Designing collective intelligence - event roundup

By Chris Burnage, Senior Marketing Executive, SAGE Ocean

With the autumnal equinox fast approaching, a mix of researchers and practitioners gathered for a day of talks, discussions and workshops centered around ‘designing collective intelligence to address social needs’. A typical autumnal morning gave way to the last afternoon of summer sunshine in London this year; a good sign for the collaborative and busy day ahead which began with reflective introductions from Nesta’s CEO, Geoff Mulgan, and SAGE Publishing’s President of Global publishing, Ziyad Marar.

Nesta launches Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Welcoming guests, Geoff Mulgan began by speaking of both the current hope and frustration around collective intelligence:

Hope that we have a collective of intelligent people pushing this forward and the data and technology to do so. Frustration that there are too many projects that are too modest in scale and are not well organised.
— Geoff Mulgan, Nesta CEO

To tackle this Mulgan spoke of the the need for the cultivation of skills, harnessing intelligence at scale, which likewise needs a community able to bridge research, and the tools needed to mobilize individuals. Therefore, Nesta announced the launch of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design to investigate these themes and explore how human and machine intelligence can be combined to make the most of our collective knowledge.

Ziyad Marar welcomed guests and expressed excitement for the day ahead; integrating collective brainpower into an action oriented approach. Marar outlined SAGE’s commitment and interest in new technologies, highlighted by the announcement of its backing of Public Editor to enable evaluation of the news at scale. SAGE has faced challenges such as interdisciplinary focus and the bridging of academia and practitioners before and as the field of collective intelligence gathers pace these issues are reemerging. Marar stated SAGE’s commitment to look at this afresh as well as using the opportunity to push the field further and faster than ever before.

Kathy Peach, Interim Head of the Centre, invited contributions from attendees to guide how the center should help shape the field, outlining some aims for the day:

1. Collectively reflect where field is at present
2. Share insights about what works (whether tacit knowledge or well-evidenced research)
3. Share ideas and priorities for advancing the field
4. Facilitate new connections and collaborations

What is the state of the field?

Leading scholars and practitioners then gave a whistle-stop tour of the field at present. Focusing on Beth Noveck’s piece, she spoke of a theme that came up throughout the day; a counterpoint to collective intelligence is mitigating ‘collective stupidity’. Noveck also addressed how institutions might have to change to integrate collective intelligence. A recent LSE Impact Blog post also pointed to the changing nature of universities.

Breakout Sessions

All attendees were excited to collaborate in the first breakout groups of the day. Attendees could sign up to 1 of 5 sessions in the morning listed below:

A. Collective intelligence for health

B. Collective intelligence for democracy

C. Collective intelligence for international development

D. Open space

E. Collective intelligence for the environment

The open space generated some really interesting discussions with one group focusing on how collective intelligence could be explored in early years education and the other on power and the limitations of the collective—how can collective intelligence extract wisdom from the story? Session E investigated transitioning data into action as well as the possible connection of different citizen science networks to help build a better picture of the existing collective intelligence projects that are ongoing.

The afternoon breakout sessions covered:

A. Translating collective intelligence into action

B. Incentivizing and sustaining citizen participation

C. Skills for collective intelligence design

D. Collective intelligence for creativity

E. Design principles for human-machine collaboration

Even when the system is simple, the interaction between humans and machines is difficult

Chris Lintott, University of Oxford, kicked off session E discussing some of the lessons learned from the Zooniverse project. These included some insightful lessons into citizen science. For example, as the project got larger, results were shown to be better when using both humans and machines. It was also important not to have machines doing work that humans find enjoyable and were actively engaging with. Even when the system is simple, the interaction between humans and machines is difficult. Participants were then encouraged to brainstorm on three questions: What do we already know? What do we need to know? The how to, what are the practical experiments we can do?

Sharing outputs and common themes

Later in the afternoon guests all came together to explore what the other sessions had explored. A valuable part of the day; it was intriguing to hear the outputs of other sessions especially for attendees from different sectors.

The what, why, and how

The evening was opened up to the wider public with lots of new faces joining for the highly anticipated panel titled: Collective Intelligence - the what, why, and how chaired by Ziyad Marar. Look out for further details on the panel over on Social Science Space.

Before some well earned imbibing and socializing began we were treated to some quick fire lightning talks by a selection of the days attendees

Miguel Arana Catania, Director of Citizen Participation of the Madrid City, grabbed everyone's attention with a lively quick fire run through of the Decide Madrid project. Check out this Nesta piece on Decide Madrid for more information.

Sam Howey Nunn, presented the fascinating work being done by Free Ice Cream, giving people access to complex subjects through play and games. You can read more about their latest project: 2030 Hive Mind here.

Nick Adams announced the launch of Public Editor, sponsored by SAGE– a Goodly Labs’ collective intelligence system organizing internet volunteers to systematically identify and label misinformation in news articles and display credibility assessments of each article. Public Editor data will be consumed by news readers as a layer of informative labels, and used by content platforms. You can read more about Public Editor here.

Collective Intelligence in action

Explore some existing projects:  

Citizen Science Center Zurich
Decide Madrid
Cosmic People