Swarmwise Summary Part 1: The Power of Swarms


Arcade City’s motto is “connect freely”. We believe in economies created by its participants - meritocracies where action happens due to intrinsic motivators and not external constraints. We believe in individuality, self expression and volunteerism at every level.

But how do big things get done in a free flowing network created and run by volunteers? How can grassroots movements with little to no funding stay organized and on task? One method is via a swarm.

For those not familiar, a swarm is a newer kind of social organization model that provides a faster, lighter, and highly scalable alternative to traditional centralized corporate structures. In a swarm, authority is distributed throughout the peer- to - peer network of its operations. Anyone in the organization can and should take initiative.

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, wrote Swarmwise, an excellent book on how he used swarm tactics to launch a new political party and successfully win a major election.

You can read the full text here:

***note: most of the information in the book speaks directly to swarm leaders. Even if you aren’t starting your own swarm, we still encourage you to become familiar with the tactics since its a model that Arcade City, and many other powerful decentralized organizations are based on.

To briefly summarize the Swarmwise principles:

A swarm organization is a decentralized, collaborative effort of volunteers that looks like a hierarchical, traditional organization from the outside. It is built by a small core of people that construct a scaffolding of go-to people, enabling a large number of volunteers to cooperate on a common goal in quantities of people not possible before the net was available.

In centralized organizations, power is siloed at the top. Decision making occurs at the executive level and follows the chain-of-command logic pattern where managers and lower employees must follow direction as told. Changes come slowly and there is little room for implementing new processes or veering off the beaten track. As a result, imagination is limited and creativity becomes stifled.

In contrast, swarms are all about optimizing collaboration, which occurs naturally whenever there is mutual inspiration. Swarms focus on what people can do, not what they must or must not do and what bounds or limits they are confound to. Swarm power runs on passion.

Benefits of a swarm vs. traditional hierarchical structure

  1. Speed - Swarms are fast & remove all bottlenecks. Anyone can take the initiative at any time. If you want to take action, start by doing it! If others agree, they will join in. Quick reaction time and agility are enough to offset lack in funds.

  2. Trust - A swarm is transparent & has a singular and far reaching mandate than anyone can act out on their own accord. Different people will drive the swarm in different ways - and that’s great! As long as everyone is working towards the same goals, alternative methods are welcome.

  3. Scalability - A swarm’s scaffolding is constructed at its finished size from the get go, providing space for everyone down to the most local level.

Starting a Swarm

To start a swarm, you will first need a direct and concise vision people can rally behind. In order to be effective, your ideas need to be tangible, credible, inclusive and epic!

  1. Tangible - You need to post an outline of the goals you intend to meet, when, and how.

  2. Credible - After having presented your daring goal, you need to present it as totally doable. Bonus points if nobody has done it before.

  3. Inclusive - There must be room for participation by every spectator who finds it interesting, and they need to realize this on hearing about the project.

  4. Epic - Finally, you must set out to change the entire world for the better — or at least make a major improvement for a lot of people.

Swarms only work well when you strive for the greater good. So before you swarm, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many people are affected by this idea?

  • Will enough people to be energized to contribute so as to pass the critical threshold? Discover the threshold by identifying the group of people affected in a positive direction by your provocative idea, estimate the size of that group, and then make an educated guess how many of this group may engage in the swarm at the lowest level of activation.

  • How many people must get on board for your idea to succeed?

  • What event constitutes success, and what does it take to get there?

  • What are the swarm’s values?

Organizing your swarm

The swarm excels at self-organization and this is its first task. You must first set up the structure and assign the swarm this task.

Analyze your geography

Look at the area your swarm covers and divide it into no more than thirty geographical areas since you will only be able to coordinate thirty groups at most. Create a discussion forum with that number of subgroups.

Recruit the scaffolding

Scaffolding and leadership are key to a successful swarm. But remember, leaders are janitors, not managers and scaffolding is supporting, not directing or controlling the masses.

Know about 'magic numbers’

  • 7 people in a work group

  • 30 people in an extended group

  • 150 in a subswarm

When any group hits these limits, split it into two groups. These numbers aren’t actually magic but based on how people form social groups and communicate. By sticking to these limits you will avoid bottlenecks.

Each geographical area should have four function officers, one for PR/media, one for activism, one for swarmcare and one for web, information, and infrastructure.

In addition the area leader should have one or two deputies - making a group of at most seven in total. No area leader should have more than six people working directly with them.

Each area leader is both at the bottom of one pyramid and the top of another.

No subgroup should have more than 30 members – when it hits thirty it should divide into two subgroups.

The activism leader doesn’t lead activism as such, but rather supports it (like all of these roles). Whenever activists decide swarmwise that they want to stage a rally, hand out flyers, put up posters, or do some other form of visible activism, this is the person responsible for the practical details, such as PA equipment, permits, and other details on the ground to make things happen.

The person responsible for PR/media would be responsible for interactions with old media (newspapers, television, radio, etc.) at his or her particular geography. That includes sending press releases, making sure press kits with information are available, and other things related to serving oldmedia with information about the swarm and its activities.

The person responsible for swarmcare welcomes new activists into the swarm and continually measures the overall health of it. A typical task would be to call new activists just to make them feel welcome, and tell them when the next events — social as well as operational — take place. This is more than enough for one person to chew.

Finally, the information-and-web leader is the person who maintains the infrastructure of a blog or other web page that summarizes the relevant information of the swarm in this particular geography. (This person also communicates internally when events, such as rallies, happen. The swarm decides when and if they happen; it is the job of this person to communicate the consensus.)

One person should have one role in the scaffolding, Don’t have multi-role people this creates bottlenecks.

Direct everyone to go to the subgroup for their area and meet with the other members of that subgroup. Tell people to introduce themselves to one another, and to select a leader. Then set up a subforum where these subgroup leaders can discuss things between themselves and with you.

As the swarm organizes into these subgroups by geography, it needs to be given a task that allows it to jell properly over the first four weeks or so of its existence.

How to manage the first wave of participants

  1. Create a focal point of interest, like a sign up page or forum or wiki, etherpad

  2. Self organize - delineate subgroups (less than 30) with 7 to 30 members in each subgroup

  3. Make sure people introduce themselves to each other, give instructions on how leaders should be selected

  4. Contact leaders in person, create a leader only subgroup

  5. Establish 5-6 intermediaries between the swarm founder and group leaders

  6. Assign tasks immediately so groups start to gel - need something done right away

  7. Only have parties, not meetings. Focus on opportunities for socializing. Every new relationship that is created grows the organization, relationships are the most valuable metric for determining success - the swarm consists only of relationships!

  8. Deny narcissists attention

Use the Three Activist Rule

The three-activist rule: If three activists agree that something is good for the swarm, they have a green light to act in the swarm’s name. It’s not that they don’t need to ask permission — it goes deeper than that. Rather, they should never ask permission if three activists agree that something is good. And beyond that: they are specifically banned from asking permission. Their own judgment is the best available in the organization for their own social context, and they have to use that judgment rather than hiding behind somebody else’s greenlighting.

Update the overall progress of the tasks at least daily.

The swarm consists only of relationships between people. Getting people to know other people should be the main goal of your activities.

Make sure that newcomers feel welcome - for every new relationship that is created, the organization grows.

When the swarm hits 150 people, you must start breaking it up into smaller groups. Make sure that there are social subswarms everywhere that can attract and retain new people, and not just one centrally located chat channel. Subswarms will have the social maximum size of 150.

Communicate very clearly what you want to see happen and why.

If people agree with you, they will make that happen, without you telling a single person anything else. Your role is to set goals and ambitions, ambitions that don’t stop short of changing the entire world for the better. Don’t talk about abstract concepts, your prospective volunteers will just yawn.

To grow the swarm to critical mass we’ll need a large recruitment surface with concepts that are easy to relate to people’s everyday lives.

Divide the people of the swarm into three groups by activity level: officers, activists, and passive supporters.

  • Officers are the people in the scaffolding, people who have taken on the formal responsibility of upholding the swarm.

  • Activists are the actual swarm, the people that make things happen on a huge scale.

  • Passive supporters are people who agree with the goals as such, but haven’t taken any action

Control the Vision, but Never the Message

As you build a swarm, it is imperative that everybody is empowered to act in the swarm on the basis of what they believe will further its goals — but no one is allowed to empower themselves to restrict others.

People are allowed, encouraged, and expected to assume speaking and acting power for themselves in the swarm’s name, but never the kind of power that limits others’ right to do the same thing.

Pivoting Upward