Who can make this happen?
The mainstreaming of collective intelligence methods into sustainable development practice will be a collective task and all major institutions have a part to play. It can build on much that is already underway – moving towards a greater acknowledgement of the role of data and digital, and how they can be targeted towards greater empowerment of citizens.
The OECD has played an important role by helping to set standards and principles for development cooperation, and monitoring spending by key partner countries. We suggest it could play a related role in establishing the protocols and standards that will be needed to underpin the shared data and knowledge infrastructures that would allow collective intelligence to be orchestrated more strategically. It could also help to build the evidence base for collective intelligence methods, and encourage their uptake by governments.
Regional development banks
The regional development banks are also set to have a vital role to play. The task for them is to make it normal for any investment plan to include a complementary strand on the organization of intelligence, including the orchestration of data, evidence and science, and feedback from grassroots insights and wisdom. This will always involve some cost, but a well-organized and shared set of resources can ensure that finance achieves greater impact. A related priority is building up capability in data and AI. These abilities are still highly concentrated in a few areas with overdependence on mainly US firms. We hope that funders can work together to build up centers of expertise, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Bank has for many years been directly involved in better ways of organizing intelligence, making use of open data and helping to synthesize knowledge. Here too we would welcome further engagement with collective intelligence methods of all kinds so that they become part of the default, or DNA, of development work, rather than being seen as separate. Finance, intelligence and impact should be thought of as a reinforcing triangle. The World Bank could also expand its support to governments to build the technical capacities and infrastructures needed to engage with new types of data.
Another important set of players are the universities, who are well placed to help curate and grow knowledge relevant to the SDGs. The bigger task is to ensure a closer alignment of academic research to SDG national priorities. In addition, universities can help students to learn to work in more collectively intelligent ways. Many universities are now using ‘challenge based’ models for tens of millions of students, helping them to earn their degrees while also working on practical problem solving in teams that draw on multiple disciplines and insights outside of academia. This educational model is being used across the EU and in other countries including China, Mexico and South Africa.
Development Assistance Committee donors and development funders
Funders have an important role to play in enabling civil society capacity to mobilize collective intelligence. They can help support the skills needed, accelerate the development of new methods and tools, and invest in strengthening open collective intelligence infrastructures as 21st-century public goods. Funders interested in accelerating the use of collective intelligence could seek short- to medium-term wins through focusing on the use cases identified in this research with more established practice and capacity (SDGs 2,3,5 and 10-16) before taking the approach to less mature areas.
As indicated many times in this report, the private sector has a significant role to play in contributing to collective intelligence, often holding data that is more comprehensive and up to date than the public sector. The Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) and mobile companies could be doing more to make it easier for development organizations and innovators to get data (and cloud services) for SDG work. So far progress has been disappointing in opening up mobile phone data, given how valuable this can be for understanding everything from economic activity and mobility to public health.
Many others have vital roles to play in advancing and influencing this agenda. The Inter-Parliamentary Union is an important influencer, particularly in relation to strengthening national statistics agencies and convincing governments to make better use of citizen-generated, and other novel, data.
Finally, the growing attention being paid to intelligence of all kinds has implications for the future organization of the UN. The strategic challenge for the UN is how to better orchestrate multiple forms of intelligence relevant to the SDGs – from science and data, to public policy evidence and emerging findings from experiments. Much is already happening, from the Humanitarian Data Exchange to the UNEP-UN-Habitat air quality monitoring platform. The key is to strike the right balance between bottom-up, country-led initiatives and ensuring better provision of some pooled common resources (knowledge, software and databases) at global and regional levels. This combination can make work on the ground easier for everyone.