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.

Call for ideas

Information for applicants

Collective intelligence has played a key role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly four million members of the British public have helped scientists to monitor COVID symptoms in real-time; researchers engaged crowd forecasters to fill gaps in machine learning models of how the virus might spread; citizens collaborated with frontline workers to design and produce cheap testing kits, PPE and medical equipment, and even develop new treatments; and communities crowdsourced information on mask availability, pharmacy opening hours and more.

These efforts demonstrated the power of distributed intelligence to meet urgent data, knowledge and skills gaps, and the ability of the crowd to organise for pandemic response in a more devolved way.

We face the daunting challenge of rebuilding after the worst economic contraction on record, with society’s fault lines and inequalities more visible than ever. The virus has not yet gone away, but at the same time, another crisis - the climate emergency - is looming over our shoulders. As we begin to think about the long-term implications and recovery from COVID-19, we have an opportunity to grow back better together, in a way that is beneficial for both people and the planet.

Our first round of collective intelligence experiments showed what could be possible if we get the relationship between AI and crowd intelligence right. Building on our report ‘The Future of Minds and Machines’, we want to support more real-world experimentation with novel methods that augment crowd intelligence through AI.

We are now calling for innovative ideas which are designed to help create more equitable and sustainable futures as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We want to fund practical experiments that use novel combinations of AI and crowd intelligence. Our report ‘The Future of Minds and Machines’ sets out an emerging framework for how these complementary sources of intelligence can work together.

The experiments must test innovative solutions that could help create more equitable and sustainable futures as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. They should address pressing or emerging social and environmental issues such as reducing carbon emissions, preventing long-term unemployment, closing the school readiness and achievement gaps for disadvantaged children, and tackling health inequalities. Proposals should clearly explain the hypotheses that will be tested through the experiment, how this will be done, and how it will generate practical knowledge and generalisable insights.

UK- incorporated organisations will be able to apply for grants of up to £30,000 each.

Including diverse people and perspectives is a key principle of collective intelligence design. But too often participation - whether in digital democracy or citizen science projects - can still be dominated by the usual suspects, and fail to include more marginalised communities. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities, the structural racism highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, and the discriminating effects of emerging technology and biased data, means we must continue to push for more collective intelligence initiatives that genuinely address diversity and inclusion. The collective intelligence experiments we fund should demonstrate how they will address this issue.

Insights and recommendations from the funded experiments will be collated and published by Nesta to inform and advance the field of collective intelligence design.

We can only fund projects that advance Nesta’s charitable objects for public benefit.

In addition to funding of up to £30,000, we can also support the selected teams in other ways. We may:

  • Organise conferences, webinars, or workshops to provide a forum to discuss experiments and findings with other grantees and a broader community of collective intelligence practitioners and academics
  • Make Nesta’s collective intelligence team available to provide research support to help ensure experiments are appropriately designed and carried out
  • Provide matching support, helping to identify and connect individuals and organisations who can contribute to the experiments
  • Promote the sharing of the findings through different media and social media channels and translate them for a range of audiences.

We welcome applications from incorporated organisations based anywhere in the UK. We will not fund individuals. Partner organisations do not have to be registered in the UK, but the experiment will need to address UK specific challenges.

We particularly welcome joint applications between academic institutions and NGOs, local authorities or companies. We want to ensure cutting-edge methods, technology and data expertise are applied to real-world problem-solving, and that experiments are well-designed and rigorous.

We want to support all interested organisations in finding potential partners with whom they can further develop their ideas before applying. For more information on how we will do this, please scroll down to the section on ‘How should I apply?’.

To be considered, submitted experiment ideas must:

  • Make use of artificial intelligence to enhance or augment the collective intelligence of large groups of people.
  • Address current and emerging issues in the UK, including reducing carbon emissions, tackling unemployment, reducing health inequalities, as well as closing the school readiness and education attainment gaps for disadvantaged children.
  • Be a practical collective intelligence experiment with a clear hypothesis
  • Demonstrate that your experiment will generate actionable insights for collective intelligence practitioners and have public benefit.
  • Be made by legally incorporated organisations registered in the United Kingdom.

We are not able to support ideas that:

  • Are likely to increase inequality or exclusion, or otherwise have a harmful or detrimental effect on individuals.
  • Are not likely to be of public benefit. We cannot support ideas that are solely or predominantly for the personal or private financial benefit of an individual or organisation.
  • Are from an individual. You must be an incorporated organisation in the UK to be eligible for this funding.
  • Are requests for projects or core funding, rather than experiments.

Phase 1 - submitting an expression of interest (EOI) and diversity monitoring form

The EOI is now open. Please also complete our diversity monitoring form (this is anonymous and separate from the EOI). You will need to submit your EOI by Wednesday, 4th of November 2020, 12pm GMT (UK time).

By submitting your EOI you confirm you accept the terms and conditions and privacy statement. Please therefore make sure that you have read and understood these before submitting your EOI.

Optional - Webinars: ‘Ask me anything’

We will be holding two one-hour-long webinars where you will be able to ask any questions related to the application form, the process, or any other questions you have about the grants programme. The first webinar took place on Wednesday, the 16th of September 2020 at 3pm UK time.

The second webinar will take place on Thursday, 24 September 2020 at 1pm UK time. If you would like to join, please register in advance.

Optional - Support in finding suitable a partner organisation

We especially encourage joint applications by academic institutions and NGOs or public institutions to ensure that experiments are cutting edge, rigorous and carried out in a real-world context.

We would like to provide a channel for interested applicants to find partners they can develop their idea with and apply with. We will do this by listing interested parties in an online document which will be shared with others also looking for partners. If you are still looking for an experiment partner and would like your idea or your challenge to be listed, please fill in this short google form. Please note you don’t have to share fully-formed ideas, initial thoughts are fine. Once you fill in the form you will be provided with the link to the list, which will automatically update whenever someone adds a new idea through the form. Please see our privacy statement to find out how your personal information will be used for this purpose.

Phase 2 – shortlisting and video calls

Nesta will score all proposals based on the selection criteria (see below) and create a shortlist of ideas with the greatest potential. We will invite shortlisted applicants to a video call to give you feedback on your proposal and work on your idea together. The aim of this is to support development of the shortlisted ideas, explore any outstanding questions and concerns raised during the review process, and to ensure the proposals are adequately framed as collective intelligence experiments.

We will share the final application form ahead of this call so that shortlisted applicants can use the call to ask any questions they may have.

Phase 3 - final and advisory group feedback

Shortlisted candidates will then be invited to submit full applications. The final proposals will initially be reviewed by one or more relevant members of an external advisory group and experts from other relevant Nesta teams to help us assess the applications.

We will then score proposals based on the selection criteria, taking into account the input from the external advisory group and Nesta experts. Final decisions about funding will be made by the team at the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design.

We will update the website about the advisory group members once they have been confirmed.

Deadline for submitting your EOI for the collective intelligence grants is on Wednesday, 4th of November 2020, 12pm GMT (UK time).

  • Webinar I - Q&A webinar (register here) Wednesday, 16 Sep 2020
  • Webinar II - Q&A webinar (register here) Thursday, 24 Sep 2020
  • Deadline for EOIs - Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020
  • Applicants will be contacted - Early Dec 2020
  • Interviews with shortlisted candidates Early - mid Jan 2021
  • Deadline for final applications - Friday, 29 Jan 2021
  • Final selection of experiments - Feb 2021
  • All experiments completed - Dec 2021

We expect experiments to take a maximum of 9 months to complete from the awarding of the grant.

  • How clearly the idea is articulated as a collective intelligence experiment with a testable ‘if… then….’ hypothesis(es).
  • The methodological appropriateness and feasibility of the experiment.
  • The novelty and innovativeness of the idea - how well it advances the application or method of AI-enabled collective intelligence.
  • Demonstrable real-world application: the likelihood that the experiment will create new insights for practitioners seeking to apply collective intelligence to contribute to the UK’s post-Coronavirus sustainable recovery.
  • The likelihood that the experiment will generate lessons that have wider applicability and can be used across different contexts than findings which are of limited use outside a narrow niche.
  • The extent to which the proposal sets out how it will promote and support participation from a genuinely diverse range of people.
  • The team: does the team and any partner organisations have the likely experience and skills to successfully carry out this experiment.
  • You must be happy to share your learning more widely - the challenges as well as your successes. The details and outcomes of your experiment will need to be made public openly as a condition of funding. You must be able to write a report in a format suitable for publication on the Nesta website.
  • You must keep accurate records of your expenditure of the grant and comply with Nesta’s monitoring requirements.
  • You must be committed to taking part in internal Nesta workshops and at least one public event.
  • We are happy to consider applications for projects that have additional funding, although all proposals should demonstrate the added value of Nesta funds and clearly show what the Nesta-funded component of the project is.  
  • Nesta is committed to evaluating the impact of its grant-making processes over the medium-term, so you should be willing to participate in a follow-up survey or informal conversation about the progress of your initiative up to three years after your application.

Ready to start your application?

Submit an expression of interest