A new start-up venture emerging from Urban Opus is demonstrating how social networking data can help communities become stronger, smarter and more innovative.

The “wisdom of crowds” is like an urban myth: we want to believe, but tangible examples are hard to pin down.  And don’t crowds often turn into mobs?  Volatility and unpredictability make us wary of digital democracy. If collective humanity is to become a primary source of intelligence for smart cities we need to understand how to make ‘common sense’ not just absolutely reliable, but also quantifiably better than any other form of decision-centric information.

Peer Effects Inc. (PFX) is a Vancouver start-up that tackles this problem for a special kind of community, pointing the way for smart cities.  PFX enables quantifiable competency management for communities of professionals such as doctors, lawyers and engineers.  Such professionals are obliged to undertake continuing education to maintain their competency levels, but the impact of such education on quality of practice isn’t measured in systematic ways. Public demand for quality assurance is rising, yet subjecting professionals to periodic tests and random audits is counter to the concept of professionalism, just as testing a citizen’s knowledge of societal issues in advance of an election is counter to the concept of democracy.

PFX employs network effects within peer communities (the interactions between professional peers, and with professional content, within a virtual private network) to distill detailed individual and collective competency management analytics from everyday workflow.  In short, professionalism can be quantifiably validated, and the profession systematically advanced, simply by being professional.  Intelligence in a professional network can be harnessed.  It works because the shared values, experience and purpose of a peer network creates a powerful moderating influence and catalyst that isn’t easily available in an open social network.PFX

The PFX insight for smart cities is that every city is a complex tapestry of peer communities.  Every citizen feels affinity to a unique set of ‘tribes’, whether these are about work, neighbourhoods, music groups, sports teams, or whatever.  The strands of intelligence available from any single tribe may not be strong on its own, but meshing intelligence across tribes via intersecting interests of citizens can weave a bulletproof social fabric, and unbeatably reliable acumen.

When you model a city as a community of communities, intelligence doesn’t get lost in the crowd.

For further information about PFX and peer networks in smart cities, contact david dot vogt at urbanopus dot net.