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Collective intelligence isn’t inherently new. For centuries, humans have been finding ways to aggregate disparate information. Take for example the Oxford English Dictionary, produced in the nineteenth century by thousands of volunteers who submitted words and their etymologies. In the digital age, however, such collective intelligence efforts have exploded. The recommendation engines of Netflix and Amazon influence our shopping and viewing behaviour. Crowdsourced contributions, such as Galaxy Zoo, Wikipedia, Patient Innovation, have challenged elite professional fields to open up to citizen involvement. The wisdom of the crowd is being harnessed through new abilities to share and aggregate opinions or predictions, including Unanimous AI, and Gnosis. Collective intelligence is also helping us learn faster, exemplified by Duolingo, and improving understanding of situations in real-time, as Waze and Ushahidi have shown. New tools like Loomio are facilitating group decision-making, and citizen observatories enabling cooperative community planning. Platforms such as Consul are helping change the way that policies and laws get made or, like the TrudeauMeter, enabling citizens to track politicians on their delivery of promises.

It now seems inevitable that our lives will be more interwoven with intelligent machinery that will shape, challenge, supplant, and amplify us, frequently at the same time. The question we should be asking is not whether this will happen but rather how we can shape these tools so that they shape us well, enhancing our ability to tackle the social problems that beset us.

Although there is an emerging academic discipline of collective intelligence and a field of promising practice, it is tiny compared to artificial intelligence. We want to focus more resource and build greater knowledge on the potential for innovation when human and machine intelligence is combined by working with others around the world.

As a first step, Nesta is offering grants of up to £20,000 for organisations to do this through practical experiments that will provide actionable and generalisable insights into good collective intelligence design.

What are we looking to fund?

We want to fund applied research/practical experiments that help generate evidence on the best approaches to designing and employing collective intelligence (human and machine intelligence) to solve social challenges.

Proposals should fit within the broad focus of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design, as also set out in this blog. We are especially interested in proposals from fields such as health, education/ future skills, and government innovation, but are also open to ideas that do not fit within these areas. Please note though that Nesta can only fund projects that advance our charitable objects for public benefit.

Proposals should give an indication of the problem they are looking to solve and how this will be done. Below is a list of potential areas for experimentation. ​Please note the examples are not exhaustive, so experiments looking at other areas are also welcome.

  • Increasing inclusion of citizens and public engagement in the participation of collective intelligence online platforms
  • Translating data and insights generated through collective intelligence into action
  • Harnessing collective intelligence to address the needs of underserved communities in cities or rural areas
  • How factors such as the diversity of the “crowd” (socio-economic background, gender balance, ethnicity etc) affect the outcome of the collective intelligence approach
  • Testing effective means of incentivising sustained participation in crowd-based collective intelligence
  • Piloting effective ways of translating between humans and machines involved in collective intelligence approaches e.g. improving the explainability of data/algorithms used
  • Evidence for the added value of using collective intelligence versus other approaches to address social challenges
  • Charities and public sector organisations piloting ways to increase their internal/organisational collective intelligence

The end product from the experiments should be increased understanding on how we can best design for collective intelligence and make the most of the flood of new technologies available to help with thinking and acting— technologies for watching, counting, matching, and predicting.

In addition to funding of up to £20,000, we can also support the selected teams in other ways. We may:

  • Make Nesta’s collective intelligence research team available to provide research support to ensure experiments are appropriately designed and carried out.
  • Provide matching and brokerage support, helping to generate and/or identify individuals and organisations who can contribute to the experiments.
  • 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
  • Promote the dissemination of the findings through different channels and translate them for a range of audiences.

What are the desired outcomes?

Desired outcomes for teams

  • Funded teams have increased their skills to develop and deliver their ideas
  • Funded teams have increased their knowledge to develop and deliver their ideas

Desired outcomes from experiments

  • The production of new insights on collective intelligence design (e.g., models/frameworks/features/approaches) based on evidence with general application for others to adapt, adopt, or test further

Insights and recommendations will be collated and published by Nesta to inform and advance the field of Collective Intelligence Design.

Who is this call relevant for?

This call is relevant for organisations already combining human and machine intelligence, and who want to test a variety of approaches or a new approach to better understand what works in designing/applying collective intelligence for social good.

It is also relevant for social sector organisations with strong technology skills and/or a technology partner who wants to compare different ways to harness collective intelligence to tackle an important social problem. It is also relevant for research institutions with strong applied research credentials and for companies/start-ups who would like to explore potential social benefits from existing collective intelligence ‘products’.

We welcome applications from registered organisations based anywhere in the UK or internationally. We will not fund individuals.


To be considered, submitted ideas must:

  • Be a practical experiment that will increase the evidence base on what works in designing/applying collective intelligence to tackle social problems
  • Demonstrate it will generate actionable insight for collective intelligence practitioners
  • Make use of digital technologies/methods
  • Demonstrate it is tackling a social problem in the public benefit.
  • Be made by legally incorporated organisations registered with the appropriate authority or regulator in the country of residence.

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 a registered organisation to be eligible for this funding.

How should I apply?

Phase 1 – Proposals: Submit your idea

After reading the terms and conditions, we invite you to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) by 11am on Friday 9th November.

Phase 2 – Shortlisting : attend a meeting (virtual or face to face) with Nesta staff to develop your idea

Based on the ideas submitted; Nesta will create a shortlist of ideas with greatest potential and will invite you to attend a meeting to develop them. Shortlisted applicants will meet with Nesta mentors and/or external advisors to review and work on the ideas together. The aim of this is to support development of all the shortlisted ideas. Meetings can take place either in London or by video conference.

Phase 3 – Final proposals

Those with shortlisted ideas who have attended a meeting will then be invited to submit full applications and final decisions for funding will be made by Nesta.


Deadline for submitting your expression of interest for the small grants is Friday 9th November 2018.

  • Friday 9th November 2018 - deadline for initial expression of interest
  • December 2018 - shortlisted applicants will be contacted to participate in a meeting to discuss their proposal with Nesta mentors and advisers to review and work on ideas together
  • February 2019 - submission of final, full applications
  • March 2019 - final selection of funded experiments
  • January 2020 - all experiments completed. We expect experiments to take a maximum of 10 months to complete from the awarding of the grant.

What criteria will you use to evaluate proposals?

  • Fit with the aim of the call: proposes a practical experiment that increases the evidence base on what works in designing/applying collective intelligence to address social problems
  • Likelihood of creating actionable new insights for practitioners seeking to apply collective intelligence to tackle social problems
  • Potential impact - we are more interested in proposals that generate lessons that have wider applicability and can be used across different contexts than findings which are of limited use outside a narrow niche
  • Methodological appropriateness and feasibility of the approach
  • Track record, commitment and openness to learning of the team and organisation(s) involved in the proposal

Are there any other requirements?

  • 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. We will work with you to prepare this in a format suitable for publication on the Nesta website.
  • You must demonstrate your experience of working with digital technologies and are passionate about the potential benefits of collective intelligence to tackle social problems.
  • 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.

Who do I contact if I have any more questions?

Please contact [email protected] if you have any questions relating to this small grant programme.

Next steps