Projects both great and small

Whether you’re collaborating on a complex study for an academic journal or merely organising an office holiday party, delegating duties and keeping everyone focussed can be a logistical nightmare.

Making sure that everyone benefits equally and is recognised for their efforts can be equally mind-boggling.

Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science PhD graduate Gleb Polevoy examined these components of projects while working on his doctorate. He defended his thesis on December 6, 2016. During his research, he considered the role of the Nash equilibrium and its impact on participants. This solution concept centres on a non-cooperative theoretical game that involves two or more players. It’s assumed that everyone involved knows the strategies of their opponents and that no one has anything to gain by changing only his or her strategy.

Polevoy also looked at two different kinds of projects. The first was value-creating projects where a value is shared by all of the contributors. The second was interaction projects where those involved have something to gain or lose through reciprocation. He examined how people interact while co-authoring academic articles, writing entries for Wikipedia, working with colleagues and even the behaviour of international superpowers involved in an arms race.

Polevoy’s primary goal during the project was to analyse how much those with rational self-interest invest in projects both large and small. This enabled a further understanding of common phenomena within collaborative environments like the role of the kindest person involved. It’s often theorised that those who behave generously within a project and keep a cool head tend to bring greater prosperity to the group and perform the vital role of keeping everything on track.

Through mathematical modelling and analysis Polevoy comprised various methods that could be employed in different kinds of projects to maximise the social and personal welfare of participants. The first is to, of course, create the best project possible with easily observable and realistic goals but to also make participation easy. Choices among collaborators should also be limited as much as possible to discourage disagreements. Perhaps the greatest key, however, is bringing the nicest person in the group to the forefront. Unfortunately, those possessing this trait don’t tend to be the most eager to take on leadership roles.

“If you want everyone to be as actively involved as possible you need to convince the kindest person to be persistent,” Polevoy said. “In order to influence others positively then you should allow them to interact with as many other people as possible. They are going to encourage others to be positive.”

Polevoy, Gleb, Participation and Interaction in Projects: A Game-Theoretic Analysis, Promoters: Witteveen, C., Jonker, C.M. and de Weerdt, M.M., Defence: December 6, 2016

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