Photo Credit: Birds on a Wire by user Kiwi Flickr

Measuring Reciprocity

Photo by Tony Deifell, used under Creative Commons licensing. Photo by Tony Deifell, used under Creative Commons licensing.

Reposted from the Connecting to Change the World blog with permission. In Connecting to Change the World, we emphasize that reciprocity–giving and taking, mutual exchange, between a network’s members–is a powerful social dynamic that, combined with a network’s decentralized structure, unleashes a network’s effects and advantages. Members give away their knowledge, skills, connections, and resources. They give in the expectation that giving to others will be rewarded by getting from others. But it’s not a negotiation, it’s a “gift economy,” in the phrase of Kevin Kelley. So how do you measure the degree to which reciprocity is happening in a network? This question was posed the other day by a network builder in a conversation with five other network builders. From the conversation, it seemed that reciprocity can be manifested in three ways in a network:
  1. Expectations that a member has of another member. Does a member feel he/she can count on a particular other member to, for instance, listen and respond to a question in a timely fashion? In other words, you could ask members about their perception of/relationship with specific other members.
  2. Transactions/behaviors between members. Do members in the network actually listen and respond in a timely fashion to a question? In other words, you could observe and count members’ behaviors that reflect reciprocity.
  3. The culture of the network–the norms, habits–of members as a whole. Do members feel that relationships within the network are guided by a valuing of reciprocity? In other words, you could ask members what they think network norms are.