AI and community action – invite to join our experiments lab

Join us for a 3-month practical learning journey exploring how communities can use AI to work together to address environmental challenges in their neighbourhoods.

Mary Stevens15 Nov 2023

Are you curious about how you could use AI to improve your neighbourhood and tackle climate change?

Do you want to test some practical ideas in the real world?

Are you looking for a carefully crafted, supportive learning journey to help you identify and explore the opportunities?

We are inviting 3 curious humans to join us for a free 3-month experiments lab, starting on January 31 2024.  Find out more about the lab and how to apply below.

Purpose of the lab

At Friends of the Earth we understand that AI has the potential to transform every part of our mission. The potential for AI to skew debates and derail progress on climate action through targeted personalised disinformation is huge, including at local level. But AI technologies also have tremendous potential to unlock the creativity and capabilities of people taking action together in their local neighbourhood.  

This journey will focus on how communities might use AI to work better together to improve their local environment. We think that by getting hands-on with the technologies and combining practical experimentation with ethical exploration, we will help foster a more informed conversation about AI and the environment. As Friends of the Earth  aims to build the power of local communities to take action on the environmental issues that matter most to them, this lab takes AI to the heart of our mission.

Questions we could explore

  • How can we address polarisation around environmental issues? How might AI be used to help people find common ground and collaborate better together (including on specific proposals, such as traffic-reduction measures or community energy projects)?
  • How might AI be used to bring in the perspectives of other beings into local decision-making? (Such as rivers, or birds, or future generations). What impact might this have?
  • How might AI be used to raise awareness of local climate or nature-related risks and impacts – and support people to take action together?
  • How might we empower citizens to understand and control how AI will shape the future of their communities?
  • How might AI be used to amplify the impact of local environmental data?

Our aim in this Lab will be to generate at least one basic prototype, informed by some rapid testing that will bring to life the opportunities – and dilemmas – associated with applying AI to local environmental challenges. You can read more about the background to our thinking here.

The benefits for you

  • A supportive environment to learn and take meaningful action 
  • A carefully hosted process to support you to develop great ideas
  • An opportunity for personal growth and connection
  • A chance to learn design and systems thinking tools from innovation experts at Friends of the Earth
  • Access to an expert mentor working in the AI industry
  • Help and a small amount of seed funding to test your ideas in your neighbourhood
  • A 2-day residential immersion with food, accommodation, transport and facilitation covered by us.
  • Access to rich perspectives and growing a new network of relationships. 

The right fit for you if

  • You care about and are excited by the theme of the lab
  • You are curious and have a challenge you want to explore
  • You are up for testing ideas out in your local community
  • You are bringing your curiosity as an individual or from an organisational perspective
  • You’d love a space to imagine and journey into the future, collectively
  • You’re hopeful about the opportunity to influence the direction/application of this game-changing technology
  • You can commit an average of 3 hours a week to learning and collaborating on the project. Some weeks it will be 0 hours, sometimes we’ll spend a day together
  • You are able to regularly attend fortnightly 2-hour collaboration sessions. (We understand you might not be able to attend every session).
  • You can join key milestones events like the in-person immersion, online swarm and the hybrid showcase (see dates below).

This is the journey we'll go on

We’ll create the conditions for you to have great ideas and help them thrive. You can read more about the values we’ll bring to the process in our manifesto – here.

The structure comes from the Design Council’s Beyond Net Zero systemic design framework.


We’ll start the Explore stage with a kick-off meeting online, to allow us to share our stories, what we each hope to explore, how we want to be together and start to build connection as a group. You’ll also receive a pack of resources to get you started.

From here, we’ll get into a fortnightly rhythm of 2-hour online meet-ups and one-to-one buddy chats to keep things moving forward.


To close Explore and begin Reframe, we'll come together for a 2-day in-person immersion. This will allow us to harvest the insights from Explore and come up with some best guess ideas to test. Most importantly, the immersion is a chance to really get to know each other and build the safety and trust which is essential to collaborating on new ideas.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll flesh out these ideas in preparation to share at a gathering of critical friends: the Swarm. This will open the Create stage and push our ideas with the support of new insights, helping us to spot unexplored avenues or opportunities to create more impact.


The Create stage will give us space to test prototypes in communities. We have a small pot of seed funding to support this and access to an expert mentor to help us get the most out of the technology and develop new solutions.


Finally, we’ll showcase our ideas to industry experts, peers and funders to catalyse pathways forward for the work.

We’ll take some time to celebrate and close our time together.

Meet the team

The Lab will be co-hosted by Mary Stevens and Mandy Holden with prototyping and design support from Christian Graham and storytelling support from Joanna Watson.

Key dates

Sun 10 Dec - Deadline for applications

Wed 31 Jan - Kick off (2 hours)

Wed 7 Feb - Collaboration session

5pm Monday 12 – 2pm Wed 14 Feb - Immersion (in person)

Wed 28 Feb - Collaboration session

Wed 13 March - Collaboration session

Wed 20 March - Swarm (in-person/online)

Wed 3 April – Collaboration session

Wed 17 April -Collaboration session

Wed 24 April – Collaboration session

Wed 1 May – Showcase

Wed 8 May - Celebration and close

Collaboration sessions will be 1-3pm or 3-5pm TBC.

Please note that the venue for in-person immersion is fully accessible.

How to apply

Please apply using this form by  end Sunday 10 December. We’ll aim to let you know if you’ve been successful by the 21 December.

We have one £1000 bursary available to support participation if your current financial situation wouldn’t otherwise allow you to take part. We especially invite people who identify as being from an under-represented background in the digital tech or environmental campaigning sector to join this lab, including but not limited to people of colour, LGBTQIA+, disabled, refugee or asylum seeker and those on a low income.

If you would like to have an informal conversation with us about the opportunity, please book a slot using this link. 

 And if you have any questions, please get in touch.