How to read this report

Across the world more than 50,000 farmers are involved as citizen scientists in the Seeds for Needs project. They evaluate and share information with others about what seed varieties best grow in their local conditions and meet their needs. As climate change increases in severity and extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and heatwaves become more common, the ability of the Seeds for Needs programme to help farmers adapt and change what they plant and when based on lessons from others experiencing similar changes to their environment is more important than ever. Seeds for Needs is one of many examples that illustrate the vital role local action plays in adapting to and mitigating the impact of climate change.

In their most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), emphasized the need for more equitable and sustainable climate action driven, at least in part, by greater investment in public participation and localization. Despite plenty of rhetoric, so far, relatively few resources have been dedicated to this opportunity. UNTAPPED explores, for the first time, how different methods from crowdmapping to citizen science can help us leverage the collective intelligence of people and communities to enable better approaches to mitigation and adaptation.

The findings in this report are based primarily on analysis of examples from the Global South, where people are using approaches that combine the best of people, data and technology to address key gaps in climate action. We demonstrate an alternative trajectory for climate action, one that is shaped by the people at the frontlines of vulnerability to climate change. The approaches described make the best use of available resources, through innovative combinations of people’s knowledge and skills, localized data and, increasingly, technology – twenty-first century collective intelligence.

However, as we also find, many initiatives struggle to deliver on their full potential, often because they aren’t integrated into mainstream approaches or don’t have the attention of government and public sector officials. And while collective intelligence opens up climate action to more diverse contributions, there is poor tracking of the involvement of groups disproportionately impacted by climate change such as women, older people and those with disabilities. These are just two key challenges that need to be addressed if we are to make the most of the opportunity in collective intelligence.

The report is structured in four parts. In Climate Action Gaps, we introduce how collective intelligence approaches are helping to close five gaps in climate action, and we outline emerging applications of collective intelligence for decision making on climate. In the second section, Collective Intelligence, we map out existing opportunities for applying collective intelligence approaches to climate adaptation and mitigation. Section three, Case Studies, showcases ten collective intelligence initiatives that exemplify how collective intelligence approaches are applied to accelerate progress on climate adaptation and mitigation challenges, while the last section Advancing the Practice looks towards the future of the field and how to evolve practice. In it, we synthesize practical insights for the design of future initiatives, focusing on addressing known barriers to impact through better design, and we provide recommendations for investments that would help make the most of the as-yet-untapped potential of collective intelligence for climate action.

Six use cases

In 2021, in Smarter Together: Collective Intelligence for Sustainable Development, we published the first attempt to understand how collective intelligence design was being used to address the Sustainable Development Goals.

We found six key clusters of use cases –  practical ways in which people were using collective intelligence approaches to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. These use cases provided our departure point for this report.

We identified over 100 case studies for our core analysis of current collective intelligence initiatives for climate action (see Methodology for detail). This analysis was focused primarily on examples from the Global South to help us understand how collective intelligence could be applied in the places most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Throughout the report, we use the icons corresponding to the six use cases to organize current practice.

What is a collective intelligence use case for climate action?

A collective intelligence use case is an illustration of a practical way in which people are using collective intelligence methods to take climate action.

Illustrations of the six use cases of collective intelligence applied to climate action

New forms of accountability and governance

People participating at scale in climate-related policy processes, feeding into decision making, monitoring implementation or documenting violations.

Example method and application

A Deliberative Poll® involving members of the public is used to explore different policies for a future energy strategy and make recommendations.

Value in practice

  • Helps policy makers navigate contentious issues and increases the legitimacy of the decision.

  • Helps people build consensus on how to tackle difficult/controversial issues  where trade-offs might be needed.

Anticipating, monitoring and adapting to systemic risks

People working together to prepare for and manage climate-related disasters or epidemics.


Example method and application

Citizen science methods are used to involve the public in generating data that helps with disease surveillance or monitoring flooding for early warning systems.

Value in practice

  • The collection of distributed data allows organizations to identify emerging risks earlier and to get a better sense of micro-climate dynamics.

  • Creates more timely and local data to help people living in cities reduce risk factors associated with climate-related disease and disasters.

Real-time monitoring of the environment

People generating and using data to create evidence for more effective action to address climate change and its impacts.

Example method and application

Crowdsourcing data to monitor biodiversity and environmental conditions, or ground truth data from satellites, e.g. tree coverage.

Value in practice

  • Gives policy makers an improved ability to identify where, when and what action is needed. Creates more timely and local data that builds collective awareness and knowledge about deforestation, changes in farming conditions, violations of protected areas, droughts and floods among other environmental conditions.

  • Creates more timely and local data that builds collective awareness and knowledge about deforestation, changes in farming conditions, and violations of protected areas, droughts and floods among other environmental conditions.

Understanding and working with complex systems

People developing a shared understanding of natural ecosystems and taking coordinated actions to address climate change.

Example method and application

Using participatory modeling to support stakeholders to simulate the impact of different interventions to restore an ecosystem and make decisions together about which actions to take.

Value in practice

  • Enables a group to see “cause” and “effects” of action within ecosystems by mapping out different contributing and interconnected factors.

  • Helps different parts of the community to coordinate their contributions to mitigation or adaptation resulting in additive and emergent positive changes.

Inclusive development and technologies

People contributing to the design and development of more inclusive climate programmes and technologies.

Example method and application

Crowdsourcing data from under-represented groups to build more inclusive AI systems that help predict vulnerabilities to extreme weather events.

Value in practice

  • Reduces the potential risks and negative harms of new technologies to target groups.

  • Increases the local appropriateness and uptake of new technologies, ensuring they are more accessible.

Distributed problem solving

People collaborate to develop, find or implement climate solutions faster.

Example method and application

Peer-to-peer crowdsourcing of data, knowledge and ideas for improving agricultural yields in climate-stressed environments.

Value in practice

  • Enables the community to utilize existing skills and knowledge to take appropriate action to adapt farming practices to changes in rainfall, soil condition and other agricultural parameters.


IPCC adaptation and mitigation categories

Throughout UNTAPPED, we organize the analysis in terms of contributions of collective intelligence to climate adaptation and climate mitigation, using the definitions provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

improved cropland

IPCC Category: Climate Adaptation

Adaptation involves an analysis of the risks caused by climate change and the implementation of measures to reduce these risks. There are currently large gaps between the action taken and what is needed in many regions. Adaptation is essential to reduce harm, but to remain effective, it must go hand-in-hand with mitigation.

Climate response and system adaptation options in this report: improved cropland management, biodiversity management, disaster risk management, and health and health systems adaptation.

IPCC Category: Climate Mitigation

Climate change mitigation is achieved by limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and by enhancing activities that remove these gasses from the atmosphere. Greenhouse gasses can come from a range of sources and climate mitigation can be applied across all sectors and activities.

Climate response and system mitigation options in this report: ecosystem restoration, reforestation, afforestation/reduced conversion of forests and other ecosystems, waste minimization, reduction and management.