Designing Community Action for the 21st Century

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29 June, 2015


"Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups."

You may have seen or heard this quote before. It comes from David Sloan Wilson and E. O. Wilson’s paper, "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology".

David Sloan Wilson is an evolutionary biologist and has been outspoken in arguing the merits of group selection, the evolutionary theory that groups can be viewed to have functional organization in much the same way as individuals do. In other words, that evolution is not based merely on selfish survival but includes co-operation among individuals within a group context.

This insight has profound implications for community development strategies. Working with Elinor Ostrom, Nobel prize winner in economics, and her colleagues, David helped generalize the design principles of co-operation in successful groups and has now been looking at how they can inform a wide range of community initiatives. 

Through experiments with new approaches to sustainable community development including the Binghamton Neighbourhood Project and the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition, David is part of a team that has recently developed PROSOCIAL — a free online platform that helps groups apply the core design principles to improve their efficacy in working together towards common goals.


David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Departments of Biology and Anthropology, Binghamton University

David is an evolutionist who studies all aspects of humanity in addition to the biological world. He manages a number of programs designed to expand the influence of evolutionary theory in higher education (EvoS), public policy (The Evolution Institute), community-based research (The Binghamton Neighborhood Project), and religion (Evolutionary Religious Studies). David communicates to the general public through his ScienceBlogs site and his trade books, including Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our LivesThe Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve my City, One Block at a Time, and most recently Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others.

Additional Resources

ProSocial –– The Evolution Institute from Alan Honick on Vimeo.

The Canadian CED Network
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