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UNTAPPED: Collective Intelligence for Climate Action

We are running out of time to take action on climate change – 2023 was the hottest year on record and 2024 temperatures are set to follow the same trend. The Global South is bearing the brunt of these impacts, exacerbating existing inequalities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has championed local solutions, especially for successful adaptation in the regions most vulnerable to the climate crisis. The evidence is clear – for climate action to succeed, it needs to involve and draw on the collective intelligence of people on the frontlines. But this is still far from the norm.

What's in the report

Through this research – carried out with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – we aimed to understand how people across the Global South use collective intelligence methods in their climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. We analysed more than 100 climate initiatives across 45 countries. Our findings illustrate the potential for combining people’s knowledge, new forms of data and digital technology – 21st-century collective intelligence – to achieve more effective, localised progress on climate change. It also points to future opportunities where collective intelligence is currently underutilised.


Three-quarters of the examples we found focus on adapting to the impacts of climate change. This takes many forms: from crowdsourcing indigenous knowledge to preserve biodiversity and participatory mapping of extreme heat, to farmer experiments with climate-resilient crops and community monitoring of diseases that spread in warmer temperatures.

Across these initiatives, collective intelligence advances climate action by bridging:

  • the data gap: mobilising citizens to generate real-time localised data, and bringing together data sets to uncover new insights.
  • the doing gap: enabling new digital technologies that get more people involved in taking climate action, and helping people monitor the follow-through of institutions.
  • the diversity gap: bringing a wider range of people and perspectives into climate processes and data collection, including Indigenous communities.

We see less evidence of using collective intelligence to involve people in climate decisions, which is not unique to the Global South. Most climate decisions are still being made behind closed doors or at global forums like COP at a distance from the public. In this report, we highlight four collective intelligence opportunities that can change this status quo: public participation in climate policy, public oversight and monitoring to improve accountability, participatory modelling to improve climate policy, and tackling mis- and dis-information with crowdsourcing.

These initiatives have the potential to close two additional gaps:

  • the distance gap: fostering a two-way exchange between scientists and local communities – enhancing scientific understanding and public knowledge, as well as creating mutual trust.
  • the decision-making gap: soliciting contributions from a diverse range of people, creating a collective understanding of a problem, and supporting decision-making processes through structured deliberation.


Collective intelligence enabled by new digital technologies can amplify local participation and take this to scale. To make the most of this governments, practitioners, funders and civil society need to move beyond the rhetoric of localisation and act.

Governments and funders need to:

  • use collective intelligence to engage the public in climate decisions. This includes experimenting with new approaches to public engagement with climate policy at national and local levels
  • invest in more ambitious programmes that:
    • build digital infrastructure to support using citizen data for climate issues such as disaster response, health surveillance and biodiversity monitoring
    • move beyond data collection and involve people in acting on the insights
    • develop multifunctional collective intelligence tools that can be used across different issues and geographies.

Practitioners can help make the case by:

  • drawing on the case studies, evidence and design tactics in the report to develop more impactful climate initiatives that sustain participation and use CI to fill known evidence and decision gaps.

We’re putting these insights to practical use by developing new tools for public engagement in climate policy and supporting organisations like the UNDP to design new collective intelligence solutions for climate action.


Aleks Berditchevskaia

Aleks Berditchevskaia

Aleks Berditchevskaia

Principal Researcher, Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Aleks Berditchevskaia is the Principal Researcher at Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design.

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Alexandra Albert

Alexandra Albert

Alexandra Albert

Senior Researcher, Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Alexandra is a Senior Researcher, leading work on citizen science and supporting wider research into other collective intelligence such as participatory AI.

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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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Gina Lucarelli

Gina is the Team Leader for the United Nations Development Programme Accelerator Lab Network. She's been working on human rights and development work for 20 years.

Alberto Cottica

Alberto is an economist and network scientist, an expert on online collaboration, collective intelligence and participatory, networked organisation.