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The power of Collective Intelligence: Cultivating knowledge-sharing for systemic change

Audrey Giacomini and Thana El-Sallabi, respectively Manager and Associate of WISE
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The power of collective intelligence can move mountains. At its simplest, collective intelligence is the process by which a large group of individuals gather and share their knowledge, data, and skills for the purpose of solving societal issues . Harnessing this power can lead to the emergence of the greatest innovations.

It is particularly crucial in the current COVID-19 situation, when resources are scarce and education systems are being put to the test.

The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) – established by the Qatar Foundation – has been fostering collective intelligence by cultivating networks and communities of knowledge.

Audrey Giacomini and Thana El-Sallabi, respectively Manager and Associate of WISE Innovation for Quality and Access track, explain how WISE has been harnessing its own network of collaborators and how educational organisations can benefit from more cross-industry partnership:

1. Network building for systemic collaboration

Our annual WISE Awards offer a striking example of community knowledge. Each year, the WISE Awards recognise and promote six successful innovative projects that address international educational challenges. Over the past decade, WISE has built a community of 72 educational innovators, offering a fertile environment for ground-breaking collaborations. Beyond recognising the work of these projects, we offer a platform of exchange to help them refine their expertise and insights.

This year we had the pleasure of bringing together a range of practitioners – from CEOs to junior staff members – to share their knowledge with each other and other members of the community through our WISE Awards Webinar Series.

Discussions at the webinar varied hugely – from advice on online teaching materials – to tips on finding new funding in challenging times. The common feature was that all speakers and topics were curated with community-orientated solutions in mind – the series was both by the community and for the community. Each webinar was centred around three members, who would share their experiences on a given topic, followed by a long breakout session which allowed a lengthy discussion. It became a space where education practitioners across sectors – and across levels – were able to go beyond their organisational structures to discuss the challenges and opportunities they were facing as education practitioners. Crucially, the webinar offered educators a chance to collaborate to the benefit of the wider community. For example, three early education organisations continued conversations on ways they can offer their interventions differently during the pandemic beyond the webinar.

2. Creating a hub of knowledge for peer-learning

During periods of crisis, organisations often find themselves having to answer the most challenging questions, whilst also having to manage resource scarcities. As a result, many of them revert to knowledge platforms to share resources and hear from other organizations how they are mitigating problems. In recent months, we have seen tangible benefits of providing such platforms of collaboration and hub of knowledge to global education stakeholders. For example, WISE’s Innovators Directory provides a sound library of best practices from more than 300 projects, and can serve as a source of inspiration to other organisations. The chosen projects are usually drawn from the WISE Awards and WISE Accelerator, and range from early childhood to life-long learning interventions. The directory creates a collaborative approach to tackling challenges in the education sector by sharing best practice.

The Internet Free Education Resource Bank, launched by Education Above All (EAA) in response to the coronavirus crisis, is another resource-sharing platform targeted towards NGOs, parents, students, and schools with basic qualification. EAA has curated an extensive list of interdisciplinary projects that were designed to meet the learning needs of 4–14-year-old learners in subjects including science, mathematics, language arts, social sciences, economics and environmental studies. EAA leveraged the expertise of twenty NGOs from its community to empower learners to continue learning and gain other 21st century skills. EAA was able to expand its reach and benefit more learners than otherwise possible by providing this resource for free online and partnering with global organizations.

Such platforms encourage peer-learning by opening up and sharing their resources with the larger community. At the end of the day, it enables education practitioners around the world to save time, money and avoid the duplication of efforts.

3. Building capacity for agile leadership within educational organisations

One of the standout features of building a collaborative networking space, is that it facilitates networking beyond leadership teams at an organisational level – instead it supports learning from practitioners at every level of. This is more important than ever, as many educational organisations have shifted their models to create more ground-level, local leadership-based structures.

Members of the WISE community, including Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund and Louise Van Rhyn, CEO and Founder of Symphonia for South Africa, spoke about the benefits of shifting practices during moments of change. Interestingly, both highlighted how they were able to capitalise on the increased support to local leadership in their organizations, as a result of the pandemic. This brought about overdue changes and systemic change in the localized contexts.

The WISE-hosted forums allowed local leadership and junior members of organisations to tap into new networks that they might not otherwise have access to, and ultimately become more agile organisations during the crisis, and beyond.

4. Moving towards joint actions for systemic impact

The organisations that dedicated time and energy to understanding their networks and cultivating strong relationships with partners, produced significant direct and indirect impact on their beneficiaries and within their teams. COVID-19 has offered us the opportunity to rethink and strengthen our mechanisms for collaboration, to go beyond sharing expertise and move towards facilitating and supporting joint actions. This is the mandate of Catalyst 2030, a movement WISE – and many of its community members – are part of.

Catalyst 2030 gathers social entrepreneurs and innovators from a number of sectors that share a common goal: creating ground breaking, people-centric solutions to attain the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, including SDG 4 on education. Catalyst 2030’s mission is to unleash collective potential by mobilizing social entrepreneurs, partners and resources.

The success of Catalyst 2030 is measured through concrete actions – ranging from collaborative projects and advocacy efforts, – to the publication of in-depth analysis and recommendations for system transformations. It goes beyond the typical networking organization. This new approach guarantees that progress can be achieved more rapidly by avoiding silos and instead fostering partnerships. It also encourages its members to rethink their ecosystem and involve a wider range of stakeholders.

Educational organisations could benefit from a similar approach because they are inherently interested in the same issues. The scale of work educators tackle is beyond any one organization, therefore systemic and scalable solutions will only be achieved through creative, collective collaboration.

Harnessing the power of the collective comes down to cultivation. Investing time in learning from people is just as valuable when resources are scarce, if not more so. Throughout the past year in working towards fostering the collective intelligence of our community we were able to learn and see the opportunities for growth that creating a knowledge hub of peer knowledge build.

Learnings can come from more than collecting free resources through the WISE Innovators Directory and EAA’s Internet Free Education Resource Bank , but are enhanced for by connecting and collaborating across member organizations and their teams from the ground up. Knowing the landscape allows for education practitioners to learn to position their work for creating systemic impact in education.

Audrey Giacomini Manager, Innovation for Quality and Access and Thana El-Sallabi, Program Officer at WISE

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