Inaugural Speech on 'Collective Intelligence for Sustainable Development'

Delivered by Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator on June 2, 2021

Your Excellency, Mr. Khalifa bin Jassem Al-Kuwari,

Dr. Jürgen Zattler,  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, the United Nations Development Programme and Nesta's Centre for Collective Intelligence Design are releasing two new reports on collective intelligence.

It comes at a time of seismic global shifts.

And a moment when an unprecedented wave of homegrown ingenuity has swept across the world.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, communities rapidly adapted, improvised and innovated to find often surprising solutions to this devastating pandemic.

That included everything from:

  • A foot-operated handwashing machine invented by a nine-year old boy in Kenya;
  • To tracking the spread of the virus via a mobile app in Cabo Verde;
  • To using the power of crowdsourcing to rapidly produce 3D-printed masks in Tanzania;
  • To new telemedicine platforms that enable doctors to provide e-consultations to patients in rural communities in countries like Pakistan and Libya;
  • To rolling-out robots in COVID-19 treatment centres to prevent the spread of infection Rwanda.

Background: Collective Intelligence

The challenge now is to sustain and scale-up this unprecedented innovation surge to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Part of the solution lies in better harnessing the intelligence distributed across local communities and organisations -- what can be termed “collective intelligence”.

It is very clear that our collective capacity to solve problems is greatly enhanced when people work together through the mobilization -- and the sharing -- of a wider range of data, ideas, and insights.

And advances in technology and data science linked to the Fourth Industrial Revolution hold the potential to tap into collective intelligence on a scale larger than ever before.

This much is clear: if we can further leverage the power of collective intelligence – it will help us to better understand complex problems and unlock new solutions to immense global challenges -- from tackling our climate emergency to boosting the protection and restoration of our planet’s precious ecosystems and biodiversity.

The Added Value of the New Reports

That is why these two reports being launched today are so significant.

They fill a “gap in knowledge” – and “connect the dots” between collective intelligence and sustainable development.

In particular, the new reports and their companion website, smartertogether.earth, analyse and compare the methods and tools employed by over 200 private and public sector organizations in this discipline.*

In doing so, they generate a much clearer vision of how collective intelligence methods –everything from Artificial Intelligence to remote sensing -- can be used to speed-up progress on the Global Goals.

Earlier today, you heard concrete examples of how collective intelligence is being employed in countries like Argentina to Ukraine to tackle lingering development challenges.

And the UNDP Accelerator Labs network has been pioneering the use of collective intelligence.

Thanks to the support of founding investors, Germany and Qatar -- the UNDP Accelerator Labs is now the world's largest and fastest learning network on sustainable development challenges.

The Labs supported over 1,700 local solutions in 2020 alone.

The “13 Stories from the UNDP Accelerator Labs” report details some of the results achieved thanks to the use of collective intelligence and digital technology. That includes, for instance:

  • Using big data to improve waste management in Lao PDR;
  • Or combining multiple datasets to tackle gender-based violence in Mexico or to identify supply trends in informal food markets in Zimbabwe.

UNDP’s award-winning Data Futures Platform is complementing such efforts. As decision-makers start to plot a course towards a green, low-carbon future, it supports data-driven decision-making by providing cutting-edge analyses, visualizations, and simulations.

Closing

In closing -- the hands-on experience of the United Nations in every corner of the world since the pandemic hit has acutely demonstrated how local communities possess the bright ideas and capacity to tackle both local and global, existential challenges.

We now need to fully harness the knowledge of the almost eight billion people on the planet -- and disseminate their often-unexpected solutions and innovative approaches.

As this new research illustrates, the UNDP Accelerator Labs network will not only advance the global conversation on the use of collective intelligence – but it is also providing concrete tools for decision-makers to put the approach into practice to achieve tangible, sustainable results for communities across the globe.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We count on your support to further embed and mainstream new and innovative approaches such as collective intelligence across the sustainable development system.

In this Decade of Action for the SDGs, we need to not only keep pace with the rapid change that is now happening -- but to get ahead of it.

In that respect, these two new reports call upon local, national, and international development practitioners to make increased use of real-time knowledge creation, collective action, and evidence-driven decision-making.

Indeed, they are a signpost on our path to building the future of development.

Ultimately, I believe that collective intelligence will serve as a vital instrument to build forward better from this pandemic -- towards a greener, more sustainable future for both people and planet.

Thank you.  

END

 

* The report discovered 15 methods that are being used most frequently, and often in combination -- from crowdsourcing to web scraping and remote sensing. We also found that Artificial Intelligence is also increasingly being used in parallel, mainly to increase the speed and efficiency of data processing at scale. What these collective intelligence methods have in common is the use of technology to mobilize, make sense of, or augment the observations, insights, and ideas of large numbers of people.

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