Future-wise Collaboratorium

(‘Laboratory for the collective urban intelligence’)



The Future-wise Collaboratorium is a global online ‘Laboratory for collective intelligence’.

It aims to develop and test new kinds of systems based on collective intelligence:  and pathways for transformation towards such systems. 

In 2021 we are working on three main themes, each with 3-4 topics:

  • Eco-wise: bio-regional, peri-eco-urban, green new deal, and the ‘collective climatic intelligence’;
  • Smart-wise: cities, localities, governance and the ‘CHAI’ (Collective Human-Artificial Intelligence);
  • Fore-wise: foresight cities, communities, ‘pandemonics’, and the ‘collective policy intelligence’;

The cartoon here shows a ‘deeper mind lab’:  a future-fiction version, with a real equivalent, the online whiteboard workspaces at the centre of the Collaboratorium.

This program is linked to the Future-wise Cities theme at the Manchester Urban Institute (https://www.mui.manchester.ac.uk/research/themes/future-proof-cities/ ).   

We would like to acknowledge the financial support from the Institute of Statistical Studies for the Economics of Knowledge, at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, (www.issek.hse.ru/). 

For a download see the Collaboratorium – mid 2021 update

For updates and background see the Future-wise conversations/




Where to start

Each topic is first set up in an online Conversation, a kind of creative ‘think-do-tank’.  This aims to explore, develop & test practical examples of collective intelligence.  Each conversation has a panel discussion, an interactive session using the whiteboard, and an exhibition of work in progress in the virtual gallery.  Each Conversation explores some over-arching questions for its topic:

  1. What would a collective intelligence look like on the ground?
  2. What are the pandemic effects & implications?
  3. Which practical pathways could move towards a collective intelligence?
  4. Which other pilot experiments could be set up, and how to take this forward?


How does it work

The online workspace here shows a whole Conversation in 3 main phases over 12 months – ‘scoping / experimentation / results’.  In each Conversation we select experimental pilots, where we explore the potential for collective intelligence.    

For each experimental pilot, we then invite:

  • a panel of speakers for comment and dialogue;
  • potential co-authors / researchers for that pilot;
  • a wider community of interest, to join the discussion and the pilot development.

In the online workspace shown below, each pilot experiment has a ‘zone’, with a set of templates, to work on its agenda with the help of others.  In this whiteboard we use a common set of templates (the ‘synergistic model canvas’), and others can be added. Slides or documents can be loaded and comments made with sticky notes: these can be colour coded, e.g. yellow=normal comment: green=idea: red=disagreement: purple=question, etc.

Each Conversation uses our unique ‘1-2-3’ online combination: ‘1D’ discussion platform, 2D whiteboard, and 3D virtual gallery / garden space. 

Who is involved

As of mid 2021 the Collaboratorium has emerged as a viable concept, with so far around 250 participants in 12 major meetings covering 8 main topics. We are now reaching out to interested people for engagement via 3 main roles:

  • Expert group: to advise on overall strategy;
  • Co-authors on each of the pilot topics;
  • Network: an wider open ‘community of interest’.

Visiting panel speakers are also invited to one or more of these roles.

At the moment the Collaboratorium is a self-organized online network within the Manchester Urban Institute.   When the first round is complete, we aim to attract funding and establish the Collaboratorium, if needed, as a free-standing operation.  (The graphic shows a real time process, which is for the moment all online).

Which topics

The themes were evolved and topics were selected by open dialogue, through a series of online conversations in 2020-21: (in each case the ‘3.0’ means the collective intelligence dimension)

Smart-wise theme:

  • Smart-wise local 3.0
  • Smart-wise city gaming 3.0
  • Smart-wise city livelihood 3.0
  • Smart-wise governance 3.0


Fore-wise theme: 

  • Foresight Cities 3.0
  • Foresight Societal 3.0
  • Foresight Pandemonics 3.0

Eco-wise theme:

  • Peri-eco-urban 3.0
  • Eco-regional 3.0
  • Bio-regional 3.0
  • Food-agro-ecology 3.0

More topics or sub-topics may emerge as the Collaboratorium develops. In each topic:

  • We use visual thinking with the templates of the ‘synergistic model canvas’ (or other where needed), in the Mural online workspace;
  • This is set up by the coordinator for that topic, and then others are invited to contribute, in the Conversation session or otherwise;
  • Further topics or sub-topics can be created by consensus, with new templates when needed.

What lies behind

The methods and tools used here draw on the new book Deeper-City-Collective-Intelligence-and-the-Pathways-from-Smart-to-Wise.   

This set out the general scope of a Collaboratorium:

  • Wider synergies between actors:
  • Further synergies between factors:
  • Deeper synergies of layers / domains:
  • Co-evolutionary synergies for transformation, with ‘3.0’ systems of ‘collective intelligence’

What are the results

Overall each topic aims at very practical results:

  • A mapping of the challenge and its ‘deeper complexity’;
  • R&D for a concept model / pathways for transformation;
  • Proposals for next steps.

We aim for each theme to report results, via its community of co-authors:

  • Academic papers, in a journal special issue (Foresight, Urban Planning, Frontiers etc)
  • ‘White papers’ – a general public proposition, to policy, business, civic society etc;
  • Concept proposals for future funding, events etc.
  • Other media and comment


Why do this?

We see multiple overlapping global challenges ahead – climate change, artificial intelligence, political extremism, to name a few.  In each it’s clear we need to look beyond short term problems, towards the potential for transformation – and this calls for an emerging collective intelligence, with deeper layers of value: social, technical, economic, ecological, political, cultural, and so on. 

The book Deeper-City-Collective-Intelligence-and-the-Pathways-from-Smart-to-Wise  demonstrates the mappings of 40 such pathways.   The Collaboratorium aims to take them forward into practice, by development and testing with a wider global community.  The pandemic 2020-21 is a challenge, but also has mobilized a shift to online tools, well suited to international collaboration.  

Overall the Collaboratorium is itself an experiment, to see how far a global community can work together on challenges of common interest.

Some background

Here is some of the thinking behind the Conversations, with a sketch of the Collaboratorium or ‘Laboratory for the collective urban intelligence’, which lies behind this program (notes based on Chapter 10 of the Deeper City). 

In the background is an existential challenge – MADDER (‘Mutual Assured Destruction and Denial of Ecosystems & Resources’) – a deeper threat multiplier of global proportions.  Here the economists point to market failure, engineers to technology lock-in and policy-makers point to double-binds, in the desperate search for solutions that work. The world certainly needs ‘hard-hat’ low carbon energy, transport or housing – but it needs as much or more, the ‘human infrastructure’ of collaboration and capacity for learning and thinking ahead.  And these two sides are highly inter-connected. We’re now inside our own experiment, a global laboratory of geo-bio-chemical systems, but also a laboratory of human collaboration. And this global scale lab experiment is based on countless local Labs, each with innovations and prototypes, experimentation and learning, dialogue and collaboration.

This is a moving picture, as every day there are new technologies or social innovations, but here are some basic options for such Labs:

  • Mind-Lab, to explore the system and problem, with general challenges and debates;
  • Scenario-Lab, with a focus on the future;
  • Synergy-Lab, for the vision and potential for co-evolution;
  • Strategy-Lab, more about practical pathways, plans and projects.

Each of these can be a one-off debate or enquiry or pathway design session. But for deeper and wider challenges, all these are needed in combination, and then we have a longer programme, a Collaboratorium, i.e. ‘Laboratory for Collaboration’.

The current wave includes city-labs, policy-labs, future-labs, think-labs and Mind-Labs: going under various names – big tents, sand-pits or idea-pools. Some are keen on ‘workshops’ – so we do ‘walk-shops’ (out in the landscape), ‘talk-shops’ (speaks for itself), ‘cook-shops’ (long lunches), ‘draw-shops’ (for visual thinkers) or ‘dream-shops’ (calling on the subconscious). Behind this is a long history of places for gathering and interchange: forums, agoras, marketplaces, assemblies, rallies, think-tanks, trust circles, away-days or symposia (meaning ‘drinking together’…). But too often such meetings fall short of expectations: the agenda is hijacked, participants stay in silos, key persons are missing, time is too short, problems are ill-defined, discussion goes in circles…. So it’s crucial to keep in view the principles of a collective deliberative intelligence, and the tools which can mobilize it.  

With an inter-connected series of Labs, a Collaboratorium can begin to explore the synergistic potential.  We can gather the wherewithal – a learning community, resources, methods and tools, and pathways towards action. We can investigate the deeper synergies between layers and domains, wider synergies between actors and further synergies between causes and effects.  Then we can map the various Modes, or levels of complexity –  Mode-I functional synergies, Mode-II evolutionary (‘smart’), and Mode-III co-evolutionary synergies (‘wise’, or at least ‘wiser’).  

And so, for the practical example of a Low-Carb City:

  • A Mind-Lab brings people together to explore the problem (local energy vs global climate): a Scenario-Lab explores the future (climate change vs social change?). Then a Synergy-Lab creates the vision (maybe a Green new deal 3.0?): and a Strategy-Lab focuses on the action plan, for business, communities, government, researchers and so on.
  • A Low-Carb Collaboratorium continues with a longer programme, covering multiple sectors, technologies or policies: for energy, transport, housing, business, ecosystems, circular economy and more…
  • Overall a series of Collaboratoria may then form an integrated Multi-versity. This is basically a community or network or collaborative cluster, larger or smaller, where everyone can learn with, by and from everyone.  Different versions of similar concepts can be seen emerging here and there…