What is distributed agency?
Distributed agency refers to the situation where the actions or operations of a range of different individuals often with different motivations, interests and in different places combine to create an outcome they all wanted. Distributed agency can either be co-ordinated or uncoordinated, i.e by chance.
There are considered to be four factors which create agency or action:
- Intentionality, that the action and the end result of the action were intended and not merely the result of an accident or random event
- Causality or the understanding that this particular action or set of actions creates that effect: X action leads to Y event or outcome
- Flexibility, that the agent or people/machine or programme carrying out the actions can learn and adapt in the event of change and
- Accountability, that the action of the agent is the cause of the outcome and not something else.
Distributed agency is gaining ground as a force in organisational and social change, especially with the prominence of social media where people with similar desires can find each other and co-ordinate action to create some effect.
Enfield, N.J & Kockelman, P. (eds) (2017) Foundations of Human Interaction: Distributed agency. Oxford UK. Oxford University Press
Garud, R., & Karnøe, P. (2005). Distributed agency and interactive emergence. Innovating strategy process, 88-96.
Garud, R., & Karnøe, P. (2003). Bricolage versus breakthrough: distributed and embedded agency in technology entrepreneurship. Research policy, 32(2), 277-300.
Whittle, A., Suhomlinova, O., & Mueller, F. (2011). Dialogue and distributed agency in institutional transmission. Journal of Management & Organization, 17(4), 548-569.
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