Collective Crisis Intelligence

By Peter Baeck | 20 April 2020

As governments, companies and NGOs are dealing with the rapid spread and impact of the COVID-19 they are increasingly looking at ways collective intelligence can be harnessed to predict, monitor, and find solutions to the pandemic.

At its simplest, collective intelligence is the enhanced capacity created when distributed groups of people work together, often with the help of technology, to mobilise more information, ideas and insights to solve a problem. For local authorities, collective intelligence presents an opportunity to better work with citizens on collecting and sharing data on the spread and mobilising community responses to people affected by the crisis through better peer to peer support on everything from sharing food to picking up prescriptions for those in self isolation. 

But how do you best do this? Alongside the thousands of new initiatives that are rapidly emerging all over the world, ranging from how Seoul and other cities are sharing real time tracking data with citizens to how local communities are crowdsourcing support for local mutual aid initiatives around the UK, there are valuable lessons that can be learned from how collective intelligence have been used to addresses crises in the past.

The new free Collective Crisis Intelligence course from the Governance Lab at New York University tries to learn from the people and organisations who have successfully responded to a crisis before by successfully using technology to engage with a larger ‘crowd’ of volunteers. The course includes a crowdsourced set of mini-lectures which cover the basic concepts and tools to learn, analyze and implement a crowdsourced public response to crucial decision-making processes in a context of emergency.

Contributions include a course from Angela Oduor Lungati and Juliana Rotich founders of the online crisis-mapping platform Ushahidi which has been used to map everything from election violence in Kenya, medical supply chains and emergency responses during the Haiti earthquake. They outline considerations and important questions for crowdmapping projects that could used for tracking the COVID-19 crisis, and tracking where testing centers and where supplies are needed.

Sean Bonner shares lessons learned from starting Safecast, the world’s largest radiation and air quality monitoring effort by citizens, set up in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. 

Based on his experience managing the response to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia Tolbert Nyenswah covers how to do crowdsourced surveillance during a time of crisis, how to set up a data collection system and the challenges.

At Nesta  we have contributed with an introduction to crowdfunding, how it can help local causes and mutual aid initiatives raise funds and how to combine public funds with money raised from the crowd.

Other contributions show how collective intelligence methods can enable Smarter Crowdsourcing, help mobilize volunteer resources and rapidly assess evidence. You can read more about the modules on

While COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge for governments around the world, the course and wider lessons from our work on collective intelligence at Nesta highlights the many opportunities in using technology, people and data to enable a better response to the crisis.

For anyone considering developing their own project Nesta has developed the free Collective intelligence Playbook which includes case studies of best practice, design canvas, prompt cards and other activities to help you structure and stretch your thinking.

For more inspiration the Coronavirus Tech handbook, with backing from Nesta, has created a crowdsourced repository of technology lead responses to COVID-19 including everything from solutions for remote working and volunteering to medicine and care.

Peter Baeck is co-head of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design at Nesta

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