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Project 10: Decision Making and Responsibility Allocation

Challenge 12: Shared Responsibility and Sustainable Cooperation

Aim of the project

This project will investigate the relation between decision making in groups and the attribution of responsibility to members of the group. The aim is to determine how collective decision making and responsibility allocation can be aligned, to come to terms with the role of computer systems in teams, and to foster better understanding and perception of responsibility among the agents.

Theoretical background

Groups often operate as if they were individual agents, and the actions that its members perform are routinely attributed to the collective. It is not well understood how we can trace group actions back to the actions of individual team members, and sometimes it is not even possible (Braham and Van Hees 2011). This presents a threat to the sustainability of cooperation because it means that cooperation failures do not straightforwardly lead to sanctions or suggestions of improvements in the way a group functions. Moreover, the hazy perception that members themselves have of the responsibility allocation is detrimental to the group’s functioning. The fear of blame causes individual agents to confine themselves to their immediate sphere of influence, thereby leaving larger responsibility gaps. A further complication is that groups are increasingly relying on computer systems for making their decisions, up to the point where individual team members will push responsibility for actions onto a non-human agent: the “computer says no” response.

For these reasons, a better understanding of responsibility allocation among group members is likely to be beneficial to the design and practice of collective decision making. At least two research fields intersect on these themes. First, opinion formation and decision making in groups is subject to intense study, both philosophically (e.g., Romeijn and Atkinson 2011, Hindriks 2009) and scientifically. Secondly, increasing attention is given by computer scientists in collaboration with philosophers and social scientists to the problem of ‘computational fairness’ and discrimination-aware design of decision support systems. By using computational modelling methods to simulate the interaction between human decision makers and computational systems in groups (e.g. Flache, 2004), it is possible to assess to what extent unfair allocations of responsibility can be anticipated or avoided.

Research design

The project employs philosophical analysis in order to investigate models of collective decision making and responsibility attribution. Additionally, it utilizes laboratory experiments and simulations to examine the extent to which perceptions of the responsibility structure affect collective decision making, as well as how the presence of computational actors impacts on both of these. The project integrates the approaches sketched above, in order to arrive at a model for the allocation of responsibility among group members as a function of the group’s procedures of collective decision making. Our hope is that we can thereby answer questions on what decision procedures are conducive to a healthy sense of shared responsibility in the group.


Braham, M. and M. van Hees (2011), Responsibility Voids, The Philosophical Quarterly, 61: 6-15.

Hindriks, F. (2009), Corporate Responsibility and Judgment Aggregation, Economics and Philosophy 25: 161-77.

Romeijn, J-W. and D. Atkinson (2011), A Condorcet Jury Theorem for Unknown Juror Competence, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, 10(3), pp. 237–262.

Flache, A. (2004). How may virtual communication shape cooperation in a work team? A formal model based on social exchange theory, Analyse & Kritik 26: 258-278.

Project initiators

Jan-Willem Romeijn, Martin van Hees, Andreas Flache, and Frank Hindriks.


University of Groningen, Faculty of Philosophy


Philosophy, preferrably with an interest in Sociology

How to Apply

For background information on this vacancy and further instructions, click here.


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