What’s preventing Bandar Lampung from going ‘green’?

BY Maurice Shawndefar, Priska Marianne | December 13, 2018

Waste generation is directly linked to urbanization. With a population of nearly 1 million, Bandar Lampung, which is located in the southern tip of the Sumatra island, the city generated 800 tons of solid waste daily in 2017. The city employs open dumping systems so waste management here is heavily dependent on the landfill’s capacity. With only one landfill in the city, the Bakung Landfill, employees there say that they are only able to collect 68 percent of the city’s waste. Without changes in the current waste management system, the landfill will continue to grow, posing environmental and health risks in the surrounding areas and beyond. A different approach to tackling waste management To address the complex nature of these challenges, we knew we needed an integrated approach to to help solve the waste management conditions from various angles. So we brought together a group of 30 participants from government agencies, non-government organizations, academia, and community volunteers to talk about the waste management challenges that were preventing a cleaner Bandar Lampung. We learned that in Indonesia, waste management is regulated by two laws regarding environmental protection and management. The first regulation encompasses raising public awareness as one of the government’s tasks, the obligation of households to reduce and handle waste management, and producers’ responsibility to label products and end-of-life product management. The laws also provide the incentives to implement the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). The city government of Bandar Lampung tasked us, namely UNDP, UNICEF, and UN Volunteers, to focus on tackling waste management in the city. We conducted an eight-week field research study to select local partners, identified a project location for piloting of the prototypes, and determined the target groups. We focused in the Rajabasa District (Kecamatan Rajabasa in Indonesian), where we found that there are urban farmers—whose lifestyle is similar to those based in rural areas—that live in the same areas as city dwellers, including students, lecturers, factory workers, restaurant owners, etc. We saw this as an opportunity to help induce small changes and impact a wide range of urban dwellers. Getting our hands dirty To identify innovative solutions that could potentially increase public awareness, reduce waste generation per capita, and support the city’s recycling effort, we organized a three-day human-centered design workshop. We divided the participants that were already involved in waste-related initiatives into five groups and gave each team a specific project scope to tackle. Mirum Agency, a leading experience design agency who specializes in innovation and human-centered design facilitated the workshop, which was designed to develop prototypes that could become the drivers for change in Bandar Lampung. To improve the sustainability of waste banks, for example, one of the teams worked on a prototype to develop a point system to incentivize citizens to deposit their recyclable goods at waste banks by offering benefits. This was a creative alternative to government subsidies. The group conducted an initial testing on the integration of SMASH in reducing the cost of information, transactions, and introduced a point system. The group received feedback from users including: 1) design a better user interface that's accessible and considers elderly as users, 2) add features in the application to ensure relevance with the context on the ground (i.e. types of products/items displayed). Another team developed a prototype which focused on the promotion of responsible consumption and waste management at schools. The objective here was to educate and increase awareness around the benefits of 3R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle) in changing minds and behaviours. The team simulated the prototype in two schools to assess student engagement and interest. The prototype, Annual Waste Hunt Day, consisted of school-wide daily activities and competitions on recycling with a focus on plastic bottles and food packaging. Students liked the the simulation and we could see them actively participating in promoting responsible waste practices through fun and engaging activities. A behavioral approach to waste management practices In collaboration with the University of Lampung, we teamed up with thirteen junior and senior students to be in the know of what’s happening in the Rajabasa District. With the help of local partners, we reached out to small and large businesses, households, university and elementary students to collect perception surveys and conduct in-depth interviews in Rajabasa. We collected nearly 700 perception surveys, conducted in-depth interviews, and mapped out the existing business model for waste banks in Bandar Lampung. From our research, we discovered that 59 percent of the people we spoke to know how to recycle but only 35 percent of the respondents actually recycle waste. We also learned that a large proportion of the population believes that they should be doing more to practice responsible consumption in order to increase the recycling rate across the city. We also collected quantitative and qualitative data from founders, managers, and users in different waste banks in the city to gain more insights on the existing waste bank initiatives in Bandar Lampung. We partnered with SMASH, a nation-wide web-based and mobile application for waste bank management to obtain real-time data on the number of registered waste banks, transactions, and collected recyclable materials. This database allowed us to see how waste banks in Bandar Lampung compare to waste banks across Indonesia. The waste bank transaction rate in the city is currently below one percent.  Even though waste sorting is not a common practice in the country, the government is increasing efforts to reduce waste based on targets set under the National Mid-Term Development Plan for 2015-2019, by focusing on extended producer responsibility, the 3Rs, as well as increasing the number of recycling centers including waste banks to intensify waste separation at source. These in-depth interviews also helped us to identify and specify gaps and patterns in terms of social behaviour and habits that otherwise would have been overlooked. For example, the cleaning staff at University of Lampung told us that despite having separate recycling bins on campus, students and faculty do not use the proper bins to separate their waste. A waste bank operator that works in the city told us that people tend to stay away from bringing their recyclable goods to waste banks due to the social stigma attached to waste collection. People don’t want to be seen carrying around garbage bags for fear that others might think they are ‘trash pickers’. In Indonesia, most trash pickers are undocumented and from a low socioeconomic status. Early signals of scale-up Our approach is showing early signs of success. The University of Lampung allocated a budget specifically for the modification and scaling up of the awareness-raising campaign on waste separation for next year. With the university’s plan to establish a full-fledged green campus initiative and recycling center in the near future, the prototype has great potential to impact the waste reduction habits of staff and students. Our long-term plan is to mobilize resources to replicate and scale up the prototype in Bandar Lampung in different parts of the city to build community-based waste management systems from the ground. We also want to support other city governments in aligning their waste management practices with national priorities through the establishment of community-based waste management systems and sites. Are you an expert in human-centered design or behavioral insights? If so, we want to hear from you!

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Pre-positioning Disaster Data in Vietnam

BY Jenty Kirsch-Wood | December 6, 2018

Typhoons and droughts have one thing in common: they are both the result of hot temperatures. Hot air over land sucks the moisture out of the ground (drought). Hot air above the sea, in combination with warm surface water, causes evaporation. And above the Pacific Ocean, this situation turns into a typhoon. In Vietnam, an average of 6-10 typhoons hit the country between June and November each year. They cause significant damages and losses. In the dry season, from mid November to April, drought and saltwater intrusion regularly causes serious damages to agriculture-based livelihoods for Central and Highland regions. Between 2015- 2016, El Nino caused severe drought and saltwater intrusion in the Central Highlands and Mekong River Delta, which affected more than 2 million people and damaged more than 660,000 hectares of crops. In 2017, typhoon Damrey made landfall in the south central provinces, which caused 300 deaths and left approximately 400,000 people in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. Pre-positioning humanitarian supplies is common practice. Why not pre-position some of the data needed to make assessments? This is the question we asked as part of our efforts with national partners to get better data to respond faster to disasters in the country. The trouble with disaster data The Government of Vietnam and its development partners understand that a speedy and effective response can save lives and help communities bounce back after disasters. We have been proactive in collecting data and information to prepare better for relief and response activities. The problem is ensuring that disaster data is used to support timely relief and response planning. If you wait until a typhoon hits, data problems usually follow. First, you need data to understand the damages from the typhoon. Second, you also need to understand what are the early recovery needs, and this normally take 2-3 weeks to collect. Third, the government and partners have to verify the data sources from the commune and district level to ensure their accuracy before using it to inform relief and response activities. After a disaster, the pressure to move quickly often means that data collection is uneven. This makes it much more difficult to focus on data cleaning and analysis with disaster response data. Last but not least, quantitative data on the number of people affected by typhoons is not always available. Or it can be either under and over estimated, which makes for inaccurate estimations of the humanitarian assistance that is needed. Data on vulnerable groups, such as people living with disabilities is even harder to come by. From 3 weeks to 36 hours: prepositioning disaster assessment data before the typhoon We are developing tools and maps that can link baseline data on vulnerability and potential risks to improve preparedness, response and recovery activities. We are working with a local IT firm to make use of different layers of data in order to visualize disaster effects caused by typhoons/floods. The tool will be a web-based application, which will then be accompanied by a relief and recovery tracking tool - an app for mobile phones so it can be used on the go. As part of design, we talked to sectoral experts and partners including the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority and the Disaster Management Working Group about what baseline data is needed. Together with a UN team, we collected the key baseline data for eight sectors: health, food security, water and sanitation, nutrition, shelter, protection, education and early recovery. This helped us develop a working prototype of how baseline and disaster data can help speed up disaster response. We are now developing an approach to be able to show where storm tracks will go, and how this will impact the total population. The tools and maps that we are working on will also help predict the most likely scenario of disaster impacts on the communities. With this information, we would be able to calculate the costs of likely humanitarian and recovery needs. These advanced tools will generate an assessment report within 36 hours of disaster. We did this by pre-positioning the baseline data to automatically generate an estimated calculation for impacts and recovery needs for specific areas affected by a disaster. Having the data on hand will provide a contextualized picture of the disaster that the government, UN agencies and development partners can use to plan for relief, response and recovery activities. These tools and maps are part of a comprehensive solution to prepare quicker and better for disasters. Improving quality and delivery of social and projection services post disasters UNDP is the leading agency and is working with UN partners including UN Women, WHO, FAO, UNICEF, IOM on the project, and to identify available baseline data for relevant sectors such as health, education, shelter, etc., and associated key immediate needs. Each agency is responsible for its sectoral baseline data collection and contributes to the development of tools within consultation meetings. We also talked with relevant governmental agencies and members of Disaster Management Working Groups to ensure than the solutions promote gender equity and highlight the needs of the most vulnerable groups such as children, people with disability, elderly, and people with HIV/AIDS. It also improves quality and delivery of social and projection services after disasters through partnership building. Our team is the final stages of developing a simple tool that turns the baseline data into a rapidly usable reporting format for humanitarian assistance. The tool will undergo the final testing phase this month. We hope to test the tools within this disaster season, and keep learning from our work to date to support more speedy and effective disaster response and recovery in the near future. Photo: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

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The United Nations’ best kept secret

BY Olga Zubritskaya-Devyatkina | November 28, 2018

When the 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, a group of 14 people responded to the crisis within a few hours. With the support of the United Nations, they started to collect tweets and images that described the immediate situation in Nepal. They diligently classified the tweets and geolocated images to assess the damages and needs in the affected regions. They gave the information to the organizations that were providing relief services depending on a geographic area. You might wonder why these 14 people are so meaningful to our response work in Nepal. As it turns out, they are part of a network of over 17,000 individuals worldwide who dedicate their time and expertise through the Online Volunteering service of the United Nations Volunteers programme. A service you can also benefit from, as will be explained at the end of this article. Take Nepali UN Online Volunteer Vibek Raj Maurya, for example. He works for ActionAid International in Somaliland. He is a passionate supporter of open source software and open knowledge and had volunteered for Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap. “After the devastating earthquake in Nepal, I ran across the call on the UNV website. Instantly, I signed up for the cause. I was not in the country but I wanted to be part of the humanitarian response in whatever way and capacity I could,” he says. Vibek worked in the Urgent Needs and Geographic Information System Group. He guided new volunteers on gathering data from social media and news sites as well as other public data sources.He taught other volunteers how to enter the data into the database to produce a good information repository for responders on the ground, including OCHA, UNDP, ACAPS and WFP. The hard work and impact of these online volunteers that stepped it up and contributed to the emergency response in Nepal is priceless. Sending life-saving messages out In September last year, three hurricanes struck the Caribbean, causing a wide number of casualties and devastation across the region. To provide up-to-date information to those affected, UNICEF launched the Disaster Risk Reduction campaign, its boldest social media exercise to date. UNICEF partnered with Facebook, Viber and teams of UN Online Volunteers to get life-saving messages out to the communities living in Hurricane Irma’s path. UNICEF used U-Report, a global platform where people are able to speak out on issues that matter to them, to upload pre-approved emergency preparedness advice, offering important information on how to prepare for the hurricane. With over 25,000 people accessing information via U-Report, it was difficult to address all the incoming questions quickly. This is when UNICEF partnered with UN Online Volunteers. Within 30 hours, the volunteers were responding to the multiple inquiries from those affected. “The great thing about onlinevolunteering.org was the speed with which we could engage the volunteers and the high quality of their work,” says James Powell, Global U-Report Lead from the UNICEF Global Innovation Centre, who coordinated the online volunteer teams. Over the course of 21 days, working in shifts to ensure 24-hour coverage, and frequently forced to juggle their own commitments, the online volunteers responded to over 8,000 messages, using up-to-minute information provided by UNICEF. The online volunteering service platform recognized the team of 7 UN volunteers for their outstanding work. “It was gratifying to see that giving some hours of my time helped UNICEF to provide important, sometimes life saving information. We can all be agents of change, each and every one of us. Our decisions can put us either on the right side of change, or on the wrong side. Working on this assignment made me feel I was on the right side of change,” says Nouriatou Ntieche, one of the UN online volunteers involved with UNICEF during Hurricane Irma. A new form of partnerships Across the globe, volunteers are helping over 40 UN entities reach their programmatic goals and delivery worldwide, with a simple laptop and an internet connection. Many of these online volunteer opportunities are related to research, communications, translation and graphic design. The sky’s the limit when it comes to finding a talented pool of individuals, however, what makes these UN Online Volunteers different is their passion and commitment to give their talents to help make this world a more inclusive place for everyone. So, how can you engage UN online volunteer? It’s as easy as 1-2-3: Register your office or team at onlinevolunteering.org Receive expert advice on how to best involve UN Online Volunteers and draft your assignment Select the best-suited candidate(s) who have applied to get them onboard!

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What will sustainable life in Egypt look like in 2050?

BY Simone Karlstetter | November 21, 2018

Let’s take a look back at Egypt in the 1960s. With a population of 27 million people, 90 percent lived in rural areas and approximately 70 percent were considered poor. Could anyone, at that time, have imagined that Egypt would have an estimated 100 million inhabitants and an economy nearing $400 billion? Could anyone have anticipated that Egypt’s middle class would grow from 10 million people to 70 million in 2015? Could anyone have foreseen this in 1960, based on Egypt’s growth trajectory in the 30 years before that? We at the UN in Egypt are aware that using historical data is not a panacea to predict the future. The future does not unfold in a static environment; there are ‘signals’ of emerging trends and issues that create new development realities. Uncertainty is the new normal Epidemics travel faster than ever, the growing resistance to antibiotics severely disrupting existing public health models and revolutionary medical innovation is cutting costs dramatically. National food security, with all of its social and political implications, hinges more on a country’s ability to tap in the world food markets than on local production. The  traditional assumptions about what is possible is changing rapidly. Demographics and economics are becoming less predictable. Based on 2017 census data, a new population scenario is unfolding in Egypt. With a growth rate of 2.56 percent against a population of 96 million, there could be on average 800,000 job seekers a year between 2018 to 2022. To absorb the amount of people entering the workforce, the idea was for manufacturing to be an employment solution for Egypt’s growing population. However, exponential technological changes may mean Egypt cannot follow the manufacturing models of the Asian tigers of the 1970s and China in the 1990s. The patterns of the past are very unlikely to offer assurances of future success. The manufacturing industry as we know it may not provide sufficient long-range opportunities for employment in the entire 21st century given automation and service trends, which are  replacing human labor. Another force creating new development realities in Egypt is climate change. The rise in temperatures is leading to water loss due to evaporation. At the same time, the foreseen rise in sea levels will inundate much of Egypt’s low lying land in the Nile Delta, which is densely populated. This situation is also a threat to food security as it’s reducing crop yields.   The combination of adverse factors could push the country over the water scarcity threshold soon and undermine the ability of the country’s natural resource base to sustain a growing population. Egypt is also located in a volatile region. For example, the instability in neighboring Libya has forced over one million Egyptian migrant workers to return home. The country also hosts a substantial number of refugees and economic migrants fleeing insecurity and lack of economic opportunities in their countries of origin. The tyranny of data Traditional planning practices as we know them are less relevant than before. For example, quantitative modelling, which is based on projecting ‘old’ data (that is, data from the past, including their past ‘behavior’) into the future, makes it less possible to deal with volatility and uncertainty, key dimensions of any future. We can easily get caught up in a “tyranny of data” and ignore that human evolution has not been linear or data driven. Contrary to public belief, history rarely repeats itself and fabled economic mutatis-mutandis conditions are never maintained. An exclusively data driven approach may not necessarily inspire the actions needed to adapt to long range, emerging development trends. The Alexandria Dialogues Earlier this year, we at the UN in Egypt partnered up with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a center of excellence and major cultural institution in the country, to carry out a series of strategic foresight dialogues, known as Alexandria Dialogues. We used third-generation foresight techniques to create images and narratives of alternative futures for Egypt in the year 2050. To get this off the ground, we co-organized a series of conversations with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. During these interactions, we explored the new emerging development realities of Egypt with high level officials, civil society, and academics to identify promising new strategic opportunities to realize the country’s potential. Since foresight allows policymakers to stress test their thinking against biases, different assumptions and scenarios of the future, we spoke with influential people and decision-makers to help us identify key topics related to the economy, society, science and technology, environment and agriculture. We wanted to make sure these ideas resonate, so we asked thought leaders to validate them. The six topics that we selected are: Egyptian society: How will an inclusive society look like in Egypt in 2050? The anthropocene: What will a sustainable life in Egypt in 2050 look like? Citizenship of the future: What will it mean to be an educated person in Egypt in 2050? People on the move: How will internal, external and virtual mobility affect Egypt in 2050? The social contract: What will the (formal) relationship between citizens and State be in Egypt in 2050? New geopolitical forces and cross border challenges: How will Egypt’s relationship with the broader region look like in 2050? Between September and December 2018, we are organizing six foresight events around the topics mentioned above. One of the many advantages of foresight is that when people come together to talk about the future, there’s no room to play the blame game; it’s taken out of the equation. These dialogues are a safe space to discuss scenarios, examine future socio-economic opportunities, and uncover sustainable pathways toward a vibrant and prosperous Egypt in 2050. As a next step, we are planning to present and discuss the Scenarios and Narratives from the Future, which emerged during Alexandria Dialogues at a one-day Conference at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in April 2019. We are going to invite experts and stakeholders to explore the different dimensions of the Narratives, discuss the emerging strategic opportunities and suggest follow-up actions. These foresight series have been an eye-opener for us. They’re helping us break new ground by providing a participatory platform to talk about the probable futures of Egypt. Stay tuned for more, we are just getting started!

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Crowdsourcing the campfire: how our data visualization contest opened doors

BY Abigail Taylor-Jones | November 14, 2018

“Visualizations act as a campfire around which we gather to tell stories.” - Al Shalloway, founder and CEO of Net Objectives. Telling our story well is key to ensuring we can influence policy and other key decision-making processes. In order to do so, it is important to get new insights from the evidence we generate from the data we collect. To give a sense of the scale, we collect data from 130 UN Country Teams, serving 165 countries. The types of data we collect ranges from operational data, socio-economic data, financial data, data on coordination and results. Sitting behind the walls of the UN can sometimes be lonely ploughing through all this data (other times it is quite daunting). So, we have to think of creative ways to gather new insights to tell a good and compelling story. The UN is known as an organization that brings people together globally to participate in various ways, for example working towards realizing the goals set for 2030 Agenda. For us, being open and inclusive about the UN’s work is always at the forefront of our minds, even when it comes to data. We started thinking about ways to include others from outside the UN in our analysis and data visualization process. As the Secretariat to the UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) we have access to a wide range of data, so we thought, why not launch our first ever UNSDG data visualization contest and find out what others can see in our data? So, my colleague Kana Kudo and I did just that. In collaboration with Tableau, we launched the contest and invited data scientists and anyone interested in data visualization to use our data from the UNSDG portal, which pulls UN specific data, published by several agencies, using the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards to report how the UN is contributing to the global development agenda. Data is powerful but we don’t always know how to tell a story with it After launching the contest, we realized there were blind spots that we failed to see. For example, some of the submissions did make use of the IATI data sets, while others did not. The guidelines we provided were clear, however the research questions were a little unclear. We ended up receiving several stunning visualizations, but they were not exactly what we were looking for. We learned that when it comes to data, it’s best to be specific. Another learning was that data scientists wanted the option to work with other data visualization tools and not be limited to Tableau; so we had to broaden the scope of tools for the contest. We brought a selection panel together to assess the submissions, and we selected two winners. The first winner crafted “Visualizing Malaria: The Killer Disease Killing Africa,” an impactful visualization that analyses malaria deaths in the world, how they have changed, and how funding has evolved over the years, particularly in Africa. The contestant explained that she had been inspired by the experience of a dear friend who had been infected with malaria. We also liked this visualization on malaria because it focused on both the positive and negative aspects of the fight against this diseases. Whilst lives are been saved through the use of mosquito nets, there’s also a downward trend in other aspects, which means more still needs to be done. [caption id="attachment_10399" align="alignnone" width="542"] Visualization by Rosebud Anwuri[/caption] The second data visualization titled “Leave no one Behind”, included the UN’s spending on each Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) per country, looking at the financial distribution among the SDGs. The underlying calculations were just as impressive as the visualization itself! We liked this visual and we were interested in how the participant highlighted the leaving no one behind aspect, which is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda; and an overarching programming principle. Looking at how we are doing from a financial expenditure perspective is key to assessing the UN’s contribution to the SDGs. Behind the scenes, our team in Headquarters was tinkering with developing UN Info, a tool that integrates the UN contributions to the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. This is an important aspect because it keeps us accountable and helps UN Country Teams with programme management. From this contest, it was clear to us that data is obviously powerful but we don’t always know how to tell a story out of it. We were very impressed with the contestants’ interpretations and the visualizations. As a bonus, we also gained unexpected and useful insights that helped us refine our UN IATI data set.   [caption id="attachment_10400" align="alignnone" width="570"] Visualization by Pedro Fontoura[/caption] One of the things that we also discovered, is that data scientists like to get involved. Chloe Tseng, founder of Viz for Social Good contacted us to find out how she could collaborate with us. Although she didn’t participate in the contest, we were keen to work with Chloe and her team of volunteers just as she was to work with us. Goal 17 of the SDGs relates to partnerships and we know how important it is work with others to realize our goals. We gave Viz for Social Good a particular set of data related to the partnerships that the Country Teams have beyond the UN. If you haven’t read Viz for Social Good’s journey working with us, and the beautiful visualizations that came out of our partnership, check it out here. Our data was too fat! The contest was a great learning opportunity for us. From our collaboration with Chloe and the Viz For Social Good network of over 2000 data visualization experts, we learned that our data is good but we need to look at ways of improving the way data is parsed through our systems and ensure that it is formatted in a manageable and easy way for data scientists to work with it. Chloe also gave us feedback on moving from larger chunks of data to smaller chunks. We took these recommendations very seriously and have made significant changes in our data systems for optimum use by data scientists. We trimmed down our data in smaller chunks that requires little time for data cleaning which allows for quicker analysis. This experience was definitely an eye opener in terms of telling a more powerful and compelling story than we will ever be able to do if we stick to large sets of data in an excel format. The campfire is still with us Collaborating with Viz For Social Good and with the contest participants inspired our team to adapt our digital strategy work.  Seeing the way these artists take data and communicate with it opened our eyes. Our taste has changed and boy have our standards gotten higher. We are designing dashboards for future projects and seeing the artistry has upped our game for the long run.   Photo: Wenni Zhou

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Mining alternative data: What national health insurance data reveals about diabetes in the Maldives

BY Yuko Oaku | November 7, 2018

An island nation consisting of 1,190 small islands, the Maldives is clustered around 26 ring-like atolls spread across 90,000 square kilometers. For many centuries, the Maldivian economy was entirely based on fishing. Tuna is one of the essential ingredients in the traditional dishes of the archipelago. But between 1980 and 2013, the GDP per capita increased from $275 to $6,666 due to the success of the high-end tourism sector. With the rapid economic growth and a wave of globalization, there have also been changes in the dietary preferences and lifestyles of Maldivians. A staggering 30 percent of the Maldivians are overweight due to unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity, according to data from the Global Health Observatory.   Consuming sugary beverages is also a big problem among Maldivian youth and young adults. According to a study by the World Health Organization, in 2015, 4.7 million litres of energy drinks were imported to the Maldives, which is a very high volume for such a small population (around 410,000 people live in the Maldives). These unhealthy habits are drivers for the increase in non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and hypertensive disease.  These diseases are the main causes of death among Maldivians. According to the National Health Statistics from 2014, diabetes is ranked as the ninth overall cause of death in the Maldives. [caption id="attachment_10393" align="alignnone" width="450"] "Drinking energy drinks is not cool" Health Protection Agency Maldives[/caption] Analyzing the prevalence of Type II diabetes with Insurance Data All Maldivian nationals are covered under the Government’s universal health insurance plan called “Aasandha”. Since it began its services in 2012, the plan gives full coverage to all health services from most health care providers and up to a certain amount for some of the private health care providers. The plan also covers care in affiliated hospitals in neighboring India and Sri Lanka in case the treatment is not available in the Maldives. Aasandha data provides personal data records and insurance data for all Maldivians. Since the usual data source for non-communicable diseases is the Demographic and Health Surveys, which is carried out every 6 years (most recently in 2015 and before that in 2009), we thought we could get more up-to-date data on diabetes if we looked directly at the health insurance data. Our team assumed that analyzing this data would serve as proxy indicators for the SDG indicators 3.8.1: Coverage of essential health services. Initially, this indicator was labeled as Tier 3 indicator, meaning that no internationally established methodology or standards were yet available for the indicator. As of 11 May 2018, however, 3.8.1 has been upgraded to Tier 2 indicator, which means that the indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries. Our idea was to have an anonymized look at the data from the universal health insurance plan to see what else we could learn about non-communicable diseases. We at the UN Country Team in the Maldives, UNDP and WHO, partnered with the Maldives National University (MNU) research team and with the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA), the custodian of Aasandha service in the Maldives. What we found out about Type II diabetes in the Maldives: We dug into the anonymized health care records for 2016, including information about: 1) what diseases the Aasandha coverage is used for 2) the cost 3) where the medical procedures take place Together with the research team, we decided to focus on Type II diabetes for the scope of this study. We found some interesting facts about the prevalence of Type II diabetes in the Maldives: More than 3 out of every 5 people who have diabetes are women. The mean age of patients with Type II diabetes is 57, while the youngest age is 13. Females get diagnosed with Type II diabetes at a younger age compared to men and there is a relationship with gestational diabetes. Of those seeking care, 79 percent of the people go to private health care providers, whereas only 21 percent seek services from public health care providers. We also discovered that the Aasandha data was also incomplete. For instance, there were missing records from some of the largest regional hospitals in most populated atolls in the country. This may suggest that data from government hospitals are not entered into the system because patients don’t need to make a claim for the payment, whereas in private hospitals, the data is needed to allow patients to make a claim for their payment. It could be that more people are using public health care providers, but since the data is not entered into the Aasandha system,this information is unavailable to us. [caption id="attachment_10395" align="alignnone" width="393"] WHO Maldives[/caption] Next frontiers in proof of concept for alternative data With this pilot study we found some interesting facts about the prevalence of Type II diabetes in the Maldives as well as some possible data gaps in the Aasandha insurance data. We will be sharing our findings and challenges of using Aasandha data with the members of the UN Country Team as well as relevant ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Health and the National Social Protection Agency. Reflecting on this pilot study, we will continue to support the country to explore alternative sources of data that will enable us to track more SDG indicators in the Maldives. According to an internal assessment done on data availability for all SDG indicators by the National Bureau of Statistics, there’s currently no mechanism for data generation for 56 indicators and for another 51 indicators, additional efforts will be required to make the data available. With all this data missing, we’ll need to tap into additional resources to make the data available because if we don’t know where the Maldives stands on Sustainable Development indicators, it’ll be hard to plan to achieve them. There is definitely a need for new data sources and having this data gap in mind, we have another pilot project in the works that’s going to use call detail records data to track population mobility to the urban centers of Male. Stay tuned for more in our work mining alternative data sources for the Maldives!

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Untangling the complexity of the Sustainable Development Goals in Moldova

BY Ana Moraru, Valeriu Prohnitchi | November 1, 2018

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a beautiful vision for a better world, where people have equal access to food, health, public services, education, equal rights and pay. It’s a world where oceans and air are clean, fish are happy, and forests are preserved. Comprehensive? Certainly. Complex? Beyond any doubt. No matter how you want to see it, the stakes for achieving the SDGs are high. The clock is ticking. How are governments going to make the SDGs happen in the next 12 years? How do policy makers translate these goals into real outcomes for people? Look at things differently: think systems At first glance, it might be tempting to eat the elephant one bite at a time. The standard approach for analysis is to decompose phenomena into manageable pieces, which can be easier to grasp. The puzzle is then solved when all the pieces are put together. With this approach, the whole equals to the sum of the parts. However, this is not the optimal strategy in complex systems, where a standard approach would only encourage silo-based and piecemeal solutions. In complex systems, the uncoordinated actions of actors would result in suboptimal outcomes for the whole systems. Let’s take Goal 1: No Poverty, for example. How do we expect to achieve Goal 1 without touching upon Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being or Goal 4: Quality Education? At the UN in Moldova, we looked at the Global Goals from a different lens, that of multiple causes, effects, feedback loops, and actors. With such an approach, the whole may equal more than the sum of all parts.  Our hypothesis was this: by uncovering the fundamental causal loops and relations among the SDG targets, we can help the government and the UN in Moldova identify the “leverage points” – policy priority areas. In turn, this will help us to make progress over multiple goals at once, and prioritize policy actions and investments of scarce resources in the short, medium, and long term. In our last blog post, we shared our experiences working with the government in ‘Glocalizing’ the Sustainable Goals in Moldova. After that exercise, we supported the Republic of Moldova to update the national strategic planning framework to encompass the SDGs. During the early stages of the strategy development, the apple of discord happened to be a persistent one: among of the many development challenges, how should the government decide which ones to prioritize? Once again, the systems analysis perspective came in handy. If we look at SDG targets from the perspective of systems dynamics, we can analyze the connections and the causal and feedback loops among them. Some targets will even prove to be more connected than others; progress on these targets would most likely generate a multiplier effect. We like to call these “SDGs accelerators”, or “leverage points”. If we attained progress on these accelerators, then we would help the country progress on the Global Goals as a whole. This was our theory of change. It takes a village to raise a child (or a country) One of the criticisms of the national strategic planning policies is that these don’t reflect the needs of the people and vulnerable groups. This time, as we say in Moldova, we tried to avoid stepping on the same rake twice. We convened different players, including representatives of ministries, MPs, governmental agencies, civil society organizations, including representatives of vulnerable groups, academia, donors, and development agencies. This process helped us to reach a common vision and understanding that helped us set the priorities for the actual National Development Strategy. The systems thinking approach was helpful, yet again. What we did to untangle the SDGs To untangle and analyze the SDGs, we used the stock-and-flow and causal links diagrams, an approach from the field of System Dynamics developed at MIT. Within this analytical framework, a stock of some elements varies due to inflows increasing the stock and outflows diminishing it. What does this mean exactly? Let’s take Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being (see Figure 1). The rectangle “Healthy People” denotes a stock variable. In systems dynamics, stock variables represent variables that accumulate or that can be depleted. To better understand how it works, imagine a bathtub.  The inflow from the “Wellness Rate” increases the stock of “Healthy People”, while the outflow of “Disease Rate” or “Accidental Death Rate“ will decrease the stock because more healthy people will get sick due to diseases or die of accidents over time. Arrows represent a primary or secondary causal direction moving from a cause to an effect. Figure 1. SDG3: stock-and-flow causal loop diagram Source: Moldova SDGs system map. The solid lines conventionally denote that the cause and effect move in the same direction holding all else constant; e.g. an increase in the “3.8 Universal Healthcare Coverage” will cause an increase in the “Treatment Rate”. A dashed line denotes the cause and effect moving in the opposite directions, e.g. an increase in 3.3 Communicable Disease Reduction will decrease the Disease Rate. In the SDGs complexity mapping, the first major decision was where to begin. In our case, we started with the SDG1: No Poverty, for which we have conducted a prima facie analysis of the immediate causal links (Figure 2). The central stock we are trying increase is “People with Good Quality of Life”. People move from the stocks of “People in Extreme Poverty” to “People in Poverty” and then to “People with Good Quality of Life”, following the flows of 1.1 Extreme Poverty Eradication Rate and 1.2 Poverty Elimination & Quality of Life Improvement Rate. We then add a new layer of analysis, by incorporating the SDG2: Zero Hunger. The target 2.4 “Resilient Agricultural Practices” shifts the “Vulnerable Food Production” towards “Resilient Agriculture Food Production”. Further on, an increase in “Resilient Agriculture Food Production” will help raise 2.3 “Agricultural Productivity & Incomes of Small-scale Food Producers”, which in turn increases 10.1 “Income Growth of Bottom 40 percent”. Therefore, the resilient agriculture looks like an important poverty reduction strategy and achieving SDG 2: Zero Hunger helps achieving SDG 1: No Poverty having SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities as intermediary. Layer after layer, we arrive at a densely packed map revealing the most essential mutual influences among the Moldovan SDGs targets and related policies. From this comprehensive exercise, we narrowed down the common vision for Moldova in 2030 to three main poles: People with a good quality of life, with decreased emigration and progressive values, have to be put at the centre of the development vision – i.e. development should be for the people rather than by the people. Effective, accountable and inclusive institutions able to put an end to corruption are essential for unleashing the potential existing in the wider society. Sustainable production and sustainable industrialization is the most promising economic model enabling a decisive and lasting reduction in poverty and in providing equal opportunities for all to achieve high standards of living. We found some answers and have more questions Overall, systems analysis proved to be a great method for looking at the big picture. It helped identify the most connected elements which served as a basis for defining the development vision for the National Development Strategy Moldova 2030 and for prioritizing key areas of intervention. As such, we made the first step towards understanding the causal links between SDG targets. However, what we couldn’t see is how these links reproduce over time. The next step in this analysis would be to check how these links change over time, allowing us to understand the dynamics of the system. Similarly, we would want to see the strength of the links to understand the magnitude of influence. This would represent a highly ambitious exercise, requiring a different time-frame and more solid data. Are you trying using a similar approach to untangle the Sustainable Development Goals? Share with us!

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TONSE – From Zambia to the Google Play Store

BY Matts Weurlander | October 24, 2018

This is the story of a creative and ambitious collaboration, led by the UN in Zambia, that brought together a non-conventional Finnish software company, a Lusaka-based coding school, an up-and-coming Zambian media company, and young minds from all over Zambia to come up with an application to engage young people in the promotion of the Global Goals. Tonse is a mobile application, which allows anyone to easily create and join community projects and become active participants in sustainable development. We can proudly say that Tonse was born and made in Zambia and is now ready for worldwide testing on the Google Play Store. When brainstorming spins in empty circles, let  go and let the young people design it We started this project with the idea of using a digital scorecard to track progress on SDG  indicators related to youth (for example, education, employment and income). The team quickly realized that while this seemed like a fine idea on paper, it would be problematic to implement, partly due to the slow pace by which SDG indicator data is generated in Zambia, and partly due to the technical and rather boring nature of indicators. A mobile application needs new data by the minute to stay interesting.  Not every year, or every four years, like data for national SDG indicators.  Could we develop an application that would serve our overall objective of giving young people a voice in sustainable development, but at the same time be fun, simple and interactive? What would it be? What would it look like? What would it do? Our internal brainstorming sessions were taking us nowhere. Our discussions, though well-intentioned and lit up by occasional buzz words, spun in empty circles. We were like square-shaped objects aspiring to become something round and fluid-like, but not knowing how. It was, to be honest, frustrating. Our team decided to leave the content part to the intended users: we would invite networks of young people to workshops and they would tell us what to do. Meanwhile, we turned our attention to the “how” part of things. None of us in the UN team working on young people’s rights and development knew how to code. On top of that, software developers are a rare breed in Lusaka and the few quotations that we received from commercial companies far exceeded our budget. We were in a double bind: we didn’t know what to do, and we didn’t know who could do it. Pro bono partnerships to the rescue Things started to look brighter after we contacted Vincit Ltd., a Finnish software company. We had been in touch with the company a year ago to discuss pro bono opportunities and this project seemed to be the perfect match! Vincit brands itself as “not another software company”, which was exactly the kind of spirit we wanted to embrace. We were both surprised and excited when, towards mid-October, Vincit confirmed that an experienced full-stack software developer would collaborate with us for two months, the first month in Lusaka to get the project rolling. We had found our project manager, and he was both world class and affordable. Amidst our excitement, we discovered that the developer from Vincit was not enough. We would also need local partners to ensure that the look and feel of the application would appeal to the Zambian market and to ensure sustainability. This is how we found Hackers Guild and Oemph Media, who quickly grasped what we wanted to do (although we had yet no clue about this ourselves) and were ready to jump on board. Hackers Guild is a technology organization that provides training on software development to young people, as well as product development and consultancy services. They put together a team of young developers who implemented the application in collaboration with the Vincit developer. For the look and feel, we discovered Oemph Media, a small media and marketing company founded by Zambian young talent Catherine Fundafunda. Oemph Media’s role in the partnership was to be provide the visual concept and user experience/user interface design and development of the marketing strategy. From ‘Tinder for Good’ to…. Tonse The software developer from Helsinki arrived in Lusaka in the beginning of November. After a round of introductory meetings with our UN team, we threw the happy Finnish developer straight into a series of workshops with young people. Through the UN Youth Partnership Platform, which brings together 23 young people from all over Zambia, we convened a diverse mix of young women and men to brainstorm about possible application concepts. Organised at the youth hub Global Platform, the half-day workshops aimed to bring out ideas, thoughts and suggestions – the crazier, the better – on how a mobile application could increase young people’s participation in sustainable development. Through group exercises and discussions, a total of 51 participants helped us to identify the obstacles that hinder young people’s participation and how these could be overcome with the help of a mobile application. We encouraged the young people to design applications that they would like to use, without consideration as to what is possible. While the emerging list of ideas was long, the common message was clear: the new application should inspire action, strengthen social accountability, and be rooted in real-life experiences. The focus should not be on learning the SDGs (i.e. reciting the goals from 1 to 17), but on living the SDGs. In short, the app should be practice, not theory; action, not words. Workshop participants are all smiles after brainstorming around application concepts. After the brainstorming workshops, the core team, led by Vincit software developer Sten Karlson, analysed all the ideas and suggestions and distilled these to three separate application concepts, called “SDG Dinner Challenge”, “Self-improvement app” and “Tinder for Good”. They presented these concepts to the project steering group in the form of simple, but working applications simulated on a mobile phone and wireframes. The aim was to let the audience grasp the concepts intuitively, without lengthy explanations. The steering group agreed to pursue with the “Tinder for Good” concept, which eventually acquired the Zambian name “Tonse”. Tonse means “all of us” or “everyone” in Nyanja. The name was born at the first workshops, and it stood the test of time, receiving strong positive feedback from test users. Sten Karlson, Vincit, and Catherine Fundafunda, Oemph Media, design wireframes for presentation to steering group. Tonse is about inspiring people to take action on issues that matter to them and to get others involved in improving local communities. Thus, the core concept is a direct enabler for Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. The basic idea is simple: Tonse provides a platform where anyone can effortlessly launch, browse and join community initiatives. As in the popular dating application “Tinder”, the user sets his or her preferred radius and the application then shows only initiatives that fall within that radius. If you are, for example, keen to see initiatives within walking distance from your house, you can set the radius at, say, 5km. As in Tinder, the initiatives appear as cards, with a picture and a brief description, and the user then swipes right if interested and left if not interested. The beauty of the concept lies in the interplay between local and global: while facilitating local action, the application itself can work anywhere in the world. Coke Zero, Skype and Fast Food to make it happen Once the concept was chosen, it was implementation at full throttle. At this stage, the Vincit developer was wrapping up his one-month stay in Lusaka. We used that time to set up practices and systems that would allow Vincit, Hackers Guild and Oemph Media to work as a team despite the roughly 14,000km distance between Helsinki and Lusaka. During the next couple of months, we were constantly having  Skype meetings, long WhatsApp calls, and new cards on the ever-expanding Trello board. In March of this year, the developer from Vincit returned to Lusaka for a two-week polish sprint. We pushed code for long hours and worked together solving problems with the Hackers Guild team, fuelled by Coke Zero and fast food, the preferred diet of any software developer, Zambian and Finnish alike. At the end of the two weeks, we shared the first working demo of Tonse with a diverse test group consisting primarily of young people of different affiliations, but also of UN colleagues across agencies. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback and this encouraged us to continue with the development of the application and implementation of further features. Check us out on the Google Play Store The Tonse application is now available on Google Play Store, for users with Android phones. The UN Youth Group continues the collaboration with Hackers Guild, with the aim to launch the application in Lusaka through social media campaigns on 5 December 2018. Vincit remains involved as part of the project advisory board. Before the launch, the UN country team is planning outreach activities to existing organisations. While it has taken a long time to reach this stage, the team is conscious that much work still lies ahead – a thousand technical bugs await to be fixed and tens of strategic decisions to be taken. The Tonse story is just starting – download the app, send us your feedback and stay tuned for more updates.

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Natural Language Processing to align national plans in Serbia with Global Goals

BY Karla Robin Hershey, Dennis Schleppi, Vuk Batanović | October 17, 2018

The Republic of Serbia is on a mission to map the work that is underway to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a first step, the UN Country Team in Serbia reviewed the compliance of the country’s policy framework with the 169 targets and 230 indicators of the 17 SDGs and assessed the country’s readiness to proceed with their implementation. The fact that Serbia is a candidate country for the accession to the EU, the Republic of Serbia called for a special review of the compliance and complementarities between 35 EU accession negotiation chapters that are implemented through a series of ongoing reform processes and linkages to Agenda 2030. We conducted a real time comprehensive analysis in late 2017 to early 2018 using UNDP’s developed methodology called RIA – Rapid Integrated Assessment (RIA). The objective of the assessment tool is to support countries in mainstreaming the SDGs into national and subnational planning, by helping assess their readiness for SDG implementation. We engaged a dozen of national experts who successfully reviewed over 100 of national policy documents, including those setting the targets relevant for the EU accession. Most of the documents were in Serbian, with a few available in English. The exercise outlined those areas that are well covered with the existing policy instruments, identifies areas where more attention is needed by policy makers, detects bottlenecks and accelerators and reviews institutional capacities in place to implement the SDGs. Scaling up and gaining efficiency with artificial intelligence We know it is important work, so we were on the lookout for innovative ways to make this process and other similar policy mapping exercises easier and more efficient. In January 2018, we heard about a pilot initiative between UNDP and IBM research which demonstrated that an artificial intelligence (AI) approach could be time saving and provide accurate mapping information. Using AI based on natural language processing (NLP) techniques could be successful in automating the rapid integrated assessment process that provides a baseline to measure future progress. The assessment, which looks at defining a roadmap for a country to implement the SDGs, was our starting point. They piloted the assessment in five countries where policy documents were available in English. We got satisfactory results from the pilot. We teamed up with local policy experts from the SeConS Development Initiative Group, an independent organization which aims at contributing to the long-term socio-economic development and improving the living conditions of individuals and social groups in Serbia and the region. Our team at the UN also met with natural language processing experts from the School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Belgrade to take this initial pilot to the next level – and research how the assessments could be translated from English into another language, thus for the first time facilitating an automated mapping of policy documents in Serbian. The development of the methodology and testing of the automated policy mapping exercise in Serbia is being implemented between August and November 2018. Talking to a computer in Serbian is not as easy as Siri makes it look Thanks to an abundance of language tools, resources, and algorithmic NLP models available in English, the initial pilot allowed for an automation in countries where English is the predominant language for official documents. In the attempt to translate the automated text processing to Serbian, our team noticed several linguistic traits that make this work particularly challenging: Unlike English, Serbian changes in form according to grammatical functions such as tense, mood, number and gender. Serbian is a fully digraph language, meaning that it can be written using two different alphabets (Serbian Latin and Serbian Cyrillic script). Latin characters often appear in Cyrillic texts, especially where foreign terms (usually from one of the European languages) are presented verbatim. Although Serbian grammar often uses the same default Subject-Verb-Object word order as English, the very nature of the language makes word ordering more flexible. In addition to the language-related challenges mentioned above, we also identified the following specific context related advantages: The automated policy mapping will focus on specific sectors – social protection, health, education. In this area we have adequate data both in quality and in quantity. Given the specific focus of the automated analysis, we will be able not only to compare automated versus manual policy mapping results, but also to get a more specific idea of the data gaps in the social, health and education sectors, which is very important for localizing Agenda 2030 in Serbia. By closing sectoral data gaps for nationalization process for the global goals, the pilot project in Serbia will also create a baseline to support the country’s SDG reporting obligations. This is particularly relevant given that Serbia will provide its first voluntary national review at the High-Level Political Forum in New York in 2019 on its SDG progress to date. The voluntary national reviews aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. These reviews also seek to strengthen policies and institutions of governments and to mobilize multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the implementation of the SDGs. The Republic of Serbia will present the results produced by the automated mapping on achievements in the area of reducing inequalities in the country. Getting started, getting technical Our first step was to choose a sample of the 17 SDGs to be analyzed, limiting the dataset. Taking into consideration the quality and format of data available, and keeping in mind that next year’s voluntary national review discussion will focus on inequality, the team selected five SDGs that are clustered under the heading People, including: SDG 1: No Poverty: end poverty in all its forms everywhere SDG 2: Zero Hunger SDG 3: Good Health and Well Being: ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages SDG 4: Quality Education SDG 5: Gender Equality: achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The second step was to consolidate the document database previously used in the manual assessment process to ensure that documents were available in a machine-readable format. This presented our team with a significant technical problem, since most documents were available in PDF format, which is not great for precise text extraction. Initial tests indicate that a combination of Adobe Acrobat Pro’s text extraction mechanism and a replacement procedure through which particularly problematic PDF files would be replaced with an easier to read alternative (e.g. Word files) could prove to be successful in tackling this problem. The months ahead We expect a number of technical innovations to surface from the process of adapting the proposed AI approach to texts in Serbian. The complexity of texts in Serbian will be decreased through the use of stemmers, tools that reduce each word to its stem (a stem is similar to a word’s root form). Such tools have been found to increase natural language processing model performance on several semantic tasks in Serbian, so there is good reason to believe these tools may be effective with the similar, albeit more complex, rapid integrated assessment exercise. Our initial efforts show that flexible word ordering is not likely to be a major issue in terms of transferring the (English-centric) automated pilot exercise to Serbian, since the AI method focuses on sentence or paragraph-level semantics, where the exact word ordering becomes less important. Finally, we will work around the lack of available data from the manually-conducted rapid integrated assessment in Serbian by setting up a simulation, dividing the available Serbian document collection into two groups: a training set and test set. By conducting a manual rapid integrated assessment for the training set, a foundation will be established for the automated assessment for the test set in Serbian. After these technical and algorithmic adaptations have been completed, the School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Belgrade and SeConS will measure the effectiveness of the AI method using the data from the manual exercise conducted in Serbia earlier this year and will submit a report showing the comparison between the two report, more importantly we be looking to see if the accuracy of the AI driven report the same or superior to the manually produced rapid integrated assessment report.   Despite all of the linguistic and technical challenges, this project could prove to be beneficial for data collection and analysis processes not only in Serbia, but also for neighboring countries, due to close linguistic ties within the sub-region. We will discuss the results of this pilot exercise extensively with data holders, producers and users, including the Government and civil society partners, to obtain their valuable input to inform the way forward. The UN Country Team will use the additional feedback to see if and how this automated policy data search could be used to save time and improve the accuracy of data analysis. Lessons learned will be applied to other activities in Serbia aimed at supporting Government efforts toward fulfilling their priorities towards Agenda 2030 in Serbia. The questions that we hope to answer  in the follow up consultations include: Can we use automated policy mapping for other processes beyond the initial SDG data mapping? How can we use it to map the progress towards SDG achievement and its linkages to the EU Acquis? Whatever the answers to these questions may be, we will keep you updated. Watch this space and follow our progress on social media.     Photo by: Nathaniel Shuman

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Innovation scaling: It’s not replication. It’s seeing in 3D

BY Gina Lucarelli | September 12, 2018

My brother is a mathematician and on family vacations, he talks about data in multi-dimensions. (Commence eyes-glazing over). But as the family genius, he’s probably on to something. Lately, in my own world where I try to scale innovation in the UN to advance sustainable development, I am also thinking in 3D, or, if properly caffeinated,  multi-dimensionally. As new methods, instruments, actors, mutants and data are starting to transform how the UN advances sustainable development, the engaged manager asks: when and how will this scale?  To scale, we need to know what we are aiming for.  This blog explores the idea that innovation scaling is more about connecting experiments than the pursuit of homogeneous replications. Moving on from industrial models of scaling innovation In the social sector, the scaling question makes us nervous because the image of scaling is often a one dimensional, industrial one: let’s replicate the use of this technology, tool or method in a different place and that means we’ve scaled. This gives us social development people pause not only because we can’t ever fully replicate [anything] across multiple moving  elements across economic, social and culture. Even if we could replicate, it would dooms us to measuring scaling by counting the repeated application of one innovation in many places.   Thankfully, people like Gord Tulloch have given us a thoughtful scaling series that questions the idea that scaling social innovation is about replicating single big ideas many times over. [Hint: he says scaling innovation in the public sector is less about copy-pasting big ideas and more about legitimizing and cultivating many “small” solutions and focusing on transforming cultures.]  Apolitical’s spotlight series on scaling social impact includes a related insightful conclusion: when looking at Bangladesh’s Graduation Approach as one of the few proven ways out of poverty, they suggest that while the personalized solutions work best, they might be replicable, but too bespoke to scale. So if scaling ≠ only replication, how do we strategize for scale? I’ve got a proposal:  what if we frame the innovation scaling question more about doing deep than broad? The scaling question becomes: How will we move from distinct prototypes managed by different teams at the frontier of our work to a coherent, connected use of emergent  experiments in programme operations? Scaling also means moving from fringe to core Scaling innovation in a large organization like the UN has a glorious serendipity to it. Did you hear that we are looking into impact bonds in Armenia? What about the food security predictor in Indonesia? Nice collective intelligence approach in Lesotho. Blockchain is being used for cash transfers in Pakistan and Jordan. Check out the foresight in Mauritius. UNICEF is using Machine learning to track rights enshrined in constitutions. UNHCR is using it to predict migration in Somalia. UNDP is testing out social impact bonds for road safety in Montenegro. These organic innovations are beautiful and varied and keep us learning, but we as a UN system are not yet scaling in 3D. These days, I’ve been talking to people (my brother’s eyes glaze over at this point) about how to see various methods of innovations not as distinct categories of experiments, but rather as connected elements of an emergent way of doing development. Towards a connected kind of 3D.  Yes innovation is more of an evolving set of disruptions than a fixed taxonomy of new methods, but if we narrow our scope for a moment to the subset of innovations which have passed the proof of concept stage, can we start thinking seriously about how they connect? [As an important side note, thinking in terms of taxonomies of innovations is not a panacea. Check out @gquagiotto’s slides for a more thorough story on how classification is trouble for public sector innovation because it means we limit our vision and don’t see unexpected futures where they are already among us.] Projectizing innovation without keeping an eye on the links among the new stuff won’t get us far, and might even be counter-productive.  Instead, what would it be like if innovations were deployed in an integrated way? A bit like Armenia’s SDG innovation lab where behavioral insights, innovative finance, crowd-sourced solutions and predictive analytics [among others] are seen as a package deal.  I am looking for collaborators to learn more about how are all these methods and tools related. Do they help or hinder each other? Are there lessons that can be learned from one area and applied to others? Should some new tech and methods not be combined with others? 9 elements of next practices in development work A few of us UN experimenters came together in Beirut in July to pool what we know on this.  We had a pretty awesome team of mentors and UN innovators from 22 countries. We framed our reflections around the 9 elements of innovation which I see as approaching critical mass in the field. This is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a start to moving these methods from fringe tests led by various teams to core, connected operations. Here are the “nine elements of next practice UN” we are working with: Tapping into ethnography, citizen science and amped up participation for collective intelligence to increase the accuracy, creativity, responsiveness and accountability of investments for sustainable development. Using art, data, technology, science fiction and participatory foresight methods to overcome short-termism and make sustainable futures tangible. Complementing household survey methods with real time data and predictive analytics to see emerging risks and opportunities and design programmes and policies based on preparedness and prevention. Building on the utility of “superman dashboards”  for decision makers to helping real people use their own data for empowerment, entrepreneurship and accountability. Leveraging finance beyond ODA and public budgets by finding ways to attract private capital to sustainable development. Evolving the way we do things and even what services we offer by managing operations through new technologies Applying psychology and neuroscience for behavioral insights to question assumptions, design better campaigns and programmes and to generate evidence of impact when it comes to people’s behavior. Carving out space for science and technology partnerships within the UN’s sustainable development work Improving how we support our national partners in managing privacy and ethical risks Moving from “that’s cool” to “aha it’s all connected” We need to start thinking of these 9 elements as connected. It might be that they reinforce each other - whereby focusing on data empowerment gives meaning, context and legitimacy to the use of big data to understand behaviors and online activity. Or that they undermine each other - in the way that citizen science can undermine innovative finance pay-outs, or behavioral insights are helping companies get around privacy regulations. Looking for the practical connections, here’s what we’ve got so far: Collective intelligence methods that listen to people organically can help determine whether your behavioral campaigns are resonating.  Because people’s intell is often more granular than statistics, they could also be used to test whether new forms of finance are making an impact on health, education and other development issues. Small scale and/or internal experiments in the UN to manage operations with new technology help us know what the next generation privacy and ethics risks are. Experiments in gray zones can then inform future-oriented regulatory frameworks. Keeping a focus on helping people use data for empowerment is a good northstar when using new data and predictive analytics to ensure that cultivating realtime sources of data isn’t deepening the digital or data privacy divide. Using foresight methods or predictive analytics can point to signals of where to invest with innovative finance instruments [Follow Ramya from IFRC innovations for more on this. Hence some early connections form a budding conspiracy theory! If you are thinking multi-dimensionally too, or using a few of these methods and see where this line of thinking can be improved, help me draw more lines on the innovation conspiracy board! [Or tell me why this is the wrong tree to be barking towards… That’s always helpful too.]   We’re working on a playbook to codify what we know so far in terms of principles and methods for each of these 9 elements. Stay tuned for that... and please do get in touch to throw your own knowledge in!

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Promise to data: What the SDGs mean for persons with disability in China

BY Marielza Oliveira, Elin Bergman | August 29, 2018

China has strong and capable statistical systems, no surprises there. After all, China is known for its ambitious Five-Year Plans, which have shifted focus from economic growth to policy planning, environmental protection, and social programmes for its population of 1.4 billion. What's different and unique about its 13th Five-Year Plan is that it's very much aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Even so, China faces a daunting challenge to implement Agenda 2030. For starters, it only has official data for less than 30 percent of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators, and much less when considering data that covers vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities. With more than 85 million, China has the largest population with disabilities in the world. The good news is that China keeps a record of people with disability, so the official data sources are up-to-date. To support the Chinese government’s efforts to improve monitoring of the SDGs addressing people with disabilities, we at UNFPA, UNESCO, UNRCO, UN Women and WHO came together to test innovative approaches to collect focused and disaggregated data. Starting in Qinghai We selected the Qinghai Province in Northwest China as the pilot location to test new ways of collecting data. In Qinghai, the estimated number of persons with disability is five percent of the total population, of which about 70 percent live in rural areas. There are about 150,000 people registered in Qinghai Disabled Persons’ Federation, the local chapter of China Disabled Persons’ Federation. Therefore, it was important for us to look at their administrative data, which are key for crosslinking data from various sectors, including public services data. To demonstrate how data collection in underdeveloped regions can be operationalized in a smart way, we collected, analyzed and crosslinked all the administrative data of people with a disability ID with the following big data sources: Data from the national survey of basic services and needs for people with disabilities which is developed and updated by China Disabled Persons’ Federation, the National Bureau of Statistics and local Disabled Persons’ Federations; Data from the public services and various sectors including health, education, employment, social security, poverty alleviation and community services. This type of data is gathered from crosslinking disability ID data with public services data. Data from internet-based platforms. It's possible to use big data to integrate and crosslink all data from the disability ID system, administrative data of disability services from China Disabled Persons’ Federation and the administrative data of public services. By expanding the existing official data with information from other sources, China has the potential to not only monitor the additional SDG indicators, but it can also compile additional disaggregated views of SDG progress to monitor specific groups and locations in need of support while strengthening “real-time” monitoring and analytics. During this process, we engaged the vulnerable groups in the analysis and interpretation of data. For us, knowing what people living with disabilities think and need is key. We carefully examined their views to highlight the SDGs indicators that could directly benefit their well-being. The hindrances of data collection We experienced a few setbacks throughout the process, but, we adopted coping mechanisms to address the issue of data collection and analysis: Quality control of data. The disability data available from different sectors uses very different standards and follows different collection approaches. Moving forward, we propose to check and purify the data using standard disability datasets and a data crosslink approach. We also optimized the timeliness and the mechanisms to update the data. Sharing data among sectors. The key index of disability and people with disabilities was determined using the disability ID. The data across sectors was crosslinked with key index such as disability ID and others. What we discovered The administrative data platform of people with disability was recently updated with the results from the annual survey of unmet needs and services for people with disabilities nationwide. This platform provides timely data for monitoring SDGs that address people with disabilities. Other sectors have developed big data platforms using citizens’ ID. To continue enhancing the administrative data records, it's important to collaborate with other stakeholders, such as health care and educational departments to extend the existing data sources. Household surveys can also be used to fill in the gaps of official disability statistics. We shared our discoveries with an expert panel, which included representatives from the Chinese government, the National Bureau of Statistics, China Disabled Persons' Federation and its Qinghai branch, Qinghai Department of Commerce, Institute of Rehabilitation Information/WHO Family International Classifications Collaborating Center China, China Disability Data Research Institute, Soochow University, Nanjing Special Education Teachers College, UN agencies, as well as Chinese IT giants What's next The methodology implemented in Qinghai province can easily be extended to other vulnerable groups since they also face similar challenges. Stakeholders can also adopt similar tactics to develop specific SDG indicators, data collection and analysis to evaluate their progress. As for next steps, the UN country team will continue to research protocols and methods to monitor disability-inclusive SDGs. We will also develop a knowledge platform in Chinese to promote capacity building for the implementation of Agenda 2030 and conduct an international comparative study of technical approaches of data collection and analysis. Data and internet-based surveys will also be developed to learn more about the needs of people with disabilities and improve services for them, while at the same time using those statistics to make sure that we leave no one behind. What methods are you disaggregate the SDGs to ensure data for action with people living with disabilities? If you have some tips, do tell! Photography: Jonathan Kos-Read. License by Creative Commons

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Creating an impact investment culture in Armenia: Our way of doing it

BY Dmitry Mariyasin, Vahagn Voskanyan | August 22, 2018

According to some estimates, implementing the SDGs will cost a whopping 172.5 USD trillion by 2030, while current aid flows to developing countries sit at 350 USD billion annually. You might want to read the previous sentence again or let us summarize it for you: we have 350 USD billion per year, but we need around 172 USD trillion annually to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Tricky, no? I guess the quick answer is yes, it is tricky. However, we believe that this gap can be partly filled by something called impact investing. This is, in short, investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. At the UN in Armenia, we are testing impact investing and other new funding mechanisms to explore how they can be best used in middle-income countries to generate financing for the SDGs. Our UN team, led by UNDP Armenia, is experimenting around a set of initiatives that are already turning to be great learning experiences that we are proud to share in this blog. Our impact venture accelerator To support initiatives that put social or environmental issues at the core of their businesses, we created ImpactAIM: an impact venture accelerator. In short, ImpactAIM is a programme to support sustainable companies to scale up their impact. One of the criteria for ventures to be part of this initiative is that their business must reflect the mission and programme priorities of the United Nations in Armenia. With this exciting idea in mind, last year we launched a call for proposals for companies to apply. We partnered with Catalyst Foundation and Impact Hub Yerevan, and received 96 applications from 25 countries! We were happily surprised with this great response and we moved quickly to select our candidates. After a detailed process which included almost 30 interviews, we selected seven ventures to be part of the programme: Dasaran, Armacad, Armath, WiCastr, Smart Kindergarten, Sylex and IoTLab. These companies are currently enrolled in an intensive program which combines study sessions based on cutting-edge methodologies and hands-on experience in areas that are crucial for the start-up/business development world. The selected ventures also receive intensive mentorship to help them strengthen their market base and increase their investment absorption capacity. We are also trying to leverage the existing expertise of different UN agencies into the programme. This is the case of UNICEF, currently mentoring ventures working on education issues, but we are working to better integrate the expertise of agencies across the UN system. At the end of the programme, we will introduce the ventures to a network of impact venture capitals and angel investors to broke potential funding opportunities. Impact Investment Catalyzing Facility With the launch of the impact venture accelerator in December 2017, we realized that there is much more that we can do to support the expansion of impact ventures. In order to do that, and to stimulate the flow of private funds towards SDG targets, we are piloting an impact investment facility which will have two main elements: To support the establishment of impact funds through partnerships with fund managers to attract financing into impact ventures. To introduce impact-focused financial tools in Armenia. For example, long term loans, loans with subsidized interest rates and credit guarantees, that will encourage banking capital to fund impact ventures that target SDGs. What this means is that UNDP is going to introduce available impact and SDG targeting funding opportunities to engage external financial facilities for further disbursements to impact-focused clients. Considering that this type of funding usually includes a grant component and technical assistance, banks will be incentivized to add impact and SDG targeting into existing structures. Looking into social impact bonds Here in Armenia we are also developing social impact bonds to respond to key SDG bottlenecks. A social impact bond is a multi-party agreement based on the idea of “pay for success”. The Government identifies a social problem that it has a) not been efficient in solving or b) lacking the necessary resources to solve it.  The service providers who could efficiently solve the social problem are then identified, along with investors who are willing to pay the service providers upfront. The Government only pays the investors back when the pre-defined success indicators are reached or, in other words, pays only for success. Currently we are e working on the design of two social impact bonds: Improving quality of agricultural education in cooperation with FAO Armenia. Improving learning outcomes of the IT sector in cooperation with UNICEF Armenia. Our short but strategic roadshow During the last few months we have been spreading the word about impact investment. We participated in the Social Good Summit in Geneva and the Social Capital Markets (SOCAP2017) in San Francisco, where we met impact investors and made a strong pitch for partnerships with the private sector to achieve the SDGs. e now have a clear sense of what impact investors and key stakeholders outside the UN need and expect.  We have also received  feedback from key players in the industry and, together with INSEAD, organized Impact Investment for Development Summit in Yerevan in March 2017, which was the first time a dialogue on the role of impact investment took place in Armenia. Landing impact investments to the day-to-day reality Moving forward, we are looking into setting a legal framework that will allow the UN, private sector and other partners to make investments to support ventures promoting sustainable development. The fancy word for it is “impact investment platform”. The Impact Bonds, the Accelerator and the Catalyzing Facility are all specific and practical way to facilitate these investments, and help solve development challenges on the ground in Armenia and beyond. Working with the Armenian Government The Office of the Prime Minister in Armenia is eager to help accelerate SDGs. Our goal is to support Government to figure out ways of bringing academia and  government together to  engage citizens around the SDGs. We also hope to engage social entrepreneurs to  identify funding. Since its inception four years ago, the lab continues to evolve, from a social venture incubator to an accelerator. The accelerator takes the profitable business and scales globally. We also set up, together with the Government of Armenia, the National SDG Innovation Lab to ensure that both public and private partners work in a coherent way. The Lab brings together contributors from the public and private sectors to experiment and create to unlock Armenia’s development potential. For each new project that we work on, including this one pertaining to impact investments, we always ask ourselves three questions: Are we building a user (citizen)-driven intervention? Are we helping advance innovative approaches that help leapfrog to SDG achievement? Are we using the potential of private initiative and capital to achieve our objectives? Will this work? Stay posted  and follow us on Medium to find out!

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What Can Ship Identification Systems Tell Us About Development Policy?

BY Pulse Lab Jakarta | August 9, 2018

Maritime transportation is the life force of the world’s economy. Between 1990 and 2013 worldwide maritime trade more than doubled, with total volumes in 2013 reaching nearly 9.6 billion tons. The UN Country Team in Indonesia and Universitas Gadjah Mada have teamed up to analyze port network evolution across Indonesia. The dataset is global so if a similar analysis is of interest to other UN Country Teams please get in touch. Automatic Identification System (AIS) Data The global marine vessel identification system, called AIS, is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services to improve safety at sea. The International Maritime Organization requires AIS to be fitted aboard international voyaging ships with 300 or more gross tonnage, and all passenger ships regardless of size. Alongside its practical application to maritime safety, AIS is useful for research on a variety of topics, from studying rescue patterns of migrants and refugees to understanding risk factors to marine ecosystems from shipping. Based on a request from the Ministry of Development Planning in Indonesia and an initial analysis of port network connectivity using AIS data, conducted by a team of inter-disciplinary researchers at a Research Dive hosted by UN Global Pulse Lab Jakarta, we plan to conduct further analysis using the dataset with a view to informing maritime development policy. Indonesia Port Network Analysis As an archipelagic state, the Government of Indonesia envisions a greater role for the country as a global maritime axis and is working to achieve this through several maritime development plans, including Tol Laut. To understand better the opportunities and challenges connected to this ambition, over the coming months we will: Model and analyze the maritime network based on AIS data; Create summary statistics of ports in Indonesia, including the number of ships processed by ports, average waiting times at ports and shipping times between ports; and Predict how the maritime network in Indonesia will evolve given specific scenarios, including with and without Tol Laut. Beyond this, we have a few ideas to look at network resilience to storms and cyber attacks (with MIT) and risk factors to marine ecosystems from shipping. If any of the above is of interest to other UN Country Teams, please get in touch as the AIS dataset is global so the analysis can be expanded relatively easily.

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