Collective Intelligence In Climate Adaptation

Collective Intelligence in Climate Adaptation

The Global South is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and many countries are already experiencing dire consequences such as more frequent flooding, longer droughts and extreme heat. An estimated 3.3 billion people already live in places that are highly vulnerable to climate change – and this is set to grow.

The most successful adaptation initiatives help to reduce vulnerabilities and build community or ecosystem resilience in the face of a warming planet, whilst supporting sustainable development pathways. With the world off track to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, adaptation is increasingly critical.

Examples of climate adaptation initiatives:

Our analysis of collective intelligence case studies revealed that most initiatives focused primarily on climate adaptation versus climate mitigation. Given the focus of this report on the Global South which has historically lower emissions, this is not entirely surprising. 

We found examples of five collective intelligence use cases:

Addressing data gaps is often the main focus of these initiatives, specifically providing measurements about weather, different species and climate-related disasters with geographical granularity and real-time precision. Several examples share these data directly with the people involved, to address frontline doing gaps. For example, smallholder farmers with access to better data about weather and/or climate-resilient crop varieties are able to take smarter individual actions. While in cities, sharing data about the real-time spread of extreme weather events like flooding, or the risks that lead to disease outbreaks helps people take coordinated action to reduce the impact of crises. Several initiatives also demonstrate more inclusive technology development, helping to address the diversity gap. Digital technology developed together with local and Indigenous Peoples, is helping to elevate the adaptation actions taken by these groups and help them to secure funding or influence decisions.

Below is a summary overview of the four climate adaptation areas where most current collective intelligence practice is concentrated alongside the key methods and climate action gaps that are addressed. These are described in detail in the text that follows.

IPCC adaptation categories enabled by collective intelligence

Main collective intelligence methods being used

Main climate action gaps being addressed

Improved cropland management


Citizen science and open repositories for climate resilient crops

Peer exchange for climate smart agriculture

Combining sensor data and citizen-generated data for intelligent networked actions 

  • Data gaps on local weather or growing conditions
  • Distance gap around experiments that happen at small scale and in isolation
  • Doing gap around persistence of ineffective farming practices ill-suited to changes in climate
  • Diversity gap from failing to tap into and share on-the-ground farmer expertise

Biodiversity management

Participatory sensing for biodiversity monitoring in hard-to-reach locations

Citizen science to scale and fast track biodiversity data collection

Crowdsourcing Indigenous knowledge to identify rare biodiversity events 

  • Data gaps about species distribution, ecological interactions and effectiveness of management measures

Disaster risk management

Combining citizen-generated data with official data or sensor data

Crowdsourcing data and collaborative modeling to improve scientific models of flood risks

  • Data gap around real-time, localized data about climate-related disasters
  • Doing gap from poor coordination and ineffective targeting of resources during disaster response

Health and health systems adaptation

Citizen science for disease surveillance and management

Combining citizen-generated data and existing datasets to model disease outbreaks

Participatory sensing to measure extreme heat in cities

Open innovation for inclusive solutions to extreme heat

  • Data gaps on impact of health interventions and on accuracy of modeling
  • Doing gap where communities depend on local government for action
  • Diversity gap from solutions being provided by a narrow pool of innovators who are removed from the problem


It is increasingly recognized that adaptation needs to happen at the local level to ensure long-term success, but most adaptation planning so far has been carried out at the national or international level. The collective intelligence initiatives described below are, on paper, one way of bridging local action and national planning.

71 case studies out of 106.