Tags: Collective Intelligence, Public engagement and partnerships
More and more, the UN is adopting innovative approaches to engage citizens in providing opinion, guidance, and experience to inform programme design and development. This includes finding new ways to reach out to under-represented groups; using mobile technology to support broader outreach; and new ways to support richer engagement – for example using storytelling or video.
Why do we need collective intelligence?
Collective intelligence is essential for building UN programmes that genuinely reflect and respond to citizens’ own needs, priorities, and ideas about development. It forms a key part of creating a UN which is accountable to citizens. It can be essential for ensuring that marginalized groups have opportunities to influence development policy.
What we’ve done?
UN DOCO has been supporting innovation in collective intelligence undertaken by UN country teams in several countries. This work recognizes the strengths of different UN agencies: for example, UNICEF has experience in engaging with children and young people; ILO can bring perspectives from workers and employers; UNHCR from refugees, and so on. By using coordination to bring the engagement efforts of different UN agencies together we can create a much richer picture of what citizens think and want.
In Ghana, for example the UN country team worked together to gather stories and insights from under-age sex workers, intravenous drug users, and LGBTI people. These are groups who seldom have access to decision makers, and who face greater risks and challenges in achieving their human rights. This process changed UN thinking about what interventions might be appropriate for such groups.
In Cameroon, the UN country team used mobile technology to engage with large numbers of citizens as part of the process of developing the UN country plan, or UNDAF. By combining mobile outreach and online discussions with traditional forms of awareness-raising and engagement, the team reached more than 50,000 people. The emergence of common themes helped to set UNDAF priorities.
- Experiences of broadening engagement highlight the value of allowing people to tell their own stories. These can provide crucial insights into the nature of development problems, and the potential solutions.
- Approaches need to be tailored to specific contexts and communities. Crowdsourcing approaches using mobile technology need to be blended with in-person outreach. This is essential to reach marginalized groups and to achieve a deeper level of insight.
- To foster long-term engagement, people need to understand why their contribution is useful, and how it will make a difference. There should be a plan for how results will be used to influence policy. A feedback loop should be built into any public engagement process, so that people who are giving ideas to a public sector project have an opportunity to see the results.
It will be critical in coming years to generate evidence of the impact of collective intelligence and crowdsourcing in the development space. By simply undertaking these efforts, the UN is demonstrating that it can be an outward and forward-looking institution, accountable to the people it serves. But equally important is to advance the knowledge base in how outreach and public engagement changes and improves what the UN does and how it does it.
The current state of people’s engagement is often related to their perspectives, opinions and experiences. These insights are crucial because people facing challenges up-close are more aware of the problems in their communities. How can the UN take on more than people’s perspectives?
The next frontier in collective intelligence innovations for the UN would be to establish methods and practices for crowdsourcing beyond opinions. Beyond using perception surveys to inform analyses, people can help the UN and partners make decisions on programming and budgets.