On 25th February 2019, we held The Crowd’s first event of 2019: Harnessing collective intelligence to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals. The event brought together 130 sustainability professionals at The Royal Institute of British Architects in London to discuss how business leaders can think and act collectively with governments and civil society to address the world’s most pressing problems.

The event commenced with inspirational talks and provocations from Nesta’s Geoff Mulgan, the UNDP’s Gina Lucarelli, Monitor Deloitte’s Sam Baker and Aviva’s Steve Waygood.

The untapped potential of machine and human intelligence

Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Nesta, gave a rousing introduction on the theory and potential of ‘collective intelligence’. Whilst developments in AI, data, and machine learning have the potential to further humanity’s capability to solve problems, he said that collective human intelligence is where the biggest gains can be won. From mapping job opportunities to improving air quality, the tools and approaches needed to solve pressing problems are not being utilized to their full potential, but one day will seem like common sense.

Collective approaches to sustainable development

Speaking from her experience of establishing the UNDP’s Accelerator Lab Network, Gina Lucarelli noted that sustainable development requires a coordinated approach to changing the actions of 8 billion people in a rapidly evolving world. In this context collective intelligence can enable us to better understand problems, generate better ideas, decide on solutions and oversee their execution.

Using collective intelligence to accelerate business leadership on the SDGs

Sam Baker, Partner, Monitor Deloitte, also shared his experiences with global innovators to explore the extent to which sustainable development is becoming ‘common currency’. He challenged attendees to think about how collective intelligence can accelerate progress, inspire culture change within organisations, and bring about greater transparency around business implementation of the SDGs.

Sharing data and intelligence to empower citizens

Steve Waygood, Aviva’s Chief Responsible Investment Officer, described the SDGs as 17 market failures but noted the potential of data sharing around potential solutions. Drawing upon the example of the World Benchmarking Alliance’s development of ‘public league tables’, Steve discussed the ways in which citizens could be empowered to use their money for social and sustainable development.