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Background

Collective intelligence isn’t inherently new. For centuries, humans have been finding ways to work together and bring together 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. Advances in digital technologies, including AI, are enabling us to

  • mobilise human intelligence in new ways and at greater scale by connecting more of us together;
  • creating new sources of data (such as satellite imagery or sensor data) to unlock fresh insights in how our world and our bodies work; and
  • enhance our capabilities through machine intelligence that can perform some of the functions of intelligence that humans are not so good at, such as processing large volumes of data to make predictions.

Our analysis of hundreds of examples of collective intelligence has shown that it is particularly useful for:

Understanding problems through drawing on novel data or combining existing data sets to generate insights, facts, and information to understand a situation better. Examples of this are PetaBencana, a platform that crowdsources reports of flooding in Jakarta from citizens on Twitter to create real-time flood maps used by citizens, or Haze Gazer, a crisis analysis and visualisation tool that provides real-time situational information from various data sources to enhance disaster management efforts.

Finding potential solutions to a problem either through tapping into a wider range of innovators to generate new approaches or seeking out tested solutions from elsewhere. Examples of this are Wefarm, a free SMS peer-to-peer information service for small-scale farmers in East Africa, or BlockByBlock, where citizens can co-create their community space. Tools like AllOurIdeas allow citizens to contribute their ideas about what their city should look like.

Deciding and acting on a problem collectively by bringing together a diverse range of people and relevant actors who provide collaborative input, discuss, and prioritise issues and solutions. An example of this is vTaiwan, a hybrid online and offline consultation process to crowdsource citizen priorities and ideas and support meaningful discussion. Tools like Loomio and Pol.is are enabling online group decision-making.

Learning and adapting through crowdsourcing information and creating shared repositories of knowledge. Examples include Public Lab’s work to hold BP accountable for the Gulf oil spill clear-up through citizen monitoring, and the Human Diagnosis Project which crowdsources and ranks diagnostic advice from thousands of doctors to provide ongoing training for health professionals and medical students.

Although the field of collective intelligence is growing, both as an academic discipline and in practice, it is tiny compared to artificial intelligence. We want to focus more resources on collective intelligence, because solving our global challenges requires us to get smarter at working together, and mobilised distributed intelligence, not just by making smarter machines alone.

This year, we are expanding the total funding available for experiments in collective intelligence design to £500,000 with our co-funders the Wellcome Trust, Cloudera Foundation, and the Omidyar Network. Organisations will be able to apply for grants of up to £30,000 each to carry out practical experiments that provide actionable and generalisable insights.

What are we looking to fund?

We want to fund practical experiments that help generate evidence on the best approaches to designing and employing collective intelligence to solve social challenges. In this round, we will fund approximately 16 experiments with grants of up to £30,000 each. Five of these will focus specifically on the field of health.

We are especially interested in proposals related to education, the future of work, government innovation and health. We are also open to ideas that do not fit within these areas, such as the environment and climate change, urban development, or international development. Please note though that we can only fund projects that advance Nesta’s charitable objects for public benefit.

Proposals should be able to clearly explain the hypothesis that they want to test 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 encouraged.

  • Generate evidence for the added value of using collective intelligence versus other approaches to address social challenges
  • Testing ways in which participation in collective intelligence initiatives might help reduce social or political polarisation
  • Testing how the involvement in, or use of, collective intelligence might increase the ability of individuals, groups or organisations to deal with uncertainty or change feelings of agency
  • Testing effective ways in which collective intelligence could reduce bias in understanding and decision-making
  • Testing different strategies for accelerating collective memory and learning
  • Improving the application of existing technologies to advance collaboration or coordination to address complex social issues
  • Testing strategies to increase diversity of the crowd in collective intelligence projects
  • Harnessing collective intelligence to address the needs of underserved or marginalised communities, for example in cities or rural areas
  • Testing how factors such as the diversity of the “crowd” (socio-economic background, gender balance, ethnicity etc) affect the outcome of the collective intelligence approach
  • Piloting ways of translating between humans and machines involved in collective intelligence approaches, e.g. improving the explainability of data/algorithms used
  • Testing different ways in which charities and public sector organisations can tap into distributed collective intelligence
  • Generating insight on the connection between artistic or innovative approaches, embodied intelligence and collective intelligence
  • Evaluating the impact of methods that use collective intelligence in participatory futures - techniques that systematically engage people to imagine and create more sustainable, inclusive futures

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 new technologies available to help with thinking and acting - technologies for watching, counting, matching, and predicting.

Additional requirements for health grants funded by Wellcome Trust

Wellcome Trust is partnering with Nesta in this call for ideas to support five experiments that explore how collective intelligence can support public engagement with health research. Areas of experimentation that are of interest for these grants include

  • Using collective intelligence to empower more people to play a part in the generation of knowledge about health
  • Testing ways in which collective intelligence can help highlight developing and established trends in intelligence about health
  • Testing collective intelligence based approaches to complement and drive collective impact in addressing complex health challenges
  • Harnessing collective intelligence to help fill knowledge gaps about social and health inequalities
  • Mobilising collective intelligence to absorb and/or generate behavioural insights into people’s decision-making in relation to health issues

To be eligible for this funding, proposals will need to show a clear overlap between scientific research, health, and the public.

Please note that you will be asked to indicate in the application form whether you’re applying for one of the health-specific grants.

Non-financial support

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 research 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.

What are the desired outcomes?

The experiments should generate 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 or 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 aim to fund a diverse community of grantees and are particularly keen to support experiments from minority-serving institutions and from organisations that have demonstrated commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. We will not fund individuals.

Eligibility

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 and has 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

We invite you to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) form by Friday, 25th of October 2019, 11am GMT (UK time). In this expression of interest you will be asked to indicate whether you wish to apply for a health grant or a general collective intelligence grant.

Phase 2 – Shortlisting: video call with Nesta staff to further develop your idea

Based on the ideas submitted, Nesta will create a shortlist of ideas with greatest potential. If deemed necessary, we will invite shortlisted applicants to a video call to give you feedback on the proposals and review and work on their ideas 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.

Phase 3 – Final proposals

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.

Timing

Deadline for submitting your expression of interest for the small grants is Friday, 25th October 2019, 11am GMT (UK time).

  • Deadline for initial expression of interest Friday, 25th October 2019
  • Shortlisted applicants will be contacted November 2019
  • Conversations with shortlisted candidates Early December 2019
  • Deadline for submission of final, full applications Tuesday, 7th of January 2020
  • Final selection of funded experiments Early February
  • All experiments completed December 2020.

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
  • Novelty and innovativeness of the idea
  • 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 have a look at our FAQs if you have any questions relating to this small grant programme. If your question is not answered there, please contact [email protected].