Invest in collective intelligence for climate decisions and action

Invest in collective intelligence for climate decisions and action

Decisions around climate policy are necessarily fraught, and this report demonstrates that public deliberation on climate action with tangible economic and social commitments by decision makers is still rare. To date, much emphasis has been placed on developing “miracle” technologies that will solve climate change. This report calls for attention to the harder problems – how to bring people together to identify the pathways for sustainable and equitable transitions, while overcoming a lack of political willpower.

Technology and tools to support collective intelligence processes from deliberation to data collection are proliferating but few of these tools are developed with low-resource contexts in mind. Many tools also fail to follow basic principles of human-centered design, making them difficult to use and understand by non-specialists. The biggest gaps in this space include tools that support large-scale deliberation and collective decision-making, tools for monitoring impact and tools that bridge the gap between data collection and action. Funding should encourage the creation of open source and accessible tools with plans for their long-term maintenance.

Some collective intelligence initiatives try to increase their impact on decision-making by contributing directly to decisions perceived by the authorities as high priority, for example because they are mandated by an international agreement or a national law. This is the case of initiatives of the UNDP Accelerator Labs in, respectively, South Africa and Bolivia.

Develop accessible, creative tools and methods for collective decision-making

So far, institutions have failed to take advantage of collective intelligence to bring together large groups of citizens to debate the climate policy issues that matter. Even the three most established collective intelligence methods for decision-making: citizen assemblies, participatory budgeting and Deliberative Polling®, have only a limited set of tools at their disposal. And, as highlighted in Section 6 of this report, there are few examples of these approaches being used to decide on climate issues in the Global South. New tools and processes should prioritize bringing different perspectives into decision-making, such as Indigenous communities and other underrepresented groups to scale deliberation beyond the “the usual suspects.” Importantly, these tools should focus on accessibility and interpretability, something that current collective intelligence initiatives struggle with. Creative approaches like storytelling are known to reduce complexity around climate issues and are often more compatible with local practices. In the future, we may see increased use of digital tools to bring narratives to life or emerging technologies like generative AI being used to facilitate consensus policies based on suggestions submitted by groups with opposing views.

Involve more diverse groups of people in oversight of government climate commitments

Current mechanisms of reporting on climate action and impact by governments lack transparency, making it difficult to hold them accountable. Novel tools and methods that involve people in oversight of climate commitments or make it easier for institutions to openly report on progress themselves could help. In North Macedonia, groups of citizen scientists known as “cool heroes” are working with the UNDP Accelerator Lab to map both urban heat islands and the fresher “oases,” including parks and other green spaces, where the inhabitants of the capital, Skopje, go to escape the heat. Their data collection has surfaced that some green spaces, although contemplated by local urban plans, have been erased by urban development; this discovery is helping to support advocacy efforts. The Tracka platform in Nigeria, is another example where a social accountability tool involves citizens in monitoring spending and the delivery of basic services by local government. To date, it has tracked actions taken in almost 600 local government areas across 26 of Nigeria’s 36 states.  A key R&D opportunity is to develop new approaches that close the loop between citizen oversight and government implementation of climate-related policies. But real progress will only come if institutions and corporations commit to using these types of mechanisms to build trust with the public.

Create tools that help people take collective action to improve resilience

Most existing collective intelligence tools focus on facilitating data collection at the individual level rather than supporting people to take coordinated action based on the data. Future tools should try to close the loop to help communities take action themselves, particularly in the face of climate-related extreme weather events. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated communities’ remarkable resilience and ability to organize through digital forums to share resources and provide assistance to one another in real time. Apps like Geofarmer that support peer exchange between smallholders are currently the closest example of this in the climate context, but the majority of collective intelligence solutions are still designed for individuals and don’t offer much collaborative or cooperative functionality. AtmaGo is one tool that allows communities to share information and coordinate actions. In Indonesia it’s being used by local residents to organize mitigation activities like mangrove planting and beach cleanups. Investing in tools that consolidate and enhance distributed action through collaboration, even outside of acute crises, could help the public withstand and recover from climate related shocks more quickly. Careful design can help place the data generated by collective intelligence initiatives directly at the disposal of the people best qualified to use it. A particularly clear example of this design strategy is in citizen science projects concerning farming, like Seeds for Needs or the initiatives by the UNDP Guatemala Accelerator Lab.