Civic Intelligence in an Uncertain and Threatening World:

Efforts to secure the common good are facing significant challenges worldwide [1,2]. Nationalistic, anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, and anti-democratic values are gaining popularity in political discourse. Promises of international cooperation and democratic principles of inclusion, rational (public) discourse, and collective problem-solving are increasingly threatened. Will the people of the world have adequate civic intelligence [3] to resist these threats and learn to manage its affairs and its ecosystems more prudently?

Coordinated resistance in the U.S. and elsewhere suggest that civic intelligence is alive. It is demonstrated through rallies and marches, citizen mobilization, dialogue, independent media, academic research and reporting, fact checking, challenges to elected officials, and much more. Yet more civic intelligence will be necessary in the coming days, months and years as citizens, civil society and others attempt to challenge and reverse these dangerous trends.

Workshop Agenda

In this workshop we will explicitly examine technologies having the potential to enable civic intelligence at different scales, from the local to the global, approaching them as components of the wider ecosystem of common goods that we as practitioners and citizens can help create.

It seems clear that not only technology can't solve these issues by itself, but also in some cases it can be used to hider rather than enhance our democratic processes [4, 5, 6]. For instance new “intelligent” systems can provide advanced analytics on citizens' data and be used to affect political choices during election campaigns (see the work of companies such as Cambridge Analytica in the Trump campaign). Machine intelligence has opened up society to issues of cognitive warfare, which we know very little about but are already shaping the future of our countries. AI could be used as a tool to further distance people from control of their lives. This also includes trends in collective problem-solving that seek overly simplistic solutions to inherently complex situations.

The question is then: what type of "intelligent" systems do we need and we want to help building? How can we use advancements in machine intelligence and other forms of crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and collective intelligence to the purpose of improving the common good and develop civic intelligence rather than reinforcing the status quo?

We believe that technology can and should play a vital role in supporting the activation and mobilization of civic intelligence worldwide. However, to achieve this goal, technology needs to focus on the facilitation of collective problem-solving, not just an app for this or an app for that, and should not be built on the unaware aggregation of users' data and for purposes the users don't' even know about. This means caring about transparency, privacy and justice, and finding new ways to embed these values in the design of collective intelligence systems which present information that reveals the systemic relationships of our planet, trends in nature (such as climate change) and the activities of humans (deforestation, urbanization, migration, etc.). It also means opening access to news, data, and the ability and willingness to communicate complexity and improving people's scientific and critical reasoning skills.

Workshop Goals

From the vantage point of a world in need of new tools and paradigms we envision several related aims. The first is helping to understand the social (information and communication) landscape that we inhabit. Second, is the sharing of ideas, proposals, issues, and other work that the workshop participants are undertaking or hypothesizing. Third, is the development of common frameworks and other integrative approaches that tie our viewpoints and seemingly disparate efforts into a more coherent ensemble. And, finally, identification of specific coordinated action items that we can implement to help us meet our goals, and to engage fruitfully with other people and institutions that are part of this struggle for civic intelligence.

We hope that these efforts will contribute to the building of a robust network that works across disciplinary and geographic boundaries to improve the capacity of citizen everywhere to successfully address problems of mutual concern.

Workshop Activities and Target Audience

Researchers, computer scientists, policy makers, citizens, professionals, mediators, public officials, ICT specialists, policy consultants, activists and others who have a strong civic orientation and perspective should benefit from this workshop. The Workshop will provide a space for participants to share their work among a community of like-minded professionals, and set an agenda for coordinated action. Workshop activities will be directed towards developing a strategy/road map focused on integrated practice, skills, objectives, technologies and specific efforts needed to strengthen the ability of citizens to collectively solve complex problems at the local, regional, national and international levels (e.g. climate change resilience, food insecurity, political marginalization, extremism of all kinds). We propose a set of common activities that will guide the workshop.

  1. We will conduct a series of structured exercises that will begin with an introduction of the agenda and framing of the goals and objectives we hope to accomplish. This includes opening up space for group processes for exploring key concepts and developing shared meaning.
  2. We will explore strategy maps, or systems mapping as methods for discussion and visual representation of a shared mental model of change. This will include an introduction to the practice and process of developing strategy maps, or systems mapping for “collective impact.” The purpose is to link our various efforts and strategies to the specific outcomes we wish to see.
  3. Once participants have become acquainted with the mapping methods workshop participants will be given an opportunity to present their own work during a series of five minute lightning round sessions. Sessions will be used to help inform other participants about the variety of intellectual and technological perspectives at the table. And help participants self-identify thematic areas of interest related to improving civic intelligence
  4. Following the lightning round participants will be asked to pair up into thematic groups to formulate more detailed strategy maps within a given sub-domain and that will be used to inform the larger vision and framework of action. In particular we will work to create that produce synergistic connections with one another to identify opportunities for increased coordination as well as identify existing gaps.
  5. Strategy maps will be shared with the group to help initiate deeper discussion into developing common metrics for evaluating the relative impacts of collective efforts.
  6. And finally we will close with a call to advancing a synergistic research agenda that helps the group further develop and test hypotheses, and potentially adapt as new knowledge emerges.

Taken together these pieces are meant to produce a road map for advancing civic intelligence as well as set of mutually reinforcing efforts that will hopefully produce more impactful results that can measured and shared over time.


[1] Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk. The democratic disconnect. Journal of Democracy 27.3 (2016) 5-17.

[2] Jared Diamond. 2005. Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. Penguin

[3] Douglas Schuler. 2001. Cultivating society's civic intelligence: patterns for a new 'world brain'." Information, Communication & Society 4,, 2 (2001) 157-181.

[4] Crawford, Kate, Mary L. Gray, and Kate Miltner. "Big Data| critiquing Big Data: Politics, ethics, epistemology| special section introduction." International Journal of Communication 8 (2014): 10.

[5] Grassegger Hannes, and Mikael Krogerus. "The data that turned the world upside down." (2017).

[6] Richards, Neil M. "The dangers of surveillance." Harvard Law Review 126.7 (2013): 1934-1965.