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.

Using Collective Intelligence to Solve Public Problems

This report lays out a clear framework with practical advice for how public bodies can use collective intelligence techniques to tackle community challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collective intelligence uses new technology to harnesses the ideas and skills of the public. From Taiwan to Helsinki, healthcare to sustainability, the report by Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design, in partnership with The Governance Lab (The GovLab), shows good practice examples of how global leaders and public sector bodies have tapped into the collective brainpower of crowds; including what resources were involved, what level of time commitment, and what practices made it possible to solve problems more efficiently and make public services better and more inclusive.

The report argues that collective intelligence can help make our public services better and more inclusive and that it should be part of how an institution thinks about solving problems in the 21st century.

The research captures the lessons learned from pioneering public bodies around the world and distils them into practical advice and insights. Drawing out what works and what doesn’t work across a range of sectors, the report looks at how collective intelligence can help to solve problems in less costly and more effective ways than traditional approaches.

It is especially timely as public sector organisations begin to develop new ways of responding to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. At Nesta, we think that the collective intelligence of a place or community holds the key to effective recovery for many public bodies as they grapple with unprecedented change and challenge.

GoodSAM, a global platform supported by Nesta and developed in the UK, is heralded as an example to follow, driving new and improved ways of delivering vital public services. The platform recruited and managed the 750,000 NHS volunteers providing vital care to people self-isolating because of COVID-19. But despite success stories like this, many collective intelligence projects are often short-lived or fail to achieve impact as governments struggle to integrate collective intelligence in long term strategies.

Drawing on the case studies in the report, Nesta and GovLab lay out 10 key lessons for the sustained application of collective intelligence, from planning for success and using open source tools, to securing diverse sources of funding and shifting organisational cultures.

Collective Intelligence: A checklist for the public sector

Building on this original research, we have also published Collective Intelligence: A checklist for the public sector, a guide that outlines a simple checklist aimed at helping public institutions to make the most of the opportunities in collective intelligence. We recommend using it alongside The Collective Intelligence Design Playbook, which contains complementary design questions and specific resources such as worksheets and prompt cards to help public sector innovators put collective intelligence into practice.

We know collective intelligence can play a key role in combating the complex issues caused by COVID-19. Working more openly and collaboratively requires public bodies to develop new capabilities and procedures. We want to support the sector to meet this challenge.

Peter Baeck, Co-Head of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design at Nesta


Matt Ryan

Matt is a Senior Fellow of The GovLab at New York University and previously led work on collective intelligence initiatives as Deputy Chief of Staff to a South Australian Premier.

Dane Gambrell

Dane Gambrell is a researcher at The GovLab. His research focuses on governance innovation, particularly in the areas of collective intelligence and lawmaking.

Beth Simone Noveck

Beth Simone Noveck directs The Governance Lab (GovLab) and its MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance.