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Introducing collective intelligence design principles in the real world

How has UNDP’s new Accelerator Lab Network fared, trying to applying collective intelligence design principles in their first few weeks?

Throughout July and October all 60 of UNDP’s new Accelerator Labs attended bootcamp training sessions in Kigali and Quito. During these intensive sessions they were introduced to the concept of Collective Intelligence Design for the first time.

From a standing start, they had a half-day immersion on the collective intelligence design process, collective intelligence methods and key design principles. At the end of the session they were tasked with creating their first ever collective intelligence project prototypes - in just thirty minutes. You can watch The Pakistan Accelerator Lab talking about theirs.

After a few weeks back at work in their own countries, we look to see how teams are getting on applying these principles in the real world, as they undertake their initial activities.

Increasing the diversity of the people you involve and the opinions that are listened to

In line with our first collective intelligence design principle, many of the labs, have kicked-off their work by bringing together people with different experiences and perspectives to explore an issue together. The issue mapping tool in the Collective Intelligence Playbook has proven particularly popular as a starting point for this. The Zimbabwe lab, for example, started by convening Harare City Council, government representatives, street vendor associations and street vendors themselves to discuss challenges and opportunities related to informal street trading. Recognising the need to broaden the diversity of perspectives further, the team then repeated the exercise with different groups in Mutare, Gweru and Bulawayo.

It sounds simple, but development organisations often omit to follow this basic principle in the way they explore, plan and implement interventions- despite research that shows diverse groups will often outperform groups of like-minded experts and the brightest individuals.

Enabling people to contribute their views and ideas independently and freely.

We all know that meetings and group discussions can sometimes be spectacularly unproductive. Even if you’ve managed to convene a diverse group, it’s not unusual for it to be dominated by the most important person in the room, or the loudest. And biases such as conformity bias (also known as group-think), confirmation bias (rejecting information that doesn’t fit with existing views) and anchoring bias (jumping to conclusions based on an impression formed early on) can really undermine the effectiveness and intelligence of groups. When we need people to work together to tackle complex issues like the Sustainable Development Goals, this becomes an important problem.

Mindful of this, the Vietnam Accelerator Lab have been using more participatory processes in the meetings they’ve been running with people all over the country, to ensure all voices get heard. They’ve been using formats such as Open Space Technology and World Cafes as well as tools like Sli-do to democratically select the best solutions. These are low tech and simple solutions to harness more collective intelligence, and miles away from the mainstay of powerpoint presentations, official speeches and board room meeting.

people discussing around a table

Prototype of one of the Collective Intelligence Design tools in action, during the second bootcamp in Kigali.

Integrating different types of data to unlock fresh insights

The emerging variety of ‘ground truth’ and novel data sources can help us build better models of the world, and increase our understanding of the dynamics of complex problems.

Demonstrating this, Serbia’s Accelerator Lab has taken a significant stride towards increasing understanding of outward migration from Serbia by using LinkedIN data. They are also planning to look into other sources of data including mobile phone data and satellite data.

For institutions that usually design interventions based on official data - which can often be several years old and lacking in granularity - the collective intelligence design principle of integrating new sources of insight offers the potential of improving both the timeliness and appropriateness of response.

Being citizen-centred: data empowerment, not data extraction

Our fourth principle for collective intelligence design is in many ways the most important. We want UNDP’s Accelerator Labs to start with the problems that matter to people and to work with people as agents of change - not passive beneficiaries or sources of data to be extracted from. The Sustainable Development Goals will only be achieved if we mobilise the talents, assets and intelligence of citizens alongside the work of governments and agencies.

UNDP’s Accelerator Lab in Ukraine is on the right track here. They’ve already identified a burgeoning civic movement around urban renewal linked to existing successful civic crowdfunding initiatives. They’re now exploring how they might support these activities through providing legal and governance infrastructures that enables these citizen-driven initiatives to flourish further. Providing new forms of public goods or ‘commons’ like this is a potentially critical role in helping to accelerate the SDGs. This is why opening up data and technology for communities to use is a core value we hope the Accelerator Labs will embed in their own collective intelligence projects.

To help the Accelerator Labs apply collective intelligence design principles in practice - and with the longer-term ambition of designing of collective intelligence projects - Nesta with UNDP has created a Collective Intelligence Design Playbook. It contains a variety of accessible and easy-to-use tools that build on the design principles. Designing and implementing a whole collective intelligence project is a relatively advanced level of practice, and this will take time. And so a key lesson has been the importance of having simple tools like the issues map that enable the Accelerator Labs to start applying collective intelligence principles straightaway in how they work with partners and stakeholders.

The Pakistan and Egypt Accelerator Labs have already started running workshops sharing some of the tools with their wider stakeholders. And the Sahel Alliance has been using the tools to tap into the collective intelligence of ministers, development actors and officials from the region to address shared challenges in the Liptako-Gourma Region.

You can download, hack, use and feedback on the Playbook too.

How are the labs planning to use collective intelligence next?

The Mexico Accelerator Lab will be using collective intelligence to prevent environment stress, Palestine to improve access to safe drinking water, Uganda to address deforestation, Sudan to reduce youth unemployment, Ukraine and Malaysia will be tackling challenges linked to urbanisation and Vietnam will be exploring how to improve waste management.


Kathy Peach

Kathy Peach

Kathy Peach

Director of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

The Centre for Collective Intelligence Design explores how human and machine intelligence can be combined to develop innovative solutions to social challenges

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