10 years out: Can the hive mind still save us?

Copyright: Photo by Hans M on Unsplash

Born from Collective Intelligence: the Sustainable Development Goals

When the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, they were born out of collective intelligence. The world’s largest crowdsourcing of development needs fed into inter-governmental commitments to rebalance a focus on economic growth towards social inclusion and environmental protection. By September 2015 when the gavel fell among 193 UN Member States, 1 out of every 1000 people on the planet had weighed in with their priorities for the future. And when government representatives made the final call, the input of people around the world mattered. Many of these aspirations took the form of goals and time-bound targets.

Collective Intelligence: now more than ever?

Distributed solutions were needed before COVID-19, and looking forward, it’s a now-more-than-ever situation. While the full impact of the pandemic and its ripple effects on peoples’ wellbeing isn’t yet fully visible in statistics, the general consensus is that the pandemic has massively disrupted progress towards sustainable development. For the first time in decades, global poverty rates are increasing. Vaccine coverage may drop to 1990’s levels. As Bill & Melinda Gates aptly put it: “We lost 25 years in 25 weeks.” And the UN says it isn’t a given that the great pause slowed the global material footprint enough in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Straight talk: the Sustainable Development Goals are off track.

Leaders who tap into distributed action could become the new normal.

On the subject of upsides…Did COVID response show us what authentic collaboration between people and governments looks like? In the nowtimes, smart public sector innovators are a growing group. And they are investing in their national innovation ecosystems as part of their COVID response and recovery efforts. This is a good thing. And it should become standard practice.

The crowd alone is not enough.

Maybe, but we have to acknowledge that committed networks on their own won’t get us out of this mess. By May, half of the UNDP Accelerator Labs were planning or had convened hackathons in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. While they bring new energy to problems and open the door for citizens to solve problems, a rethink on how best to use them seems due.

Watch this space: what collective intelligence can (and cannot) do

One could dream of a research agenda in looking at this phenomenon globally… (Anyone up for any of these?)

  • What steps can governments take to keep these networks of solutions drivers active beyond the pandemic?
  • Which parts of the sustainable development agenda should be driven by the crowds and machines co-evolving together?
  • And fundamentally, what do we know about public policy decisions that are informed by this kind of distributed intelligence?

Building the world’s largest learning network around development challenges. 91 Labs in 115 countries. http://acceleratorlabs.undp.org/