I’m interested!  What groups should be using PROSOCIAL? Any group whose members need to work together to accomplish shared goals.  Examples include a business, a school, a church, a neighborhood, an agency, or a volunteer association.

That sounds great! Tell me more about the internet platform. It is structured like an online course with six lessons. Members of a group work through the lessons together. By the time they are done, they will have a stronger group identity and sense of purpose. They will become more flexible about avoiding problems and working toward valued goals. They will gain a better understanding of the design principles that are required to work well as a group. They will have formulated short-term achievable goals. After a group “graduates”, it is provided with its own website for holding discussions, scheduling meetings, storing documents, and communicating with other groups. Finally, group members repeat the online course annually to take stock of their progress and establish new goals.  

Wow! How long does the online course take and how much work is required? Each lesson requires between 30-90 minutes to complete and the group sets the time period. We suggest three days, which means that group members have three days to complete their assignments before moving on to the next lesson. At this pace, the course can be completed in three weeks.

That sounds easy enough! Is everything done online or does the group need to physically meet? Everything can be done online but we also suggest that group members meet periodically to discuss what is taking place online. After all, if your group is important to you, then presumably you want to get together, preferably in a relaxed atmosphere over food and drink!

I'll toast to that! Is a group coordinator needed? PROSOCIAL is designed to be used by a group without requiring an outside coordinator. One member of the group needs to be designated as a leader, although this role can be rotated. While an outside coordinator isn’t required, someone trained in PROSOCIAL and/or other group facilitation methods can be helpful in some cases. We can advise your group on the merits of engaging a coordinator.

I’m seriously tempted! Do all members of my group need to take part? For groups up to a dozen people, we recommend that everyone take part as long as they are committed to the process. For larger groups, or for groups where only a subset of members are committed to the process, we recommend choosing a representative subgroup that reports to the full group. For a group such as a business or a church congregation that is organized into subgroups such as committees, we recommend that one or more subgroups start to use PROSOCIAL. If it works at that level, then it will sell itself for other subgroups and the whole organization.

Okay, I’m convinced! But can I afford it? PROSOCIAL is being made available free of charge during its current stage of development.

Are you kidding? There must be a catch! There is one small catch. The information that you provide for your group will become part of a scientific database.  We want to study the groups that we work with to further enhance the efficacy of PROSOCIAL. Our research has been approved by Binghamton University’s Human Subject Review Board and completely protects the identities of both individuals and groups. This is explained in more detail during the first lesson, where you will be asked to sign a consent form. You will also be asked to sign an ethics statement to the effect that your group will not engage in harmful activities against other groups.

So you want me to contribute my group to science! Is there anything else I should know? Only this: PROSOCIAL requires a commitment on the part of each group member to complete each lesson on time so that the group can move on to the next lesson. This is part of a more general commitment to achieve the goals of the group. You will be asked to sign a commitment statement during the first lesson. If you and the other group members honor your commitment, then PROSOCIAL is likely to make your group stronger.  Otherwise, your group is likely to go the way of all groups whose members lack commitment.

OK, I hear you! Where do I sign up? Please provide a single email address and a short description of your group in the text boxes above. You will receive regular updates leading up to launch day on May 1 2015.

I thirst for knowledge! Tell me more about the scientific basis for PROSOCIAL. PROSOCIAL is a project of the Evolution Institute (EI), a nonprofit think tank that formulates public policy from an evolutionary perspective. It is inspired in part by the work of Elinor Ostrom, who received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for showing that groups attempting to manage common-pool resources such as forests, fields, fisheries, and irrigation systems are capable of avoiding the tragedy of overuse if they possess certain core design principles. Evolution Institute President David Sloan Wilson collaborated with Ostrom and her associate Michael Cox to generalize the “core design principles” approach to include other kinds of groups. Basically, almost any activity that requires people to work together to achieve a common goal is a common-pool resource that requires the same core design principles, along with auxiliary design principles tailored to the particular activity.