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Soft Consensus and Network Dynamics

in Group Decision Making

Mario Fedrizzi, Michele Fedrizzi, and R. A. Marques Pereira*

Dipartimento di Informatica e Studi Aziendali DISA, Universita ` di

Trento, Via Inama 5, TN 38100 Trento, Italy

We propose a dynamical network model for consensus reaching in group decision making. The

model combines the minimization of a soft measure of collective dissensus and an individual

inertial mechanism which emulates opinion changing aversion. Both components of the

dynamics are nonlinear. The collective consensual trend corresponds to a process of anisotropic

diffusion among the various individual preference structures. The anisotropy is designed so as

to outline and enhance the natural group segmentation into homogeneous preference subgroups

weak consensus .. The individual inertial mech-anism, on the other hand, opposes changes from

the original preferences and provides an appropriate framework to deal with preference outliers.

We examine in detail the simple case in which each decision maker must choose between only

two alternatives. Finally we comment on the possibility of incorporating in the dynamics a form

of transitivity constraint regarding the group segmentation. Q 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

1. INTRODUCTION

The question of preference aggregation in social choice theory, when viewed in a

1

dynamical perspective, leads naturally to the central issue of consensus. The notion

of consensus, in fact, combines many significant aspects of preference modeling and

decision making and plays an important role whenever the social choice scheme is

based on a dynamical model of preference aggregation. In such case the group

decision making process enforces a strategy of consensus optimization which

gradually combines the various individual preferences into some form of collective

preference structure.

The construction of an appropriate consensus measure is therefore a fundamental

problem in group decision theory, with both theoretical the perception of consensus .

and practical the modeling of consensus reaching. relevance. In the development of

2,3

the fuzzy approach to collective decision making the notion of consensus has

4 ] 6

evolved from a ‘‘hard’’ i.e., binary . index of unanimous agreement to a ‘‘soft’’

i.e., graded. measure of collective agreement among the various individual decision

7 ] 13

makers.

*E-mail: mp@cs.unitn.it

INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS, VOL. 14, 63]77 1999.

Q 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. CCC 0884-8173r99r010063-15

64 FEDRIZZI, FEDRIZZI, AND MARQUES PEREIRA

The model of network dynamics described in this paper extends recent work on

14 ] 16

consensual dynamics and develops the soft consensus paradigm in the standard

framework of numerical fuzzy preferences. In the present formula-tion the model

8,10,11

combines a soft measure of collective dissensus with an inertial mechanism of

17,18

opinion changing aversion. Regarding the extension of the soft consensus

approach to the linguistic fuzzy preference framework see Refs. 19]24.

The present model of soft consensus dynamics acts on the network of single preference structures by a

combination of a collective process of nonlinear. diffusion and an individual mechanism of nonlinear . inertia. The

overall effect of the dynamics is to outline and enhance the natural segmentation of the decision makers group into

homogeneous preference subgroups, according to appropriate Bayesian priors from which the model derives.

25

Our starting point is a set of individual fuzzy preference structures. Let

k s 1, . . . , m4 be an index set for a group of decision makers and A s ai ,

i s 1, . . . , n4 a set of decisional alternatives.

Each decision maker k builds hisrher individual fuzzy preference structure

k

rk : A = A ª w0, 1x according to the following rules: if ri j denotes r k ai , aj ., then

k k

ri j s 1 when ai is definitely preferred to aj and ri j s 0 when aj is definitely

k

preferred to ai . When the two alternatives ai and a j are indifferent, ri j s 0.5.

k

Accordingly, the matrix elements ri j associated with the fuzzy preferences are

k k

required to satisfy the reciprocity constraints ri j q rji s 1 ; i, j from which

k

follows that ri i s 0.5 ; i. The number of independent degrees of freedom of an

individual preference matrix, see Figure 1, is therefore n n y 1.r2.

The simplest example of group decision process corresponds to the case in which

each decision maker is given a choice between only n s 2 alternatives:

k

i, j s 1, 2. Accordingly, the preference matrix ri j of the decision maker k has

k

only one independent element, say r12 . If we denote it by rk we can write the

preference matrix elements as

k k k k

r12 s r k r21 s 1 y r k r11 s r22 s 0.5 1.

SOFT CONSENSUS AND NETWORK DYNAMICS 65

In the following sections we shall often refer to this n s 2 alternatives case in order to

illustrate our dynamical network model of soft consensus.

We begin with an informal overview of the network dynamics generated by the

soft consensus interaction among decision makers. The technical aspects involved in

the formulation of the model, from the construction of the cost function to the

derivation of the gradient dynamics, are left to Sections 4 and 5 respectively ., after

introducing the scaling function f in Section 3.

In the soft consensus network each decision maker k s 1, . . . , m is repre-sented

by a pair of connected nodes, a primary node dynamic. and a secondary node static ..

The m primary nodes form a fully connected subnetwork and each of them encodes

the preference structure of a single decision maker. In other words, each primary node

k

contains an individual preference matrix rk s wri j g w0, 1xx, with n n y 1.r2

independent degrees of freedom. The m secondary nodes, on the other hand, encode

the individual preference matrices originally declared by the decision makers, denoted

k

sk s w si j g w0, 1xx, and each of them is connected only with the associated primary

node.

In the case of n s 2 alternatives, therefore, each node contains a single

independent preference value rk g w0, 1x. The soft consensus dynamics acts

.

iteratively . on the preference values rk s r k t and gradually transforms them

away from the original preferences declared by the decision makers, sk s

r k t s 0..

This iterative process of preference transformation corresponds to the gradient

dynamics of a cost function W, depending on both the present and the original

network configurations. The value of W combines a measure V of the overall

dissensus in the present network configuration and a measure U of the overall change

from the original network configuration.

The cost functions V and U are both constructed on the basis of a particular

nonlinear scaling of the standard Euclidean distance between prefer-ence matrices. As

a result, the scaling function f is a crucial element in our soft consensus model and its

derivative f 9, in particular, is directly responsible for the characteristic nonlinear

properties of the gradient network dynamics.

In order to illustrate this point, consider an arbitrary primary node in the network,

say node k. The cost function W f V q U of our soft consensus model generates two

different and competing interactions involving node k: the first regards the remaining

m y 1 primary nodes k9 / k, each of which interacts with node k within the overall

dissensus measure V; the second regards the sec-ondary node containing the original

preference value sk , which interacts with node k within the measure U of overall

change from the original network configuration. The first interaction diffusive .

produces preference changes toward consensus within the network of decision

makers, whereas the second interaction inertial . resists to preference changes away

from the ones originally declared.

66 FEDRIZZI, FEDRIZZI, AND MARQUES PEREIRA

whose role is to quantify the strength of the interaction. The diffusive interaction

between primary nodes k and k9 is mediated by the interaction coefficient ¨ k, k9. g

w0, 1x, whereas the inertial interaction between primary node k and the associated

secondary node is mediated by the interac-tion coefficient u k. g w0, 1x. It turns out

that the values of these interaction coefficients are given by the derivative f 9 of the

scaling function, as explained below.

competing dynamical trends, collective diffusion and individual inertia. The former

enforces consensus optimization and emulates the gradual negotiation process toward

collective agreement, while the latter enforces closeness to the original preferences

and emulates the individual aversion to opinion changing.

The diffusive component of the network dynamics results from the consen-sual

interaction between each node rk and the remaining m y 1 nodes rk 9/ k in the network.

The aggregated effect of these m y 1 interactions can be repre-sented as a single

consensual interaction between node rk and a virtual node rk containing a particular

weighted average of the remaining preference values.

The interaction coefficient ¨ k. g w0, 1x of this aggregated consensual inter-

action controls the extent to which decision maker k is influenced by the remaining

experts in the group. In our soft consensus model the value ¨ k., as well as the

weighting coefficients ¨ k, k9. g w0, 1x in the definition of rk , depend nonlinearly on

the standard Euclidean distance between the preference struc-tures rk and rk 9,

¨ k , k9. s f 9 rk y rk 9 .

2

. ¨k.s ¨ k , k9. 2.

k 9 /k . my1

and the average preference rk is given by

rk s k9/k. ¨ k , k9. rk 9 3.

k9/k. ¨ k , k9.

crucial role in the network dynamics. It is obtained as the derivative of the so-called

scaling function f x. g R which, in turn, enters the construction of the soft consensus

cost function from which the network dynamics derives. The pair f, f 9 is described in

detail in the next section; the construction of the cost function and the derivation of

the dynamics appear in the following two sections of the paper.

The important point here is that the sigmoid function f 9 is approximately 1 0. for

small large . values of its argument, respectively see Figure 2.. As a result, the

diffusive component of the network dynamics consists in a weighted averaging

process dominated by the neighboring nodes w.r.t. the standard Euclidean distance

between preference structures ..

SOFT CONSENSUS AND NETWORK DYNAMICS 67

nonlinear case . between node rk and the virtual node rk . The standard linear diffusion

scheme, associated with the Euclidean dissensus measure, is obtained by choosing f x.

s x, and thus f 9 x. s 1. In that case the interaction coefficients ¨ k. do not depend on

the preference differences and thus rk is just the plain average preference of the group.

The inertial component of the network dynamics, associated with the individual

mechanism of opinion changing aversion, results from the conserva-tive interaction

between each node rk and the associated secondary node containing the original

preference value sk .

The interaction coefficient u k. g w0, 1x of this inertial interaction controls the

extent to which decision maker k resists to opinion changes due to the collective

consensual trend. In analogy with the diffusion coefficients, the value u k. in our soft

consensus model depends nonlinearly on the standard Eu-

68 FEDRIZZI, FEDRIZZI, AND MARQUES PEREIRA

u k.sf9 rk y s k . 2 . 4.

where f 9 x. is the sigmoid function mentioned earlier.

Given the characteristics of f 9, the inertial component of the network

dynamics enforces a strong memory of the original preferences while the opinion

changes are small, but essentially turns-off the inertial memory when the opinion

changes become large. In this way the dynamics is able to endoge-nously discard

preference outliers.

Figure 4 illustrates the inertial component of the soft consensus interaction

nonlinear case . between node rk and the virtual node sk . In the linear case,

corresponding to f x. s x and f 9 x. s 1, the interaction coefficients u k. do not depend

on the preference changes and therefore the inertial memory is always turned-on,

irrespectively of the opinion changes occurred.

In our soft consensus model the scaling function f : w0, 1x ª R is defined as see

Refs. 26]31 for analogous definitions in the contexts of individual prefer-ence

modeling and Bayesian surface reconstruction .,

f x . s y 1 ln 1 q eyb xya . . 5.

b

where a g 0, 1. is a threshold parameter and b g 0, `. is a free parameter inspired on

the inverse temperature b s 1rT of statistical physics.

The parameter b controls the polarization of the sigmoid function f 9,

f9 x.s 1 6.

1qeb xya .

For large values of the parameter b zero temperature limit . the sigmoid

function f 9 is close to a step function with respect to the threshold value a :

f 9 0. f 1, f 9 1. f 0, and f 9 a . s 0.5. Otherwise, i.e., for finite temperature

values, the function f 9 is smooth and monotonically decreasing with respect to

its argument, see Figure 2.

SOFT CONSENSUS AND NETWORK DYNAMICS 69

As mentioned earlier, the sigmoid function f 9 plays a crucial role in the network

dynamics of our model of soft consensus. As far as the diffusion process is concerned,

2

the values f 9 r k y rk 9. . represent the diffusion coefficients weighting the averaging

interaction among the various individual preference structures. On the other hand, the

2

values f 9 r k y sk . . represent the individual inertial weights with which the decision

makers oppose changes from their original preferences.

The network dynamics of soft consensus described in the previous sections

derives from an underlying cost function W combining a collective dissensus cost V

and an overall sum U of the various individual inertial costs. In this section we present

the formal construction of these cost functions, extending recent work on consensual

14 ] 16

dynamics.

Generally speaking, the present model develops the original soft consensus

paradigm proposed in Refs. 8, 10, and 11 and combines it with an extension of the

opinion changing aversion mechanism introduced in Refs. 17 and 18.

k

Given the fuzzy preferences ri j one can construct a measure of dissensus V k, k9.

between any two decision makers k and k9 see Fig. 5.. In our model the soft dissensus

measure V k, k9. is defined as

n

V k , k9. s f w r k yrk 9

2

/ 7.

i , js1 ij i j i j .

where f is the scaling function described in the previous section and the coefficients wi

j g w0, 1x represent a normalized a priori weight distribution over the pairs of

alternatives, with wi j s wji and wi i s 0.

In the one degree of freedom case the weight matrix wi j is completely specified

by the various constraints, w12 s w21 s 0.5 and w11 s w22 s 0.

70 FEDRIZZI, FEDRIZZI, AND MARQUES PEREIRA

V k , k9. s f rk y rk 9 .

2

. 8.

The basic dissensus costs V k, k9. can be combined first into individual mea-sures V k.

of the dissensus between each decision maker k and the rest of the group,

m

V k , k9.

V k.s 9.

k 9 /k .s1 my1

and next into an overall measure V of the collective dissensus,

1 m

Vs V k. 10.

4 ks1

1 1

where the normalization factor is chosen for convenience: in view of the

4 2

1

differentiation involved in the gradient dynamics and another due to the fact

2

that, in the above definition of V, each pair k, k9. of decision makers is counted twice.

dissensus measures is as follows. Consider for simplicity the case with only

two alternatives. Without the scaling function the collective dissensus cost

reduces to m m

r k y rk 9 .2 .

ks1 k 9 / k .s1 r m y 1 , which essentially coincides with

the standard statistical index of variability of the preference group. This follows from

the well-known identity,

m m m rk

2 2 rs

rk y rk 9 . s 2 mrk y r . 11.

k , k 9s1 ks1 ks1 m

Accordingly, the collective dissensus measure V of our soft consensus model can be

considered as a generalized dispersion index of the group of individual preferences

structures.

The scaling function f in our model plays the role of the linguistic quantifier Q

s‘‘most’’ indicating substantial agreement in the original soft consensus scheme

proposed in Refs. 8, 10, and 11. Both Q and f are monotoni-cally increasing,

nonlinear, concave functions of the standard Euclidean dis-sensus. In our formulation,

however, the quantification is enforced by a two-parameter family of differentiable

functions f, whose derivatives play a crucial role in modeling the sigmoid diffusion

coefficients of the consensual network dynamics.

The relaxation dynamics induced by the collective dissensus cost V acts on the individual preferences rikj

through a diffusive process which, if no other dynamic components were present, would asymptotically converge

to an unstruc-tured full consensus i.e., unanimous agreement .. Instead, our soft consensus model combines the

diffusive dynamics associated with V with an inertial mechanism representing aversion to opinion

changing.

17,18

SOFT CONSENSUS AND NETWORK DYNAMICS 71

the overall dissensus measure V and an inertial cost U associated with changes from

k

the original set of declared preferences, which are denoted by si j.

The individual inertial cost U k. is defined as

n

U k.sf

i , js1

w r k ysk

ij i j i j .

2

/ 12.

In the one degree of freedom case the individual opinion changing cost

U k. see Fig. 6. reduces to

U k . s f rk y sk .

2

. 13.

As before, the individual inertial costs U k. can be combined into a collective inertial

cost U given by

1 m

Us U k. 14.

2 ks1

where again the normalization factor 12 is chosen for convenience, in view of the

differentiation involved in the gradient dynamics.

The full cost function W of our dynamical model of soft consensus is simply a

convex combination of the dissensus cost V and the inertial cost U,

W s 1 y l. V q lU 15.

where l g w0, 1x is a free parameter whose role is to balance the relative strengths of

the dissensus and inertial components of the dynamics. The group configuration which

minimizes the full cost function W is therefore the optimal trade-off between

collective agreement and closeness to the original prefer-ences.

72 FEDRIZZI, FEDRIZZI, AND MARQUES PEREIRA

network corresponds to a parallel gradient descent scheme for the full cost function W

k

and the dynamical variables ri j ,

-W 16.

r§r9sry«-r

k

where r stands for any of the independent dynamic variables ri j. In the next section

we present the detailed derivation of the network dynamics in the case of two

alternatives.

Naturally, the present gradient descent dynamics parallel and determinis-tic . is

but one of the possible relaxation schemes applicable to the cost function W. One

k

could for instance adopt a serial strategy and update each time only those variables ri j

for which the cost function W is most sensitive, i.e., for which the associated partial

k

derivatives - Wr- ri j are numerically dominant. Alterna-tively, one could consider a

stochastic mechanism for choosing each time the active variables on the basis of a

discriminating probability distribution privileg-ing the dominant partial derivatives.

We now illustrate our dynamical model of consensus in the one degree of

freedom case, i.e., when the group of decision makers considers only n s 2

alternatives, indexed by i, j s 1, 2.

We recall that in this case the preference matrix rikj of the decision maker k

k

has only one independent element, rk s r12 . The weight matrix wi j , on the other

hand, is completely specified by the various constraints: w12 s w21 s 0.5 and

w11 s w22 s 0.

The individual dissensus cost V k. is given by

V k , k9. s f rk y rk . .

2 17.

9

k 9 /k . my1

and the individual opinion changing cost U k. is

U k . s f rk y sk .

2

. 19.

Summing over the various decision makers we obtain the collective dissensus cost V

and inertial cost U,

V s 14 V

U s 1U k. 20.

k. 2

k

k

SOFT CONSENSUS AND NETWORK DYNAMICS 73

learning algorithm, acts on the individual preference variables rk through the iterative

process,

rk § rk

X -W 21.

sr y«

k - rk

We can analyze the effect of the two dynamical components V and U separately. The

dissensus cost V induces a nonlinear process of diffusion based on the gradient term,

-V s ¨ k , k9. rk y rk 9 s¨ k . rk y rk .

22.

-r my1

kk 9 /k .

¨ k , k9. s f 9 rk y rk 9 .

2

. ¨k.s ¨ k , k9.

23.

k 9 /k . my1

k9/k ¨ k , k9. rk 9

r s . 24.

k 9/ ¨ k , k9.

k k.

convex combination with sufficiently small « . between the preference value rk and

the weighted average rk of the remaining preference values rk 9 see Fig. 7 and 8.,

X

rk s 1 y « ¨ k . . rk q « ¨ k . rk 25.

The inertial cost U, on the other hand, leads to a nonlinear mechanism which opposes

changes from the original preferences sk , by means of the gradient term

- U s u k . rk y sk . 26.

- rk

u k . s f 9 rk y sk .

2

. 27.

inertial coefficient u k. which modulates the convex combination between the

preference value rk and the original preference value sk , see Fig. 8.,

X

rk s 1 y « u k . . rk q « u k . sk 28.

74 FEDRIZZI, FEDRIZZI, AND MARQUES PEREIRA

The full dynamics associated with the cost function W s V q U .r2 acts itera-tively on

each decision maker k through convex combinations of the preference value rk , the

average preference value rk , and the original preference value sk ,

X

rk s 1 y « ¨ k . y « u k . . rk q « ¨ k . rk q « u k . sk 29.

X

Accordingly, the decision maker k is in dynamical equilibrium, in the sense that rk s

rk , if the following stability equation holds,

¨ k . rk q u k . sk 30.

rk s

¨k.qu k.

that is, if the present preference value rk coincides with an appropriate weighted

average of the original preference sk and the average preference value rk . The

structure of the set of asymptotic equilibria satisfying this equation is presently being

investigated.

6. TOWARD TRANSITIVITY

In this final section we examine the possibility of constructing a higher order

extension of the present model, by incorporating in the dynamics an endogenous

coalition ‘‘grammar’’ inspired on the well-known formulation of

SOFT CONSENSUS AND NETWORK DYNAMICS 75

transitivity in fuzzy graph theory, see for instance, Refs. 32 and 33. Such an extension

would render our model of consensual dynamics somewhat closer to a clustering

34

scheme of the fuzzy c-means type, even though the clustering dynamics acts

explicitly on the cluster centers whereas the consensual dynamics acts on the

individual preference values themselves.

Let h k, k9. be some measure of the difference between the preference structures

of the two decision makers k, k9. Within the framework of our consensual network

model one could define h k, k9. in terms of the dissensus measure V k, k9. in some

appropriate way, or else take the standard Euclidean distance between the preference

matrices of k, k9.

On the basis of h k, k9. we define a similarity degree m k, k9. g w0, 1x in the

following way,

31.

m k , k9. s eyb h

g

k , k 9.

where g G 1 is a free parameter. In the context of fuzzy graph theory the value m k,

k9. represents the strength of the arc connection between the two nodes k, k9 and can

be interpreted as the membership degree of k9 with respect to the set friends of k4,

where ‘‘friend’’ stands for ‘‘having a similar preference structure.’’

transitivity constraint on the consensual dynamics of group decision. Given two

decision makers k, k9 the standard definition of transitivity in fuzzy graph theory

requires that m k, k9. G m k, k0 . m k9, k0 . for every k0. However, since the r.h.s.

can be arbitrarily close to zero, this form of transitivity does not constrain k0 to be

within any reasonable distance from the pair k, k9.

For this reason we propose a stronger form of transitivity which requires that the

similarity degrees within a friendship coalition be essentially homoge-neous,

1r2

m k , k9. f m k , .m 32.

k0 k9 , k0 . .

which is equivalent to 33.

g g

hg k , k9. f h k , k0 . q h k9, k0 . 34.

2

More precisely, we require 35.

hg k , k0 . q hg k9, k0 .

hg k , k9. F 2

g g

h k , k0 . q h k9, k0 .

g 1

h k , k9. G 2 2

Note that our definition of transitivity is fully contained in the standard weaker. form

of transitivity mentioned before, whose characterization in terms of h is given by

inequality 34. alone. Note further that 34. reduces to the well-known universal

triangular inequality when g s 1.

76 FEDRIZZI, FEDRIZZI, AND MARQUES PEREIRA

Consider now the triangular configuration formed by the three decision makers k,

k9, and k0. For the sake of simplicity assume it to be an isosceles configuration, i.e.,

h k, k0 . s h k9, k0 .. With respect to the base length h k, k9. of the triangle, the

above inequalities impose, respectively, a lower limit and an upper limit on the

average length of the two sides k, k0 . and k9, k0 .. If we denote these lower and

upper limits, respectively, by w k, k9. and c k, k9., in order to emphasize that they

depend exclusively on k, k9., we can write

g 1 g

w k , k9. s 2 h k , k9. 36.

g g

c k , k9. s 2h k , k9. 37.

and therefore,

y 1 rg

w k , k9. s 2 .h k , k9. 38.

1rg

c k , k9. s 2 h k , k9. 39.

These two limit lengths specify an interval range around the equilateral config-uration

which diminishes as g increases, since

1 rg q

1g. lim 2. s1 40.

lim 2. y r s 1y

gª` gª`

In order to incorporate the transitivity constraints 34. and 35. in our model of

consensual dynamics we are now studying the construction of an appropriate cost

function T to be added to W. Given that transitivity is expressed by a pair of

simultaneous inequalities there is a canonical way of writing T as a product t norm. of

sigmoid functions encoding the soft constraint violation of the two transitive

constraints. The details of the construction will appear elsewhere.

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