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.

Collective intelligence design empowers communities to lead meaningful change. This is particularly important when it comes to issues such as climate change. From gathering essential data to understand climate shifts and their impacts, to determining priority strategies, public participation and local expertise are key in guiding climate action.

Over 12 months we collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to explore how collective intelligence can help advance climate action. Our project combined research and design:

  1. We analysed 100+ case studies from the Global South to find the current gaps and priorities for future action. Learn more in our report UNTAPPED: Collective Intelligence for Climate Action.
  2. We delivered a 12-month design studio programme, where we mentored 15 UNDP Accelerator Labs to develop new collective intelligence solutions for climate problems in the Global South.

Despite the recognition that community engagement is vital for addressing climate change, there are still very few innovation programs that place communities at the centre. The Design Studio Programme fills this gap by building on the principles of collective intelligence (CI) and our flagship Playbook for Collective Intelligence to ensure that solutions are tailored to local contexts and genuinely meet the needs of those affected by climate change.

During the programme, participants researched local climate problems and learned from the community to develop and pilot innovative solutions, adopting a ‘learning by doing’ approach. Along the way, they became confident in applying a variety of collective intelligence principles and methods, and developed their capabilities and skills on:

  • conducting research with communities
  • community mobilisation
  • working with data at scale
  • iteratively prototyping and testing ideas with communities
  • piloting with the community and elevating the learnings.

Nearly 90% of the cohort told us they’d recommend the programme to their colleagues. Below, we introduce our design methodology and examples of how the UNDP teams harnessed the power of collective intelligence to address the climate crisis.

Citizen science with smallholder snow pea farmers

Team: Guatemala UNDP Accelerator Lab
CI method: citizen-science
Action gap: data gap 

Climate change has disrupted Guatemala’s historical rainfall patterns, leaving smallholder farmers vulnerable to drought. To achieve good yields for export, farmers in Santa Maria de Jesus needed to work together and rely on smart water management.

The team collaborated with CSO Tikonel and UNDP’s Volcanoes Project to develop a citizen science initiative. Farmers use humidity and rain sensors. The data on water conditions is aggregated in a digital platform that can be accessed by both farmers, agronomists and government decision-makers. This information also enables experts to provide farmers with personalised guidance.

Read more about this case study

Participatory mapping for multi-hazard resilience

Team: Maldives UNDP Accelerator Lab
CI method: participatory mapping
Action gap: data gap

The Maldives islands are one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, making them vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent. The impacts include shoreline erosion, contaminated freshwater and impact on livelihoods (foe example, fishing and tourism).

The team worked with the local council of the Maafaru island to map their vulnerability to extreme weather. Volunteers first mapped infrastructure such as roads and buildings and then used this as a base to create a Hazard, Vulnerabilities and Capacities (HVCA) map. This is used to develop disaster management plans and share them with stakeholders. This open dataset can also be used by others to support risk modelling and loss-and-damage projections.

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Including Indigenous people in forest management

Team: Bolivia UNDP Accelerator Lab
CI method: surveys, deliberation
Action gap: diversity gap

Indigenous peoples of the northern Amazon of Bolivia are suffering deforestation, land-use change and ecosystem degradation, which impacts their livelihoods and access to resources. Despite the government's efforts, Indigenous peoples are not yet involved in making decisions about forest management.

The team prototyped a crowdsourcing process to understand the Indigenous communities’ climate adaptation needs. They held deliberative workshops with representatives of 16 Indigenous communities and municipal decision-makers. These informed a simple digital survey for participants to prioritise between different climate issues and adaptation strategies. This model of community engagement is being considered as a standard method for communities to input into the national planning cycle.

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Community early-warning system for floods

Team: Panama UNDP Accelerator Lab
CI method: crowdmapping
Action gap: data gap

Panama is suffering from recurrent floodings. The communities of Juan Diaz experience negative impacts when it comes to their livelihoods, health and mental health, as well as financial situations.

The team partnered with CogniCity to develop a community-led early warning system and better emergency response plans. The system works with the help of a chatbot within social media platforms. People interact with the chatbot to provide on-the-ground reports that are visualised on a map and shared with local residents, government agencies and first responders to guide their response during disasters.

Mapping water sources with 'community data stewards’

Team: Kenya UNDP Accelerator Lab
CI method: crowdmapping, combining datasets
Action gap: data gap

Tana River County, a vital wetland, faces frequent severe floods and droughts. This has devastating impacts on local communities dependent on the river for drinking water, irrigation and fishing. 

The team collaborated with local and national governments to develop a platform that combines data on the water infrastructure collected by 'community data stewards' with other existing datasets. The data is being used for political decision making and by citizens to advocate for water infrastructure projects.

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Overview of the Design Studio

The Climate Action Design Studio Programme was designed to support 15 UNDP Accelerator Labs in developing new collective intelligence solutions to address climate issues such as drought or sea-level rise. Over a 12-month period, the participants learned to apply methodology and processes from the CI Playbook while working closely with communities. 

The Design Studio supported participants to take a learn-by-doing approach, where they worked closely with communities to learn about climate issues, co-define the challenges, prototype and test. The result was a set of collective intelligence solutions that are embedded in the local context and meet the needs of those affected by climate change.

"This year has been one of the most remarkable for me due to this programme. The skills I have gained will serve me well into the future. It’s been deeply satisfying to hear how we’ve impacted community data stewards, students, lecturers, county and national government officials within a short time. I am certain that through our efforts, communities in Tana River County will ultimately get access to water. (...) I cannot thank you enough."

Participant feedback, Kenya team