How Collective intelligence can give democracy a vigorous shake up

4 key ideas from the Routledge Handbook of Collective Intelligence for Democracy and Governance

Routledge + Hand-collective-intelligence-democracy

On 19 June 2023, The Routledge Handbook of Collective Intelligence for Democracy and Governance was released in open access. At Smarter Together, we believe Collective Intelligence’s methods and principles can help sketch a roadmap for the renewal of democracy and smarter governance.

Our launch webinar gathered major authors of the Handbook to discuss this potential:

  • Sir Geoff Mulgan, Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London,
  • Dr Carina Antonia Hallin, Director of Collective Intelligence Research Group, IT University of Copenhagen,
  • Dr Lex Paulson, Executive Director at UM6P School of Collective Intelligence,
  • Dr Paolo Spada, Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Southampton
  • Stephen Boucher, founder of Smarter Together and CEO of Dreamocracy. Read their insights on CI’s potential below.

Citizens’ knowledge is vastly underused by our current democratic models

Governments can “think” in the sense that they can observe, analyze, predict, remember and create solutions. For Geoff Mulgan, thinking of government as a shared brain helps us understand how smart governments have managed to harness “high quantity and quality of feedback of all kinds which it uses to interpret the past and prepare for the future”. In short, crowdsourcing can produce smarter thinking for our most influential institutions: the state.

We also “don’t know what we know”. The idea of “tacit knowledge” – the sum of an individual’s subconscious knowledge, such as habits, experience, skills, emotions, intuitions and ability to sense – can be difficult to codify and make explicit, which in turn makes it difficult to communicate to others. Yet as emphasized by Carina Antonia Hallin, tacit knowledge “is an aspect of practical intelligence of all humans in everyday life, it provides insight into an important factor underlying the successful performance of real-world tasks.”

Read more:
From the knowledge society to the collective intelligence society
Collective intelligence and governance: Imagining government as a shared brain


We have a lot to learn from the past

Lex Paulson reminds us of the abrupt accelerations in our societies’ evolution, because of new technologies and how they alter power balances. Also key is our ability to tell stories about the past and invent visions for the future to act together in coordinated, smarter ways.

The historical outlier that is Athenian democracy reveals their citizens already had a firm grasp on concepts like the collective brain, cognitive diversity and the principle of lottery to ensure fair and effective representation. These ideas take form in two key institutions: the Assembly – ekklesia – and the Council – the boulé. Lex warns us that being democratic is less about relying on institutions and voting, and more about cultivating, learning, and training through a culture of democracy at large. As Doug Engelbart puts it “We need to become better at being humans.”

Are we thus “naturally” democratic, predisposed to share power and participate in public decisions? Alternatively, did our ancestors “have a knack” for participatory governance, practice it for many thousands of years, and then lose it? Taking this a step further, does the shift from egalitarian societies to elite-governed cities and states mean that evolution favors hierarchies?

Read more: 
A brief history of collective intelligence, democracy, and governance

Citizens truly want to be heard

Beyond traditional political discussions, they also want – and need – their emotions, values, and fears to be taken into account. Without structured and honest ways of listening, change becomes harder to initiate and maintain.

By including the expression of emotions, such as in citizens’ assemblies, CI methods allow for more human communication to counterbalance and keep in check what artificial intelligence brings to the table. CI broadens the scope of participation to all citizens, even for those who may not fully master political or institutional language.

This is how the Danish municipality of Slagelse scaled its deliberation efforts thanks to AI, to combine more and different citizen insights on public health. Their deliberation platform relied on an AI tool called natural language processing (NLP) to summarize and make sense of large volumes of text rapidly, meaning they could gather and combine dramatically more citizen insights and engage more people.

CI + AI: Tomorrow’s intelligence will be hybrid

Carina Antonia Hallin takes us to the place where CI and AI meet to produce deeper knowledge and a new kind of collective consciousness that emerges from human and machine minds. 

Hybrid intelligence can help us build new thinking patterns to better anticipate the societal transformations implied by AI and adapt to the coming 5th industrial revolution. Thankfully, CI can complement AI’s weaknesses by providing nuanced ethical oversight and helping to validate the vast amounts of insights generated by AI, enforcing checks and balances on big data.

Smarter governments will have to learn to tap into collective wisdom by achieving this delicate combination of both forms of intelligence.

“The future of artificial intelligence lies in the concept of hybrid intelligence, which combines the strengths of both human and machine intelligence. By leveraging the unique capabilities of each, hybrid intelligence enables us to solve problems and create solutions that would be impossible using either approach alone.”


Watch our full launch webinar:

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Handbook of Collective Intelligence for Democracy and Governance

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