Memetic governance in theory and practice

Memetic governance in theory and practice

Developing a theory and a replicable method for governance of social systems.

Øyvind Vada


Øyvind Vada’s work is about how governance can be executed in a world where the public, private and third sectors are changing rapidly due to globalization and increased complexity. How we, as individuals, think, talk, decide and act together in all types of social systems, both locally and globally, is a function of a more and more interwoven world.  Classical reductionist and hierarchical approaches to governance tend to fail due to these changes.

To reduce the gap between governance theory and governance practice, Vada argues that there is a need for new approaches that embrace complexity. He has developed a memetic approach for doing so, taking into account that we as individuals belong to different formal and informal social systems. These systems can be regarded as combinations of hierarchies, networks and markets.

Individuals and groups of individuals in social systems are, in Vada’s approach, treated as agents.  As agents, we are free and goal-directed entities that maximize utility, benefit and/or fitness. We often have local and limited knowledge, and cannot always foresee effects of our individual actions on larger collective wholes.  

Governing organizations includes governing agents. Vada argues that it is possible to design for a desired emergent outcome, where agents interpret predefined memes that influence how they perceive and process themselves, their surroundings and the tasks at hand. Different sets of predefined memes are created as tools and cognitive templates that form and process subjective thoughts, communications and actions, both individually and collectively.

Vada proposes an alternative way of allocating resources and exercising control and coordination in social systems – a new form of governance. He suggests a method where memes are instrumentally infused into social systems through processes where free and bounded rational agents are regarded as participants and players that impact their surroundings based on their own subjective agency. He shows how agents become carriers of shared memes in different arenas for diffusion and adaption. The predefined memes are formed as iconic and discrete models that can be applied to individual day-to-day situations as well as complex collective challenges. In the arenas, memes are woven into active exercises and assignments. Individual agents recognize the value of other agents’ viewpoints, make sense of the social systems they are part of and collectively create solutions that reduce the gap between the system’s strategic intent and its operational success.

The main task of Vada’s work is to merge an improved version of memetics with the intentions of classical governance. He has created a replicable method, which is potentially applicable in all organizations. The method seeks to balance a designed and planned approach to steering and coordination with emergent factors that are always present when human agency takes place.

Vada’s work is about design for emergence in organizations and other social systems.


Slides of the talk can be found here.