierce inter- and intro-corporate competition in industrial economies, companies now use a top-down management style and hierarchical structures to improve business effectiveness. Yet, the information economy of today is based on advanced information and communications technology (ICT) where companies adapt to a more intricate, rapidly changing business environment. Under such conditions it is important that collaboration is based upon a grassroots approach and networked structure. The social innovation sector also appreciates the importance of collaborative efforts. Problematic issues have resulted in an entanglement of social situations which are too costly to remain in and too intransigent to escape from. Moreover, there is disagreement on the issue of defining problems and directing solutions which are unable to be solved by a single domain’s expertise. To solve these issues, a variety of stakeholders is needed to participate in socially innovative processes to help with defining the issues from different angles and construct a satisfactory solution. Thus, the organisations involved need to develop the correct structures so that diverse stakeholders can collaborate. In such a context, social biomimicry researchers suggest that human societies and organisations can achieve the characteristics of nature by taking lessons from its strategies, for instance, networking, resilience, collaboration, and adaptability. Yet, the majority of previous works adopt a theoretical, forward-thinking, and speculative position and instil ideas without critically analysing the usefulness of metaphors to achieve innovation. To remedy the lack of empirical research on social biomimicry, the aim of this research is to understand the limitations and processes of social biomimicry practice and identify any challenges or opportunities for the designers.

The research is comprised of three empirical studies. In the first section of this research, three existing social biomimicry cases in diverse contexts - a university course, a student club, and an online platform - were investigated and analysed from a socio-technical system (STS) perspective. An STS perspective is a combination of technical systems which are designed for a particular purpose, and social systems which evolve dependent upon the external environment and technical systems. Although designers are unable to directly design the social system, through a configuration of the technical system they can design for them. By looking at social biomimicry cases from an STS perspective, we are able to scrutinise the processes of how natural phenomena are applied to designing technical systems and how they interact with human societies. This research discovered that social biomimicry follows the typical problem or solution-driven biomimicry process, and well as exhibiting some distinct patterns: The natural principles are applied to the technical system’s schematic design, whilst its details are more dependent on the users’ characteristics and design knowledge of the technical system. The practices of social biomimicry follow the iterations of implementation, evaluation, and redesign whereby designers adjust the technical system as a response to its interactions with the social system. This study suggests that databases or tools need to support drivers of analogies in social biomimicry. Additionally, designers’ expertise in understanding and influencing of human behaviours is required to lessen the gaps between humans and other species.

The second and third parts are based on a research through design approach, this assists researchers with being more conscious of their design activities and for acquiring the tacit knowledge and decision-making processes which are unable to seen from a third person perspective. The second and third parts address social biomimicry in a specific context: the online platform’s design for open collaboration inspired by social insects’ self-organisation.

In the second part, the open collaboration platform design framework was developed based on a review of past research of social insects’ self-organisation, open collaboration, and its organisational design. Additionally, applying the framework was demonstrated through a development and analysis of online platforms. The framework development process indicates that while natural principles have inspired the overall frame, design knowledge acts as a practical guideline that fills the gap between social systems and ecological systems. Moreover, the application cases show the framework’s potential in devising the integration and distribution of tasks and communication on a platform according to the goals, actors, and available resources. The cues and stigmergy of social insects could also act as a reference to improve the communication efficiency.

In the third part of this research, to enable social problem-solving, an open collaborative platform was designed using the framework developed in the second study. This platform was operated as a startup for some social problem-solving projects to be performed. Dependent upon the experience of the researcher in social biomimicry and investigations into how the project participants interacted with the platform, social biomimicry has limitations in considering the external environment and developmental procedure of the organisations. It is not practically possible to account for all hierarchical and procedural factors in social biomimicry. Nevertheless, the possible impact of the outcomes of social biomimicry implies that positing it as simply an attempt to gain inspiration from nature cannot excuse justifying those limitations. Consequently, the social biomimicry methodology requires support for the designers to perceive and address social biomimicry limitations.

This research is limited to understanding social biomimicry practices. In the second part of this research a design framework was developed, although it should be regarded as a means for exploring social biomimicry rather than as a complete design method. Although this research does not suggest methodologies nor does it verify their practical efficacy, it has meaning as an empirical study of social biomimicry which acts as a reference for social biomimicry practice and as a foundation for methodology development.

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