About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Developing a new Centre For Collective Intelligence Design

Over the summer Nesta will be setting up a new Centre for Collective Intelligence Design. Through the centre we will explore how human and machine intelligence can be combined to make the most of our collective knowledge and develop innovative and effective solutions to social challenges.

The last 12 months have brought huge excitement around artificial intelligence, prompting a mix of responses that range from a feverish investment boom to deep anxieties. We see great potential in AI, if handled well. But we also believe that many of the biggest gains will come from better approaches to combining human and machine intelligence, and in particular harnessing the intelligence of groups.

That is why Nesta is creating a new centre to focus on the practical skills needed to design intelligence well. We want to start with the problems and challenges rather than starting with particular technologies. How could a city better manage its labour markets or air quality? How could cancer or diabetes care make the most of both medical knowledge and patient experience? How could school systems mobilise the insights of teachers as well as data and algorithms to better teach young people?

Although great strides are being made in computer and data science we believe there is a glaring gap, an absence of institutions devoted to what we call ‘intelligence design’. There are pockets of deep skill — some within commercial firms like Amazon and Google — but very little of this has been codified or shared more widely. As a result, and despite the spread of smart technologies, many of the systems we depend on most are much less smart than they could be.

Designing Collective Intelligence - the role of humans and machines

We have argued in the past that progressing collective intelligence is in many ways humanity’s grandest challenge since there’s little prospect of solving the other grand challenges of climate, health, prosperity, or war without progress in how we think and act together. Rapid advances in technology mean that we have more opportunities than ever before to progress collective intelligence and many organisations are experimenting with new ways to harness the insights of large groups, in fields ranging from citizen science to democracy.

Some of our projects, such as our study of digital social innovation in Europe, have shown how digital platforms offer the potential to assemble people and knowledge as never before. In Europe alone there are thousands of initiatives using digital platforms to mobilise large groups of people and their knowledge to address challenges in all areas of society, from democracy and climate change to education and care. Some of these make use of rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning that have enabled new ways of capturing, analysing and learning from large amounts of complex data.

So far, however, the vast majority of practice, policy and research has focused on these areas separately, with little attention given to the potential for innovation when human and machine intelligence is combined, even though in practice much AI is far more human than most people realise, involving constant supervision and adjustment. There is an emerging academic discipline of collective intelligence and a field of promising practice. But it remains tiny by comparison with artificial intelligence. Working with others around the world we hope to achieve a better balance - and, in time, better outcomes as a result.

The Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

The centre, which we will launch this summer, will grow expertise in both the understanding and practice of collective intelligence, mobilising human intelligence at scale and combining it with data, AI and other resources.

The work of the centre will build on Nesta’s existing work in this area and insights from many authors and research centres around the world (such as the Collective Intelligence Unit at Copenhagen Business School, the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, The MIT Intelligence Quest and The Alan Turing Institute to name a few). We will be drawing on insights from many organisations - ranging from businesses like GoogleDeepMind, SAGE and McKinsey/Quantum Black, to NGOs like the World Resources Institute and others including the UN, the GLA, Behavioural Insights Team, Zooniverse, Govlab at NYU, Oxford Internet Institute, Alan Turing Institute and the European Foundations Network.

At the heart of the centre will be a focus on applications with public benefit in fields like health and education, and we expect to work with researchers in universities, start-ups and large firms, and government policymakers and service leaders.

How to work with us

Between now and June 2018 we are scoping out the first phase of work and we are interested in hearing from potential collaborators. If you have an idea for a project, a piece of research or you are just curious about our work on the centre please get in touch. Please also share with us promising examples, tools and experiments.

Over the summer we aim to launch a small grants programme which will look to support organisations with an interest in researching or developing experiments that test how human and machine intelligence can be combined to solve social challenges.

In September 2018 we, in partnership with SAGE, will organise a one day event at Nesta to explore opportunities in collective intelligence and how we can make the most of them.


Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Chief Executive Officer

Geoff Mulgan was Chief Executive of Nesta from 2011-2019.

View profile
Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Director of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Peter leads work that explores how combining human and machine intelligence can develop innovative solutions to social challenges.

View profile