Using Blockchain to Disrupt Government Corruption in Uzbekistan

BY Matluba Umurzakova, Saidbek Djurabekov | March 7, 2019

The Uzbek government is concerned about how the public perceives corruption in the country, and with good reason. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which scores countries based on how corrupt their governments are believed to be, Uzbekistan ranked 157 out of 180. In 2018, the Uzbek General Prosecutor’s Office stated that 1,561 officials in the public sector were prosecuted on charges of corruption. For the last two years, the government of Uzbekistan has been working non-stop to put an end to long-term corruption which pervades various sectors. An effort championed by President Mirziyoyev, corruption is a persistent national concern in Uzbekistan. In the words of Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan is “far from such concepts as justice, honesty, responsibility, meeting the needs and serving the people.” The challenge that Uzbekistan faces in tackling well-ingrained corruption cannot be overstated, but the silver lining here is the case that we are building for using blockchain to combat corruption. Addressing Old Problems with New Tech According to a Presidential Decree signed July 2018, from 2021 blockchain will be incorporated into Uzbekistan’s government transactions to improve public services and ensure transparency and accountability. In response to this statement, we at the UN in Uzbekistan (namely, UNDP, UNICEF and UNODC) joined forces, with support from the UN Development Coordination Office, to explore how blockchain can limit corruption in national public and private sectors. We took the cue from other regional efforts to combat corruption with blockchain. For example, Georgia recently used blockchain to counter land title fraud. In our case, we chose to pilot blockchain solutions in areas long impacted by corruption, with leaders committed to change, and with the technical readiness available to implement new technology. We chose two areas of focus: School certificates: The current paper-based system makes it easy for workers in public school institutions to issue invalid school certificates. Since school certificates are kept in each school and there is no central digital database to check the validity of each certificate, it’s difficult to monitor and keep tabs on who’s issuing and who’s receiving invalid school certificates. To help counter this problem, the UN team created a web service for the Ministry of Public Education (MPE) to create digital records of the issued certificates and a private blockchain to make sure that the records in the data based are not manipulated through the publicly accessible service for online certification. At the moment, the web service is integrated with the private blockchain deployed on the MPE servers and running preliminary tests within the agency itself. After testing this approach, we are going to make it available at public education departments and schools throughout the country. Land cadastre: The way that Uzbekistan’s State Cadastre works makes it easy for committee inspectors to manipulate records in central digital databases by altering the stated real-estate size, lowering tax bills, and changing the legal status of properties before buying or selling takes place. To test possible ways of detecting these fraudulent schemes, our team, along with the state cadaster committee, developed a demo blockchain application that prevents the unauthorized manipulation of the real estate data in the central government database. Citizens are also able to verify their property records online through a public portal making the agency’s activity more transparent. The blockchain app is being deployed in the committee’s servers and is undergoing internal tests. The next is to pilot the implementation of the blockchain system with real data. To advance these applications beyond the pilot stage, our team is working with national partners to establish an enabling institutional and regulatory framework. We know that to effectively introduce blockchain systems in the public education space and land cadastre, we will need to see change happen at the agency-level administration as well in legislation to define the legal status of blockchain-stored data. Are you working on a similar innovation? Talk to us!

Read More

Changing Data Collection Methods in Mauritania

BY Paula López-Abente Vicente, Fatma Soueid Ahmed, Khadijetou Cheikh Lo | February 27, 2019

Let’s meet Malika, an innovative tool developed jointly by UNICEF and UNFPA to monitor the change of social norms about Female Genital Mutilation (FMG) in Mauritania through surveys and data collection. Malika seeks to confirm whether the decrease in prevalence observed through the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and rapid assessment is correct and real; confirm whether the change in the social norm is significant and see to what extent the population deems involving adolescents and young people in the conversations as a decisive point in changing this practice. According to the WHO, FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights of women, especially girls, since it is almost always carried out on minors. MALIKA, which means “queen” in Arabic, stands for Measuring and Analyzing Linkage between Information Technology Knowledge and Advocacy with adolescents to end FGM. A prevalent practice in Mauritania, it affected 53.2 percent of girls under 14 and 66.6 percent of women between the age of 15 and 49 in 2015. Since 2011, UNFPA and UNICEF, with other civil society organizations, have been supporting the Mauritanian government to build a joint program to galvanize people to promote the collective abandonment of this practice. Step one: mainstreaming Malika In November 2018, we conducted a training and a pilot in Nouakchott prior to mainstreaming Malika into our programming. We selected two regions of convergence for the UN Country Team in Mauritania as part of our new UN Development Assistance Framework. The areas which have a high prevalence of FGM are Hodh El Chargui, located in east Mauritania and Assaba, located in the southern part of the country. Through the District Census, defined at the General Census of the Population and Habitat of 2013, we created a random representative sample of 600 households (300 households in each region). We polled a total of 2,863 people, of which 60 percent were women. For this exercise, we partnered up with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and National Office of Statistics, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Family and Childhood and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as several NGOs and youth networks. To do so, we trained 15 young women and four team managers (males) to provide them with the necessary knowledge and attitudes that would enable them to efficiently carry out data collection activities in the field. To collect the data, we used two methodologies. The first methodology involved gathering quantitative data through a survey from the representative sample of households. We had two types of questionnaires, one addressed to the pre-defined households and another individual survey for eligible women between the age of 15 and 49 living in those households. To collect qualitative data that would help us to better determine the persistence of FGM in the communities, we held 19 focus groups with young girls and boys, as well as adult women and men. At the same time, we also had conversations with Imams from these communities. We also invested heavily in building a youth network through these conversations to make sure that old habits don't linger on below the surface and reemerge in a future generation. We also used smartphones or tablets to collect quantitative and qualitative data, which allows us to obtain relevant data in real-time for operational planning. Because we conduct Malika once a year, we are able to minimize the time and costs of conducting surveys and evaluations that are expensive and not done regularly. In this way, Malika complements the MICS, which are conducted every four years, allowing us to react faster and adjust our programming. Step two: unveiling and analyzing the results Out of the 2,863 people that we polled, 72 percent live in rural areas. Forty five percent are under 15 years old and 68 percent of women have not received any form of education. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents confirmed that they are aware of FGM but only 11 percent learned about it in school, while 68 percent heard about it in community events. Education levels also influence the attitudes towards FGM. For instance, 61.3 percent  of women who had at least one daughter had already undergone FGM. This is a very important number for us because 29 percent of the women who were surveyed had undergone FGM because it was their mother’s decision. And of this group, 64 percent had never had access to education. We also found a correlation between the place of residence as an influencing factor to continue this practice. Fifty two percent of the respondents in rural areas are in favor in comparison to 48 percent that live in urban areas. In fact, 52 percent of women would prefer to keep this practice, stating three main reasons: better feminine hygiene, social recognition and religious needs. Other reasons relate to social norms, namely the perception that FGM is a prerequisite to be part of society. According to the conversations from the focus groups, 46 percent of the women said that the members of their communities are ready to abandon FGM in part as a result of awareness activities conducted by several NGOs. Step 3: How to move forward with these conversations From this exercise, we gathered a few key takeaways that will help move away from the norms that currently support FGM in several communities: We must consider socio cultural values to be able to strengthen the current strategies to eradicate FGM with the help of the citizens. We have to consider cultural reasoning when conducting awareness activities, training and communication actions among the different actors in order to stop this trend. It’s important to deconstruct arguments in connection with Islam and develop a pitch against FGM. Increase our advocacy efforts and receive more commitments from partners that would encourage abandoning the practice of  FGM.  Through Malika, we were able to fully understand that there is still a high prevalence of FGM in these two areas of Mauritania, so we need to continue working. We plan to use the data that we gathered to advocate for the abandonment of this practice through new messages in local languages. We will also adjust our national plan roadmap of interventions on this issue. Our aim is to take this initiative at the national level through a campaign against FGM. This project has given us an opportunity to share key information with our partners and to to explore avenues to refine our work and to align our new FGM strategy and action plan with recommendations addressed by Malika. We  will continue fighting and protecting our girls!  

Read More

Unlocking Solutions Through Positive Deviance in Palestine

BY Hadeel Abdo | February 6, 2019

To accelerate joint learning through experimenting innovative methods into our work, several UN agencies, funds and programmes working in Palestine opened the Palestine Innovation Lab spearheaded by UN Women in the spring of 2018. Change leaders and facilitators from the Welfare Improvement Network supported us with the initial setting and operation of the lab. Five UN agencies quickly adopted the Positive Deviance approach to discover successful behaviours that individuals (‘positive deviants’) practice in their own community, often against the grain of harmful norms. Adopting the positive deviance approach requires a paradigm shift: define the problem and therein lies the solution. Picture a half-filled glass: if the problem is the empty half, the solution is the full half. This approach is challenging us to reimagine how change can come from within the community itself. Positive deviants: a solution from within The first step before identifying positive deviants is to recognize that there is an existing problem. Defining the problem may seem simple but it is not. With the positive deviance approach, you have to push deeper to understand the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of a problem. Without defining a concrete problem, it is very difficult to unlock solutions. Experimenting with the positive deviance approach The Innovation Lab is currently applying positive deviance to existing projects from UN Women, UNDP, UNICEF, UN-Habitat and UNODC. This experiment is helping the organizations to unveil and implement sustainable solutions to complex problems in Palestine. Men championing gender equality In Palestine, UN Women is working with local community-based organizations to identify men who, contrary to common practice, support the right of women to inherit property, share household work and childcare with their wives. These men are both the solution to the problem and the solution provider, actively encouraging their peers to change their behaviour to advance gender equality. Their strategies are direct and personal: knocking on people’s doors, giving lectures, and drawing attention to  the importance of gender equality on social media. For example, Yousef Nassar, a radio-show host, is using his platform to talk about how men can promote gender equality at home and workplace. In the southern part of Gaza, an Imam from the local community uses the Friday prayers to encourage young people and their families to refrain from early marriage. As a result, a number of couples have decided to postpone marriage until the age of 18. UN Women is also raising awareness on women’s equal access to economic opportunities and decent work using the positive deviance approach – putting forward women entrepreneurs and business leaders. Fostering inclusive leaders As part of the ‘Al Fakhoora Dynamic Futures Programme’, UNDP identified 30 young post-secondary female and male students from underserved backgrounds as positive deviants. Through the initiative, the students will have a better chance to realize their full potential and overcome their socioeconomic, political and cultural limitations, while encouraging peers from their own community to adopt positive behaviours.     Together with PalVision, a local NGO with a focus on youth, UNICEF is working to reduce violence and harassment by male students at a local school in Bethany in East Jerusalem. In the town of Barta’a in Area C, West Bank, UN-Habitat is supporting the Palestinian local authorities to deliver planning functions to communities at risk of displacement in the Israeli Controlled Area C. UNODC is promoting youth crime prevention through sports, in partnership with the Higher Council for Youth and Sport, to identify sports coaches and teachers who demonstrated a strong sensitivity towards gender issues. The 'positive deviants', with the support of the community-based organizations, have begun to design strategies to amplify positive behaviours within their own community to promote gender equality. Our role in positive deviance approach To ensure that communities have a total ownership over the process, we should take on the role of observers, not as experts or implementers. That is the beauty, or challenge, of the positive deviance approach. We have to patiently wait for the positive deviants to bring the changes from within and themselves. What we learned through applying positive deviance in Palestine is that ‘positive deviants’ should be from the community itself. Listening to what neighbours have to say about changing certain behaviours resonates more than having outsiders say the same thing. This is the power of positive deviance. The “experts” or “outsiders” from international agencies and civil society organizations should simply be positioned observers of the process, and the community should take centre stage, becoming both the implementers and recipients of change. Have you used positive deviance approach to implement a project? If so, please share your experience with us!

Read More

What we Learned About Testing a Platform-Based Business Model at the UN in Moldova

BY Dumitru Vasilescu | January 30, 2019

Earlier last year, we were on a quest to test whether a platform-based organizational model would fit the new generation of UN Country Teams. A platform-based business model creates value by facilitating exchanges between two or more interdependent groups. To make these exchanges happen, platforms create large scalable networks of users and resources that can be accessed on demand. If you think about it, we at the UN in Moldova have all the ingredients to apply this approach in our work. We have 11 agencies with permanent presence in Moldova. We also have seven agencies without an office in the country which contribute to national development— remotely or on an ad-hoc basis. While these programmes, funds, and specialized agencies have their own mandate, leadership, and funding, they do have one thing in common: they are seeking to drive progress in multiple development areas. So we thought, why not combine the UN’s diverse presence in the country to address multiple barriers to sustainable and accelerated achievement of the country’s development goals such as poverty reduction, reproductive health, gender equality and food security at the same time to help ensure a multi-faceted approach to development? This is our story so far. Lesson 1: Our current system is too fragmented and requires re-thinking One thing is clear. The UN aspires to support every country’s effort to achieve the 2030 Agenda. In Moldova, we believe that it’s important to redesign and rethink the way that people, ideas and resources intersect and interact to maximize the effectiveness of development assistance. At the core of our work is our own effort to adopt the Delivering As One approach, where we focus on our internal human resources and their ability and skill to innovate, measure impact of the programmatic work and identify new areas for collaborative intervention. What we did notice is that we’re very fragmented on several levels, including non-coordinated interventions, competition for scarce funding, difficulties to coordinate work of non-residential agencies, unclear boundaries of the agencies’ mandates, and the list could go on. There are areas where we’ve successfully managed to work together as a UN Country Team. One example of this is the Gender Thematic Group. Through this group, agencies that work on women’s empowerment and gender equality meet regularly, learn about each other’s plans and programmes, and try to achieve more consistency and alignment through their interventions. The Youth Thematic Group is another good example because it’s meant for designing interventions that support youth and involve coordinated inter-agency work. Lesson 2: It’s imperative to do a detailed analysis of the current situation using a systematic approach With the guidance of the Resident Coordinator Office, UN agencies did a complex analysis of the current situation to scope out areas of cooperation between agencies. We also did a complex foresight exercise and an organizational network analysis to understand the current and future areas where our functions can intertwine and where a platform-based model would make sense. After we did the foresight exercise, we discovered that there are several areas where it makes more sense for UN agencies and the UN Country Team to act together. These areas include migration and children, coordination of non-residential and residential agencies, collaborative interventions (joint work programmes and projects), leveraging existing partnerships and harmonizing business practices. Through this exercise, we were also able to see that as the UN, we could take three possible and plausible scenarios of development into consideration to achieve the 2030 Agenda in the country and beyond. These scenarios are: The Future is Near (business-as-usual), Virtuous and Vicious and a scenario titled 'Transformers, as the third one. Source: UN, Foresight exercise Lesson 3: Not everything can work on a platform-based model Taking a collaborative approach around specific interventions, functions or internal business processes requires adopting a new modus operandi. To ensure that these collaborative efforts are sustainable from both an operational and financial standpoint, it’s important to build strong relationships with the teams that you are going to collaborate with, have a solid value proposition for local partners and have the ability to meet a need of a specific target group. It’s not all about the technology, but the people. We are new to the concept of the ‘UN-as-a-platform’ and there are no previous or current business cases using this approach throughout the organization to guide us. What exactly can we put in platforms in the future? Can we build a platform-like collaborative ecosystem based on trust, mutual benefits for the UN agencies and partners on the ground? How do we build a strong value proposition to last for much longer that a usual programmatic cycle? These are some of the questions that we are currently trying to find answers to. Are you working on applying a platform-based model in the UN? If so, talk to us.

Read More

Egypt: How Does Foresight Make a Difference on the Ground?

BY Simone Karlstetter | January 23, 2019

When I last blogged in this space in November 2018, I wrote about our plans to use foresight dialogues as a vehicle to create images and narratives of alternative futures for Egypt in the year 2050. One of the purposes of these “Alexandria Dialogues” is to use foresight to help us build integrated and innovative policy responses that are in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that foresight, which takes uncertainty, unpredictability, and interdependency as a given to explore alternative futures, is the best approach to identify emerging development opportunities and risks in the different scenarios that Egypt is facing. Let’s take the rapid population growth in Egypt, for example. Population growth is still perceived as the most pressing development priority. It will determine the effectiveness of other priorities, e.g. poverty reduction. From what we perceived, many Egyptians have a certain "doom perspective" when it comes to population growth. If we flip the coin, we could turn this issue into an unexpected advantage in the new emerging development realities in Egypt. How? Through foresight. Foresight enables decision-makers and the population as a whole to take better informed decisions which help them navigate the future from tomorrow onwards and respond to the aspirations set forth by Member States in the 2030 Agenda. The Alexandria Dialogues on foresight We kicked off the Alexandria Dialogues, a series of foresight dialogues that aim to identify the outlines of new sustainable development opportunities to realize Egypt’s significant potential, with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the major center of learning and understanding in Egypt.  For each dialogue, we invite between 20 to 30 distinguished thematic experts. Over the course of the dialogues, Egyptian thought leaders from the economic; scientific; technological; environmental; agricultural; academic and government sector come together. Each dialogue consists of two full working days, with an introduction to foresight, plenary discussions, and the core: foresight exercises in groups to imagine and build possible future scenarios and narratives. So far, we’ve carried out three out of six foresight dialogues. The topics include:   An inclusive society in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue included access to the 21st century social and economic order; new concepts of social justice, welfare, equality, inclusiveness; job and the labour market; technological innovation; spatial development, in urban as well as rural areas; old cities, new cities; gaps/divisions between regions/governorates/Upper & Lower Egypt; mental dispositions and health; the nature of resilience; the changed relationship between local, national, regional and global; intergenerational justice and dialogue. In the scenarios we built, governance played a key role in the direction of change. Laws, regulations and policies would determine, to a high degree, whether demographic, technological, economic and environmental change will have a positive or negative impact in Egypt's society in 2050 and whether that society will be inclusive or not. An educated person in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue covered the nature, nuts and bolts of education; future educational infrastructure; social, economic and political participation; the citizen of the 21st century; technological innovation; state-citizen relationship; type of social contract; international labour market; and economic growth sectors. The transformative change for these scenarios would take place in the pedagogy, emphasizing learner-based and collective learning, bringing it more in line with the creative, innovative and problem-solving needs of the 21st century. Sustainable life in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue covered the direct and indirect impact of climate change; the importance of water in all its dimensions; energy sources; resilience; consumption patterns; technological innovation; spatial development and urbanization; rural development; emerging population and health risks and opportunities; food production and security; etc. Halftime lessons Having applied foresight to three dialogues, and with three more to go, it is time to draw some “halftime” lessons from our observations thus far: Youth participation is crucial – but how? As we move forward with the dialogues, we realize that it’s imperative to include an equal share of youth voices. They are the owners of our future after all. Some of the questions that came up during the dialogues are: what is the best way to ensure that youth voices are heard? Could culture traditions hinder young participants from expressing their opinions when senior figures are in the same room? We explored including voices of youth through video statements but these did not actively feed into the scenario building and narratives. To ensure that we hear what youth have to say, we have decided to hold one of the remaining three dialogues exclusively with young students, entrepreneurs, and professionals to capture what they consider sustainable development in 2050 will look like. National capacity building Foresight is an important tool to build future scenarios. To make sure that we continue to inject foresight into the work that we do, we’ve built a new cadre of foresight experts. We trained co-facilitators from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in-person on how to conduct each foresight exercise, and how to watch out for the usual trial and errors of each exercise. They then applied their new skills during two of the dialogues so far. Continuing the Dialogues... Since this is the first foresight exercise in Egypt in about 20 years, we’ve received very positive feedback as different Government entities expressed an interest in our work and in foresight beyond our dialogues. We will continue to organize the remaining three dialogues in addition to a one-day conference that brings together all participants from the six events in June 2019. Have you had any experiences with foresight and how it makes a difference on the ground? We would love to hear from you in the comments section.   Photo: Evan Kirby/Unsplash

Read More

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!

Read More

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

Read More

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!

Read More

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!

Read More

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

Read More

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!

Read More

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!

Read More

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.

Read More