Why does sustainable development need collective intelligence?
By all counts, with just 10 years to go, progress towards the Global Goals has not shown the speed or scale of ambition necessary to achieve them. In this section, we set out the main challenges and why collective intelligence holds the key to success.
Converging crises and increasing uncertainty
Today, the world faces converging crises and rising uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves around the world, precipitating an economic crisis and potentially the worst global recession in eight decades. Meanwhile, risks posed by the looming climate and environmental emergency continue to grow.
Progress is too slow, and being reversed
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, global progress towards the SDGs had stalled and, in some cases, reversed. The most recent High-level Political Forum put it bluntly saying ‘acceleration is needed in many areas’. The UN now estimates that the pandemic will turn back the clock on decades of progress, pushing 71 million people into extreme poverty in 2020.
Growing complexity of challenges
The impact of automation and rapid urbanization are just some of the complex issues development policy makers are grappling with for which no ‘best practice’ solutions exist and views are divided.
Persistent data gaps
Development policy makers still struggle to access useful data to inform decision making. A 2018 UN survey, for example, found that in Africa and Asia, on average, data for only 20 per cent of SDG indicators was available. This gap is likely to widen as a result of COVID-19, with 97 per cent of national statistics offices in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to fulfil international reporting requirements during the pandemic. Traditional data collection methods also often fail to keep up with change – for example, not capturing recent aspects of urban poverty. And the continued lack of data disaggregated by gender means that many of the issues women face go uncounted, undermining the promise to ‘leave no one behind’.
Recognition of the need for new approaches to development
This combination of increasing complexity and lagging progress means that the approaches that have characterized much development practice (i.e. top-down and rigidly focused on narrowly-defined goals) may be particularly unsuitable. The OECD also suggests that rather than following a singular paradigm or pathway, development strategies need to be more context-specific, and more participatory, place-based, multisectoral and multilateral –with more focus on experimentation and mutual learning. It also calls for a rethinking of international cooperation beyond financial aid to foster more effective exchanges of social and human capital.
Collective intelligence can help
The starting point for collective intelligence for the SDGs is simple: what are the resources of intelligence that can be brought together and shared? These resources will range from localized insights and inventions from people on the ground, to data of all kinds (whether gathered by satellites or mobile phone companies), to scientific knowledge and evidence.