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November 3, 2020

Move with the times

I still remember the day when someone suggested the project I was working for should connect to something called an ‘intranet’ which would allow computers within a limited network to ‘talk to each other’. I also remember scoffing at the idea of an ‘email’ that we were told to use. I recognise a similar reluctance to grasp the true impact that developments in Artificial Intelligence will have in our future lives. Older and wiser and more conscious of my luddite tendencies, I’m determined not to dismiss quite so readily this piece on the application of AI to community settings.

Aleks Berditchevskaia, Bulent Ozel , Sander van der Hoog, Fang-Jui Chang,  Oguzhan Yayla , Oliver Burgess

Civic Ai Toolkit (11.7 MB)

This toolkit is for civil society organisations and local authorities who want to empower communities to address the climate crisis, using AI to help manage, maintain and augment civic assets.

Organising large scale community responses can be a messy and complicated task, but AI can help cut through this complexity to coordinate action. Civic AI is a research project exploring where AI can help equip communities with the tools to collectively respond to the climate crisis and achieve the 2050 target of a carbon-neutral economy. Developed by Dark Matter Labs and Lucidminds and supported by Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design (CCID), it builds on CCID’s research that explores how novel forms of combining artificial intelligence and the collective intelligence of people can better address significant social challenges.

What is collective intelligence?

Collective intelligence is the enhanced capacity that is created when people work together to mobilise a wider range of information, ideas and insights in order to solve problems. In the 21st century this means connecting contributions from diverse groups of people, novel sources of data (e.g. from mobile phones and satellites) and technologies like artificial intelligence.

What is in this toolkit?

The Civic AI toolkit contains three “strategic blueprints” or visual guides that map out the different components (datasets, digital infrastructure, AI models, community contributions, etc) making up an open public service ecosystem and describe how the different parts interact.

Each blueprint explores a unique scenario where people and machines work collaboratively as part of a collective response to the climate crisis. Within the scenarios, AI is used as a tool to enhance a community’s collective intelligence, to help align actions, reduce associated costs, and advance the value of collaboration.

The three scenarios we address are:

Connected urban forest

How can AI and CI help communities measure and analyse the impact of urban trees, in order to justify the need for their investment?

Collective climate action

How can AI & CI help communities develop collective understanding of common goals, simulate the impact of and commit to climate actions?

Participatory energy

How can AI and CI help communities set-up, operate, maintain and model the financial and social outcomes of community energy initiatives

Who should use the blueprints?

We have developed these blueprints as tools for organisations and communities acting at the local level, assuming that the open ecosystems would be developed and maintained collaboratively by multiple actors.

We hope they can:

  • Help CSOs working within these areas identify specific opportunities for integrating AI into their processes or develop new tools that utilise AI
  • Connect organisations working at different stages along the chain of activities who share common challenges and provide a map for aligning efforts
  • Alert researchers and organisations who have domain specific expertise in AI, to new opportunities where they could apply their skills to empower communities

How to use the blueprints

Each blueprint covers five sections:

  • (A) provides a visual summary of the C key stages and example interactions within each scenario.
  • (B) gives a schematic overview of the processes conducted by people and machines in each of the scenarios.
  • (C) details the key challenges E experienced by organisations working in these areas and a proposal for how they may be overcome.
  • (D) provides details of how people (HI) and machines (AI) collaborate and the specific tasks carried out during each stage of the proposal.
  • (E) summarises the civic assets which make up the proposal. These are either Tangible (physical) or Intangible (non-physical). Each component has an indicative Technology Readiness Level reflecting level of development of related technologies/projects. Components to achieve a Minimum Viable Product use case have also been highlighted.


75% of the effort will be directed towards integrating and deploying existing solutions and community engagement. The remaining focus should be on process innovation in order to create seamless experiences and wide adoption of existing AI techniques, applied in specific contexts.

Alongside the blueprint, you will find a summary of each use case and the challenges it tries to address, as well as some of the issues to be aware of with respect to AI ethics and data privacy.

The Civic AI toolkit was designed by Dark Matter Labs and Lucidminds based on their research for the CivicAI project, with advisory support from CCID.