Introducing collective crisis intelligence


Blogpost by Annemarie Poorterman et al: “…It has been estimated that over 600,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the civil war, including tens of thousands of civilians killed in airstrike attacks. Predicting where and when strikes will occur and issuing time-critical warnings enabling civilians to seek safety is an ongoing challenge. It was this problem that motivated the development of Sentry Syria, an early warning system that alerts citizens to a possible airstrike. Sentry uses acoustic sensor data, reports from on-the-ground volunteers, and open media ‘scraping’ to detect warplanes in flight. It uses historical data and AI to validate the information from these different data sources and then issues warnings to civilians 5-10 minutes in advance of a strike via social media, TV, radio and sirens. These extra minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Sentry Syria is just one example of an emerging approach in the humanitarian response we call collective crisis intelligence (CCI). CCI methods combine the collective intelligence (CI) of local community actors (e.g. volunteer plane spotters in the case of Sentry) with a wide range of additional data sources, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics to support crisis management and reduce the devastating impacts of humanitarian emergencies….(More)”

“We do not feel safe”: A Kabul-based crisis alert app struggles to protect its own employees


Q and A with Sara Wahedi by Hajira Maryam: “Ehtesab, a Kabul-based startup, emerged out of a personal security-related incident that Sara Wahedi, a former Afghan government employee, experienced in May 2018. After witnessing a suicide bomb attack firsthand, Wahedi rushed home, where she could see militants roaming the streets from her balcony. The city was put on lockdown for 12 hours and left without electricity. No one, Wahedi said, knew when the electricity would be restored or when roads would be cleared. The authorities were of little help. 

“Since that moment, I kept pondering about the idea of accountability and information provision. I jotted down a few words in different languages for accountability, namely Dari and Pashto. That was the moment the term Ehtesab came to my mind.” 

Ehtesab means “accountability” in Dari and Pashto, and the app, formally launched in March 2020, offers streamlined security-related information, including general security updates in Kabul to its users. With real-time, crowdsourced alerts, users across the city can track bomb blasts, roadblocks, electricity outages, or other problems in locations close to them. The app, which generates push notifications about nearby security risks, is supported by 20 employees working out of the company’s Kabul office, according to Wahedi. 

Despite the company’s single-minded focus on security, the Ehtesab team was caught off-guard by the sudden collapse of the Afghan government over the weekend. “It was inevitable that there would be a significant shift in governance … but we weren’t expecting the Taliban to come in within the first eight hours of the day,” Wahedi said….(More)”.

The people’s panopticon: Open-source intelligence comes of age


The Economist: “The great hope of the 1990s and 2000s was that the internet would be a force for openness and freedom. As Stewart Brand, a pioneer of online communities, put it: “Information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.” It was not to be. Bad information often drove out good. Authoritarian states co-opted the technologies that were supposed to loosen their grip. Information was wielded as a weapon of war. Amid this disappointment one development offers cause for fresh hope: the emerging era of open-source intelligence (osint).

New sensors, from humdrum dashboard cameras to satellites that can see across the electromagnetic spectrum, are examining the planet and its people as never before. The information they collect is becoming cheaper. Satellite images cost several thousand dollars 20 years ago, today they are often provided free and are of incomparably higher quality. A photograph of any spot on Earth, of a stricken tanker or the routes taken by joggers in a city is available with a few clicks. And online communities and collaborative tools, like Slack, enable hobbyists and experts to use this cornucopia of information to solve riddles and unearth misdeeds with astonishing speed.

Human Rights Watch has analysed satellite imagery to document ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Nanosatellites tag the automatic identification system of vessels that are fishing illegally. Amateur sleuths have helped Europol, the European Union’s policing agency, investigate child sexual exploitation by identifying geographical clues in the background of photographs. Even hedge funds routinely track the movements of company executives in private jets, monitored by a web of amateurs around the world, to predict mergers and acquisitions.

osint thus bolsters civil society, strengthens law enforcement and makes markets more efficient. It can also humble some of the world’s most powerful countries.

In the face of vehement denials from the Kremlin, Bellingcat, an investigative group, meticulously demonstrated Russia’s role in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight mh17 over Ukraine in 2014, using little more than a handful of photographs, satellite images and elementary geometry. It went on to identify the Russian agents who attempted to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, in England in 2018. amateur analysts and journalists used osint to piece together the full extent of Uyghur internment camps in Xinjiang. In recent weeks researchers poring over satellite imagery have spotted China constructing hundreds of nuclear-missile silos in the desert.

Such an emancipation of information promises to have profound effects. The decentralised and egalitarian nature of osint erodes the power of traditional arbiters of truth and falsehood, in particular governments and their spies and soldiers. For those like this newspaper who believe that secrecy can too easily be abused by people in power, osint is welcome….(More)”.

Stewardship of global collective behavior


Paper by Joseph B. Bak-Coleman et al: “Collective behavior provides a framework for understanding how the actions and properties of groups emerge from the way individuals generate and share information. In humans, information flows were initially shaped by natural selection yet are increasingly structured by emerging communication technologies. Our larger, more complex social networks now transfer high-fidelity information over vast distances at low cost. The digital age and the rise of social media have accelerated changes to our social systems, with poorly understood functional consequences. This gap in our knowledge represents a principal challenge to scientific progress, democracy, and actions to address global crises. We argue that the study of collective behavior must rise to a “crisis discipline” just as medicine, conservation, and climate science have, with a focus on providing actionable insight to policymakers and regulators for the stewardship of social systems….(More)”.

Seek diversity to solve complexity


Katrin Prager at Nature: “As a social scientist, I know that one person cannot solve a societal problem on their own — and even a group of very intelligent people will struggle to do it. But we can boost our chances of success if we ensure not only that the team members are intelligent, but also that the team itself is highly diverse.

By ‘diverse’ I mean demographic diversity encompassing things such as race, gender identity, class, ethnicity, career stage and age, and cognitive diversity, including differences in thoughts, insights, disciplines, perspectives, frames of reference and thinking styles. And the team needs to be purposely diverse instead of arbitrarily diverse.

In my work I focus on complex world problems, such as how to sustainably manage our natural resources and landscapes, and I’ve found that it helps to deliberately assemble diverse teams. This effort requires me to be aware of the different ways in which people can be diverse, and to reflect on my own preferences and biases. Sometimes the teams might not be as diverse as I’d like. But I’ve found that making the effort not only to encourage diversity, but also to foster better understanding between team members reaps dividends….(more)”

Pooling society’s collective intelligence helped fight COVID – it must help fight future crises too


Aleks Berditchevskaia and Kathy Peach at The Conversation: “A Global Pandemic Radar is to be created to detect new COVID variants and other emerging diseases. Led by the WHO, the project aims to build an international network of surveillance hubs, set up to share data that’ll help us monitor vaccine resistance, track diseases and identify new ones as they emerge.

This is undeniably a good thing. Perhaps more than any event in recent memory, the COVID pandemic has brought home the importance of pooling society’s collective intelligence and finding new ways to share that combined knowledge as quickly as possible.

At its simplest, collective intelligence is the enhanced capacity that’s created when diverse groups of people work together, often with the help of technology, to mobilise more information, ideas and knowledge to solve a problem. Digital technologies have transformed what can be achieved through collective intelligence in recent years – connecting more of us, augmenting human intelligence with machine intelligence, and helping us to generate new insights from novel sources of data.

So what have we learned over the last 18 months of collective intelligence pooling that can inform the Global Pandemic Radar? Building from the COVID crisis, what lessons will help us perfect disease surveillance and respond better to future crises?…(More)”

Quantifying collective intelligence in human groups


Paper by Christoph Riedl: “Collective intelligence (CI) is critical to solving many scientific, business, and other problems, but groups often fail to achieve it. Here, we analyze data on group performance from 22 studies, including 5,279 individuals in 1,356 groups. Our results support the conclusion that a robust CI factor characterizes a group’s ability to work together across a diverse set of tasks. We further show that CI is predicted by the proportion of women in the group, mediated by average social perceptiveness of group members, and that it predicts performance on various out-of-sample criterion tasks. We also find that, overall, group collaboration process is more important in predicting CI than the skill of individual members….(More)”

Harnessing collective intelligence to find missing children


Cordis: “It is estimated that over 250 000 children go missing every year in the EU. Statistics on their recovery is scant, but based on data from the EU-wide 116 000 hotline, 14 % of runaways and 57 % of migrant minors reported missing in 2019 had not been found by the end of the year. The EU-supported ChildRescue project has developed a collective intelligence and stakeholder communication approach for missing children investigations. It consists of a collaborative platform and two mobile apps available for organisations, verified volunteers and the general public. “ChildRescue is being used by our piloting organisations and is already becoming instrumental in missing children investigations. The public response has exceeded our expectations, with over 22 000 app downloads,” says project coordinator Christos Ntanos from the Decision Support Systems Laboratory at the National Technical University of Athens. ChildRescue has also published a white paper on the need for a comprehensive legal framework on missing unaccompanied migrant minors in the EU….

To assist in missing children investigations, ChildRescue trained machine learning algorithms to find underlying patterns useful for investigations. As input, they used structured information about individual cases combined with open data from multiple sources, alongside data from similar past cases. The ChildRescue community mobile app issues real-time alerts near places of interest, such as where a child was last seen. Citizens can respond with information, including photos, exclusively accessible by the organisation involved in the case. The quality, relevance and credibility of this feedback are assessed by an algorithm. The organisation can then pass information to the police and engage its own volunteers. Team members can share real-time information through a dedicated private collaboration space….(More)”.

How to make good group decisions


Report by Nesta: “The report has five sections that cover different dimensions of group decisions: group composition, group dynamics, the decision making process, the decision rule and uncertainty….Key takeaways:

  1. Diversity is the most important factor for a group’s collective intelligence. Both identity and functional (e.g. different skills and experience levels) diversity are necessary for better problem solving and decision making.
  2. Increasing the size of the decision making group can help to increase diversity, skills and creativity. Organisations could be much better at leveraging the wisdom of the crowd for certain tasks such as idea generation, prioritisation of options (especially eliminating bad options), and accurate forecasts.
  3. A quick win for decision makers is to focus on developing cross-cutting skills within teams. Important skills to train in your teams include probabilistic reasoning to improve risk analysis, cognitive flexibility to make full use of available information and perspective taking to correct for assumptions..
  4. It’s not always efficient for groups to push themselves to find the optimal solution or group consensus, and in many cases they don’t need to. ‘Satisficing’ helps to maintain quality under pressure by agreeing in advance what is ‘good enough’.
  5. Introducing intermittent breaks where group members work independently is known to improve problem solving for complex tasks. The best performing teams tend to have periods of intense communication with little or no interaction in between.
  6. When the external world is unstable, like during a financial crisis or political elections, traditional sources of expertise often fail due to overconfidence. This is when novel data and insights gathered through crowdsourcing or collective intelligence methods that capture frontline experience are most important….(More)”.

The Co-Creation Compass: From Research to Action.


Policy Brief by Jill Dixon et al: ” Modern public administrations face a wider range of challenges than in the past, from designing effective social services that help vulnerable citizens to regulating data sharing between banks and fintech startups to ensure competition and growth to mainstreaming gender policies effectively across the departments of a large public administration.

These very different goals have one thing in common. To be solved, they require collaboration with other entities – citizens, companies and other public administrations and departments. The buy-in of these entities is the factor determining success or failure in achieving the goals. To help resolve this problem, social scientists, researchers and students of public administration have devised several novel tools, some of which draw heavily on the most advanced management thinking of the last decade.

First and foremost is co-creation – an awkward sounding word for a relatively simple idea: the notion that better services can be designed and delivered by listening to users, by creating feedback loops where their success (or failure) can be studied, by frequently innovating and iterating incremental improvements through small-scale experimentation so they can deliver large-scale learnings and by ultimately involving users themselves in designing the way these services can be made most effective and best be delivered.

Co-creation tools and methods provide a structured manner for involving users, thereby maximising the probability of satisfaction, buy-in and adoption. As such, co-creation is not a digital tool; it is a governance tool. There is little doubt that working with citizens in re-designing the online service for school registration will boost the usefulness and effectiveness of the service. And failing to do so will result in yet another digital service struggling to gain adoption….(More)”