PROSOCIAL strives to increase the efficacy of groups based on a “core design principles” approach pioneered by Nobel Prize winning political scientist Elinor Ostrom. PROSOCIAL helps groups learn about and adopt design principles to improve their efficacy in a practical sense and creates a scientific database for further improving knowledge about group efficacy.

Prosocial.World is an Evolution Institute project that strives to increase the efficacy of groups based on a “core design principles” approach pioneered by political scientist Elinor Ostrom, who received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for her work. Ostrom showed that groups are capable of managing common resources, avoiding the tragedy of overexploitation, if they possess certain core design principles. EI president David Sloan Wilson collaborated with Ostrom for three years prior to her death in 2012 to integrate her core design principles approach with evolutionary theory. The result was a general theoretical framework that could potentially be useful for any group whose members need to work together to achieve a set of common goals. Ostrom achieved her initial insights by compiling and analyzing a worldwide database of Common-Pool Resource (CPR) groups. Prosocial emulates this approach through the creation of an Internet platform that simultaneously serves three purposes:

  1. To help individuals clarify why they care about their groups and what gets in the way of effective collaboration;
  2. To help groups learn about and adopt the design principles to improve their efficacy in a practical sense; and
  3. To create a scientific database for further improving knowledge about group efficacy.

Please visit the PROSOCIAL Magazine for more information, including a 6-minute introductory video.

PROSOCIAL has recently received significant funding through a Templeton World Charity Fund grant.  We are developing a website that will support facilitators around the world to learn the Prosocial method, as well as supporting groups to apply the Prosocial process to themselves. Once the group webpage is completed, a group that joins Prosocial will receive a home page with standard functions for facilitating interactions, such as emailing each other, discussion forums, storing documents, and scheduling events. The platform will provide an online training course that members of the group work through together, which will introduce them to the core design principles and guide them through an evaluation of their group. Data will be automatically captured during the process, contributing to the scientific database. The project has been approved by Binghamton University’s Human Subject Review Board and is fully protective of the privacy of groups and their members. Prosocial has been designed to accommodate a potentially unlimited number of groups.  Initial funding for Prosocial was provided in 2012 by Paul Monaghan, who currently heads Up the Ethics and at the time was head of the Social Goals department of the Cooperative Group of the UK. A milestone in the development of the project was the involvement of Steven C. Hayes and other members of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS), a worldwide organization numbering over 7000 members whose mission is “the advancement of functional contextual cognitive and behavioral science and practice so as to alleviate human suffering and advance human well being”.  ACBS members are highly practiced at accomplishing positive behavioral change, mostly at the level of the individual person. Hayes and his colleagues realized that Prosocial afforded the opportunity to employ the same techniques for groups. Prosocial is therefore a fusion of the core design principles approach pioneered by Elinor Ostrom and cutting-edge change methods from Contextual Behavioral Science. Although the Internet platform could be used by a group without the help of a facilitator and the course could be taken entirely online, the optimal situation is for a group to work with a trained facilitator and for the Internet platform to be used in conjunction with physical meetings of the group. We are therefore working to develop a network of facilitators, drawn largely but not entirely from members of ACBS. A final important point about Prosocial is that it facilitates interactions among the groups that use the Internet platform. This means that a group with certain objectives (e.g, a church, school, business, or neighborhood association) can find and interact with other like-minded groups. It also means that a multi-group organization (and almost every sizeable organization is composed of subgroups) can approximate its social organization with a cluster of Prosocial groups. The multi-group dimension of Prosocial capacitates the concept of polycentric governance developed by Elinor Ostrom and her husband Vincent.

Current Objectives The scope of Prosocial is audacious. We envision nothing less than a community of thousands—even hundreds of thousands—of groups that are methodical about improving their own efficacy and working with each other to achieve larger scale goals. Our goals during the next three years will be focused on the following objectives.

  • Obtain appropriate financial backing for such an ambitious undertaking from federal agencies, private foundations, and individual donors and investors.
  • Develop a worldwide network of facilitators trained in using Prosocial to work with groups.
  • Recruit groups from a diversity of sectors (e.g., businesses, schools, churches, volunteer organizations) to use Prosocial.
  • Develop Prosocial as a scientific database.