Silo Fighters Blog

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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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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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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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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Caring is Sharing: Towards Gender Equality Care Services in FYR Macedonia

BY Louisa Vinton | June 22, 2018

Sustainable Development Goal number 5 recognizes the need to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by 2030. As the UN Country Team in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, we have been wrestling with this topic and are working tirelessly to help national partners achieve the Global Goals, which have come with a series of challenges. Care or Construction to drive the economy? Our UN team in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been advocating for two potential solutions to the existing inequalities regarding the burden of unpaid care work. The first proposed solution is to promote an expansion in state-funded social care services, such as care for preschool children, the elderly, and people living with disabilities. An increase in care services should be seen as an investment that stimulates growth and creates new and better jobs primarily taken by women. For us at the UN, this is a very attractive equation, because doing the right thing is also the economically sound thing to do. It also provides a refreshing contrast to an entrenched belief in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that investing in construction work is the best way to use public funds to create jobs. Debunking myths about the care economy To prove this point, we did some data digging. Research conducted by UNDP and UN Women in Turkey helped us build a case on the importance of investing in social care infrastructure versus construction infrastructure. According to their research, social care investments could generate 2.5 times more jobs than investments in construction. So, imagine this: instead of a mere 290,000 jobs in construction, the same amount of government spending could yield 719,000 jobs in care services. And 73 percent of these new caregiving jobs would go to women, against just 6 percent of those in construction. Alongside this first powerful idea, we are trying to combat the stereotype that house chores are handled only by women. This conviction runs deep in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and men are let off the hook when in fact they could proactively step it up and share the burden of house work. To gain traction for these arguments, we made the idea of “care economy” the centerpiece of a high-profile UN-sponsored conference in June 2017. At the event, the new Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev gave a speech where he emphasized the importance of greater inclusion of women in the labor market and encouraged men to share more responsibilities at home. This high-level affirmation put wind in our sails, and the new Government has engaged with us energetically! Beyond the grandparent model of childcare Despite some research, our work has still been hampered by a lack of up-to-date data. The country has not conducted a census since 2002, and there are only a few areas in which gender-disaggregated data is collected systematically. For example, on workforce participation, there is minimal gender-sensitive analysis to explain the behaviors behind the numbers. This creates uncertainty as to why women are not more active in the labor market and why men are not doing more at home. We have assumptions, but we still need to test them to prove their validity or not. UN Women undertook a recent study on labor force participation. More than 3,600 women from 2,500 households participated. As expected, more than a third of those surveyed were not working because of care responsibilities in the home. There was no surprise here, but what did intrigue us was that conservative beliefs about appropriate roles for women seemed as big a deterrent to working outside the home. On one hand, women overwhelmingly saw employment as the key to an independent life. On the other hand, women seemed to feel that they were better at caregiving than men. This experience helped us to make sense of one of the findings of UN Women’s research. The secret, we concluded, was to offer care services outside the home that provided something more than a safe and secure kind of ‘human storage.’ This was clear, for example, in conversations with the mayor of a rural ethnic Albanian municipality with 25,000 inhabitants where UNDP helped to establish the first public preschool facility in 2015. The Mayor underlined the need to get beyond the “grandparent model” of childcare to ensure that preschool children enjoyed the benefits of socialization and early childhood education and can compete in the modern world. These findings also reinforced a new initiative by UNICEF to expand the reach of early childhood education programs. Since poorer families currently don't (or can't) access early childhood education opportunities, this expansion would overcome the current bias of daycare offerings towards well-off families and help to fight the intergenerational transmission of poverty. But here, too, demand would need to be stimulated, since so many families still believe in the idea of “grandparent care.” How we undertake these tasks will depend on the results of our quest for further data. We are pursuing three new lines of inquiry that should bring us closer to solutions:  Is there a compelling economic argument for the “care economy” in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia? Our initial analysis looked at supply and demand trends for both childcare and eldercare. There are 96 institutions (public and private) with 4,655 staff providing early childhood care services to 34,386 children. However, 4,158 children were refused in 2016 due to lack of capacity. This suggests that the country is failing to satisfy childcare needs. The outlook is similar for care for the elderly, where social care options are even less developed. Currently only 20 institutions with 365 staff provide care for 1,050 elderly people nationwide. Is there a nationwide centralized registry that encompasses the full spectrum of preschools and kindergartens, elder care institutions and daycare services for persons with disabilities? The answer is no. We are wrapping up the first-ever national inventory of social care services covering all three different sectors: public, private and civil society providers. The results are still being analyzed, but it is clear that core populations are underserved. This is especially the case in rural areas and areas dominated by ethnic minority populations (Albanians, Roma and Turks). For example, under 4 percent of Roma children are in childcare. Why are men reluctant caregivers? UNDP conducted a survey to identify the main obstacles that hinder men from getting involved in care work with the hopes finding ways to initiate behavioral change among the male population. Next steps Once the results are analyzed and digested, our next step is to hold design-thinking workshops to discover what might encourage men to undertake a larger share of “women’s work” at home. We hope that these workshops will help us find volunteers willing to serve as caregiver champions or at least as positive deviants. UNFPA and UN Women have already built modest advocacy campaigns around these themes (see poster), and the UN team as a whole looks forward to campaigning in 2018 to break down the barriers women face to employment, and those that men face to caregiving. “Men can do it too” – UNFPA’s tongue-in-cheek campaign on gender roles and housework

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Five ways the UN is experimenting together in 2018

BY Maria Blanco Lora | May 3, 2018

Here at silo-fighting HQ, for a fourth year in a row, we are trying to incentivize the UN to innovate together. This is our annual moment to listen to how UN country teams plan to go beyond business as usual and model next generation practices to meet the demands of Agenda 2030. We love this time of year, as the proposals themselves are great intelligence on the front line, and we get to know the problems teams want to solve and what tools they have at their disposal to solve them. We were looking for joint efforts across UN agencies to innovate in the areas of data, behavioural insights, finance, collective intelligence and foresight. With thanks to our donors, these are investments in innovations which can either be scaled from one agency to the rest of the system efforts, from one sector or field to another, from one country to another, or from one geographic area to country-wide applicability. We are also funding UN teams that want to break new ground and test hypotheses for more proof-of-concept type innovations. The competition among country teams for the funding was tough, but thanks to our review team, after 100 proposals, we finally decided on 34 experiments and scaling efforts that we are thrilled to present in this blog. Data for preparedness, prevention and prediction Innovations in data was the most popular area in the proposals this year. A good chunk of winning pitches focus on new ways of gathering and analysing data to allow countries better prepare and respond to natural disasters along with citizen-generated data for predictive analytics.   In the Pacific, the UN country team in Samoa, will use new technologies to analyse households preparedness to cyclones, while Fiji will be scaling VAMPIRE to measure the impact of cyclones through data mining and build predictive analytics. In Viet Nam, the UN team will develop digital tools to link baseline data on vulnerability and resilience to preparedness to long-term planning disaster recovery planning. To prevent food insecurity, the UN in Malawi will be using geospatial information to assist farmers and, in Ghana, the team will use remote sensing and drones to provide the government with timely data to respond to food security threats. In Iraq, crop productivity mapping through the use of mobile data collection and satellite imagery will explore new ways of measuring poverty beyond traditional surveys.  Sudan, PNG and Jordan will use participatory methodologies, based on mobile phone data, to test water and sanitation projects in camps for internally displaced persons to predict development investments and to look for future development trends.    The UN team in Dominican Republic will build on their previous experience to develop a national SDG data lab to integrate sustainable development into the development planning in the country. Also, Serbia will be developing an algorithm to assess the alignment of the national development plan and sectoral strategies to the SDGs. Last but not least, Uzbekistan will be using blockchain to improve public services testing whether this will reduce transaction costs and increase transparency. Ramping up participatory programming with collective intelligence Lots of UN teams are trying to tap into the best collective minds in the countries they serve, with an increase in the use of  new methods and technologies to engage the general public in policy development, budget allocation and monitoring. Based on what we got for our call for proposals, UN country teams feel comfortable using mobile tech to tap into collective intelligence to triangulate data or test their hypothesis while undertaking planning processes. Albania and Mexico are using mobile technologies and social media to gather perceptions on the progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Digital tools, such as Rapid Pro, will be used by Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Somalia to enhance the dialogue with local authorities and, in the case of T&T and Suriname, to engage young people in policy monitoring and development. Colombia, through automatic speech recognition, and Lesotho, through open challenges, will also use collective intelligence for participatory planning and accountable governance respectively. In Senegal, the UN country team will be supporting community health workers with a real-time monitoring tool, SMS-based, to prevent health emergencies. Monitoring will be also the scope of the project in Honduras, where women will be able to share and identify safe zones in the city of Choloma through crowdsourced audits facilitated by a real-time data collection app. The UN country team in Iraq will engage youth IT developers and activists to harness the power of new technologies to oversee public investments in the documentation, conservation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country's cultural heritage. In China, the UN team will link up farmers with tech companies to find solutions to connectivity gaps among poor farmers and decision makers using mobile technologies, e-platforms and drones. The Pulse Lab Kampala in Uganda will advance their machine learning driven radio tools to develop an open software platform for the UN country team to enable open access to existing software applications developed by the Lab that will allow programme colleagues harness collective intelligence for their work.  The UN team in Moldova will be on a quest to experiment, test and fine-tune a platform-based organizational model to explore if this type of platform would be feasible in the case of the UN global mandate. Behavioural insights to meet people where they are 2018 was the first year we opened up to proposals in the area of Behavioural Insights. We will be funding initiatives to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse (Nigeria), to learn from devients to halt male violent behaviour towards women (Palestine) and to eliminate female genital mutilation/cutting (Mauritania). In Costa Rica, the UN country team will use behavioural insights to understand and tackle structural development gaps among the most excluded communities. Popular technologies in these proposals are social media, SMS polling, big data and the use of radio. Innovative finance to channel private funds to development UN teams in three countries will be experimenting with new forms of financing in 2018: Colombia, Somalia, and Armenia. Team Colombia will develop innovative blending finance solutions to support enterprises with peacebuilding impact in remote locations in the country. The UN in Somalia will set up open innovation challenges and crowdfunding platforms and the UN and the government in Armenia will be leveraging private finance for SDG-related objectives through social impact bonds as part of their SDG innovation Lab. Imagining possible futures and seeing the future that is already here To begin to use the future as a tool for development work today. Two UN teams will be using foresight and alternative futures as part of their sustainable development work. In Egypt, the idea is to build scenarios to encourage foresight dialogues as a tool to increase civic engagement to define Egypt's future. The team will make use of forecasting tools such as Three Horizon Framework and Verge Foresight Framework. In the same region, Lebanon will apply a participatory approach to foresight, asking citizens to contribute to a foresight exercise using a mapping tool.    Pinky swear: we promise to work out loud…. This work will be led by a growing community of innovators within the UN. We are proud to have colleagues from almost every agency working in the field leading these innovations and we are aware that there are many more out there. The idea is to connect and learn from each other, so we are looking for mentors to help us (data scientists, human-centered design, machine-learning among others. Webinars and our One UN Knowledge Exchange group will be our main channels to support our innovators. We will also tap into the UN Innovation Network. This was just a taste of the innovations that are coming up this year, for more, keep showing up to our Silo Fighters Blog. The UN innovators will be sharing their own stories in this space. And while you are at it, follow us on Twitter.     Photo: Trevor Samson / World Bank

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Getting real on leaving no one behind: Women’s periods and the SDGs in Nepal

BY Stine Heiselberg, Bronwyn Russel | April 19, 2018

Who are Nepal's most vulnerable groups, and how is their vulnerability similar or different from other countries? This wasn't a rhetorical question for the Inter-Agency Common Feedback Project (CFP), an inter-agency initiative of the UN in Nepal, but a must-know in order to properly structure their priorities for the 2018-2022 UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). Key in answering this question, was to get in touch directly with those vulnerable groups and to listen to their experiences. To target the areas where there's a clear gap, we designed a community perception survey that would allow us to fully grasp why certain populations are falling behind in development progress, and most importantly, to help them catch up. We spoke with members of the UNDAF thematic groups from various UN agencies to develop a questionnaire that would also help us amplify existing data sources for future programming efforts. As a next step, we selected districts by aggregating the Human Development Index (HDI) at the provincial level and identified the provinces with the lowest HDI. Then, we identified districts within those provinces and pulled the data that would reflect as many UNDAF-related areas as possible. In October last year, we mobilized 30 enumerators across nine districts (Kailali, Achham, Bajura, Muhu, Dailekh, Rukum, Mahottari, Sarlahi, and Rautahat) over the course of two weeks. A total of 1,800 respondents completed the survey. To get our hands on qualitative data, we also held 12 focus group discussions in targeted communities facilitated by team members of the Common Feedback Project. This helped to contextualize quantitative findings and provide greater insight into the survey results. Making sense of all the data Once we collected the data, we put on our investigator hats to analyse results and disaggregate overall findings by district, age, gender, ethnicity and occupation. We did this to drill down and pinpoint factors that may influence how people in different regions are experiencing development. By far, the most effective surveys were the ones administered and analysed without pre-existing bias or predictions, which is what we strived for. The final product was a 39-page infographic style report that breaks down the responses based on focus areas, including detailed analysis of the survey feedback.   Some UN agencies are already focusing more in detail on the results that impact their mandate which could guide their future work. Debunking cultural misconceptions One of the things that came up during the surveys is the practice of chhaupadi, through which women are banned from their homes, public areas, temples, and schools during their menstrual periods. According to our findings, this still remains a regular practice even though it was outlawed in 2017. To contextualize these findings, we held focus group discussions to in Dailekh, a district where only half of the population is literate, and the Human Development Indicators are extremely low. From the focus group discussions, we learned that school teachers often ask female students to stay at home for four days during their periods. This is a problem because school girls miss up to one fifth of the school year. Beyond this impact on education, the practice of chhaupadi has far reaching implications. A number of women die annually from animal bites, infections, and smoke inhalation as they stay in unsafe and unsanitary shacks during their period. The good news is that some communities are beginning to understand that this ostracizing practice is damaging and unnecessary. And with collective efforts to raise awareness, this practice can be eliminated. In the western district of Mugu, chaupaddi is now considered a thing of the past, in part, due to the investments at the community level to teach people about the biological aspects of the menstrual cycle and the impacts of excluding women and girls from their communities. In several districts in Nepal, UNFPA and UNICEF are providing life skills education to girls and boys, both in and outside of school. A programme called Rupantaran (which means "transformation") empowers and enables adolescents to become change agents in their communities.   What's next We are committed to giving communities a voice at the table from the very beginning of our planning efforts.  The Common Feedback Project team will continue to support the UN team to integrate feedback from communities into their development plans. As part of this effort, we are currently designing a new community perceptions survey to better understand the dynamics of harmful traditional practices such as chaupaddi. The data collected will inform UN joint programmes to eradicate these practices. We will keep you posted on our findings. Check back with us in the next few months!

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What 8000 Papua New Guineans have to say about sustainable development

BY Stephanie Laryea, Chika Kondoh | April 11, 2018

About 150 kilometres north of Australia lies the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. This young nation has over 1,000 distinct ethnic groups and more than 850 indigenous spoken languages. Of Papua New Guinea’s population of almost 8 million people, 80 percent still live in rural areas; and 90 percent of the provinces are only accessible by air or sea. Due to underdeveloped infrastructure, it's difficult to reach out to citizens that live in dispersed areas. About 30 percent of the population doesn't have access to mass media. If we don't know what citizens think about their country or what they need, how can we expect them to actively participate in society? Reaching people through SMS technology In our quest to find ways to localize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Papua New Guinea and learn what citizens think, we came across an interesting detail: when Digicel, the largest mobile phone network provider entered Papua New Guinea’s telecommunications market in 2007, it single-handedly opened communications to the most remote areas of the country. Access to mobile phones spiked from 1.6 percent in 2006 to 50 percent in 2016. Some of our colleagues at UN agencies are already using mobile phones to communicate with Papua New Guineans. In 2016, UNICEF launched U-Report in Papua New Guinea, a free social messaging tool that allows for anyone, from any community, to comment on the issues affecting them. UNICEF partnered with Digicel to carry out SMS-based communications to collect disaggregated data on a large-scale in a rapid, low-cost and interactive way. Drawing on UNICEF's positive results, the UN team in Papua New Guinea sent an SMS blast to 103,466 randomly-selected Digicel subscribers to ask if they’d be willing participate in a Sustainable Development Goal  survey. Around 8,043 people registered and received questions based on data gaps previously identified by the government during a period of 12 days. What we learned from 8,000 people With simple text messages, we collected disaggregated data from all 22 provinces, 89 districts, from women and men of all range groups in Papua New Guinea. Believe it or not, the oldest respondent was 79 years old! On average, 72 percent of the people who registered, answered our questions. The data collected suggests where interventions are required by the Government, the United Nations or other development partners. For example: 44 percent of women in the province of Milne Bay reported feeling safe on public transport, while only 16 percent of women in the country’s capital, Port Moresby, felt safe on public transport. A staggering 90 percent had witnessed the effects of climate change in their local environment 3 out of 4 said they had been affected by a natural and/or man-made disaster in the past 12 months. Disparities among provinces, age groups and gender, revealed that we need to shift from an aggregated approach based on macro data at the national level to a disaggregated intervention approach. Papua New Guineans want to be actively involved in civic participation. We identified that youth are vital agents of change; 75 percent of the population is under 35 years old. Harnessing the potential of Papua New Guinea’s youth and using their his to our advantage and using youth networks will be essential in advocating for the SDGs. The UN in Papua New Guinea’s ‘Youth Champion 4 SDGs’ have discussed the survey findings and have provided insights on potential reasons for the disparity seen in some of the survey results. To view the survey results in a quick and easy way, our partners at Viz for Social Good, a social non-profit organization specialized in data visualization, did an amazing job visualizing the data.  Click here to see the data in Tableau. Author: Simon Beaumont How we are using what we heard Together with the national government, private sector, multilateral organizations, bilateral donors, NGOs, and academia, we held the country’s first-ever multi-sectoral data workshop to discuss data gaps and identify available data sources among the stakeholders present at the workshop. We shared the SMS survey findings and the platform during one of the sessions. We also categorized the disaggregated findings into the four outcome areas of the new United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2018-2022  and shared it with the program priority working groups. Later this year, we will share our findings with the citizens of Papua New Guinea through mass media. Our plan is to use radio and newspapers to reach people living in rural areas and online/social media to target people living in the capital city. People will also be able to interact and share their concerns either by calling radio shows or using social media to discuss their views on key survey findings. With this, our hope is to raise public awareness on the status of the SDGs in Papua New Guinea. Next steps Reflecting on the use of SMS and mobile phones, the UN Country Team in Papua New Guinea will delve deeper to gather more sets of disaggregated data to establish a statistical model that will help development actors better target their interventions.  We will also look into mobile usage and demographic data, provided by Digicel, to build a platform of civic monitoring through SMS. This scaled-up project aims to push the agenda of area-based programming in the UN system as well as with relevant government departments, building on the findings that this SMS survey provided. Watch this space for more!

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We want to hear from you: digital forums and community trust in local government in Somalia

BY Isatou Batonon, Liam Perret | April 5, 2018

Good news and Somalia are words that rarely appear in the same sentence. The country is slowly emerging from decades of conflict and recurrent drought, and continues to be the victim of tragic terrorist attacks, the most recent and deadliest of which occurred in October 2017. And yet, there is positive news to report. Somalia successfully organized presidential elections in February 2017, a major milestone for a country that has long been plagued by political instability. Other signs of progress include the formation of new federal member states and, most recently, of district councils. It is the establishment of these local governance structures, which are closest to the population and best placed to respond to local needs, which offer the most promising opportunities for successful state-building in Somalia. Seizing opportunities and addressing gaps As the district council formation and local governance process extends to new member states over the coming months, the quality of relationships between local government and citizens will become increasingly important. A local governance foundation based on trust, cooperation and legitimacy is critical to realizing greater stability and security in the country. It is in this context that we, the Somalia Resident Coordinator’s Office/Peace-building Fund Secretariat and UNICEF Somalia, developed a joint initiative aimed at giving voice to community priorities and concerns, and stimulating dialogue between local government officials and their constituents in two key districts: Baidoa and Kismayo. Our Daldhis project is funded under the Voice pillar of the UN DOCO Delivering Together for Sustainable Development Facility and implemented through the Joint Programme on Local Governance and Decentralized Service Delivery, a multi-agency UN programme which supports the establishment of legitimate and functional local government across Somalia. We want to hear from you The in-depth consultations we held with federal, state and district officials at the start of the initiative revealed that, not only were these stakeholders wanting to hear from their constituents, but they were also eager to interact directly with them on the issues that citizens care about. District and state officials have generally been confined to the capital cities and been unable to conduct any outreach in the community. Drought-related population movements and low levels of access due to chronic insecurity, both of which have disproportionately affected this part of the country, have all posed challenges to stronger engagement between local authorities and their constituents. There is subsequently a real demand for cost-effective, accessible and open spaces for public engagement and dialogue. Public officials expressed to us their eagerness to hear from citizens about the quality of service delivery, security and public participation in decision-making. There was also interest in understanding the public’s perception of government efforts to integrate the large numbers of IDPs and former refugees who have arrived in Kismayo district in particular. While government authorities are the primary beneficiaries of this initiative, we and other implementing partners also lack the means to conduct real time community level surveys that can serve programme implementation and the needs of their government partners. Nuanced feedback gathered from citizens in pre-existing and valued social spaces can be useful in making the policies and services delivered by government and implementing partners more responsive to the needs of citizens. Establishing the interactive forum and building engagement As part of the UN Country Team, UNICEF, in partnership with Africa Voices Foundation, designed a research and citizen engagement initiative based on the community scorecard methodology. While this approach has been tried before in more stable parts of the country, the challenge in southern Somalia was to establish large-scale and inclusive forums for citizen-government dialogue that are unhindered by barriers of insecurity or access. Given the extent of mobile phone penetration and reach of radio in Somalia, it was decided to base the initiative around SMS messaging and interactive radio in Baidoa and Kismayo. Five radio stations were selected across the two districts – including a mixture of independent and government owned radio stations to ensure greater engagement public engagement and a diverse range of opinions in the radio discussions. Each week questions on service delivery, security, civic engagement and returnee integration are disseminated through radio broadcasts across the target districts. Citizens then respond via toll-free SMS messages with their opinion/perspective on the topic. These messages are analysed by Africa Voices Foundation to provide in-depth insight into citizen perceptions on priority topics, and how they vary by demographic group. In the first instance, this analysis provides the key talking points for monthly interactive radio consultations. Emerging themes, trends and illustrative messages are read out on air in conversation with policymakers and government officials who are given the opportunity to respond and interact with callers. The analysis also serves to amplify citizen voices as robust forms of evidence for decision-making. The first of two rounds of the scorecard exercise has recently been completed. The first set of questions have focused on citizen perceptions of service delivery, security and local government roles and priorities. 1,055 people engaged through SMS in the two districts over the first three weeks, with especially strong reach among youth (68% of respondents were under 24 years), IDPs, those in urban centres and those with secondary or higher levels of education. Key findings from analysis of citizen feedback show that: Men, older people and those with higher education and were all more likely to be dissatisfied with local government services than other audience members. The narratives used by citizens to proclaim satisfaction with service delivery often focused on perceptions of overall positive change in their environment, rather than predetermined notions of what government should deliver. Those dissatisfied with local government performance often discussed this in terms of government failing to live up to certain political values, whether they were transparency, fairness or abiding by Somali cultural and religious norms. They also mentioned a range of services that they perceived as lacking including education, healthcare, infrastructure and water and sanitation. There was a clear lack of consensus amongst radio audiences on which institution(s) should be responsible for security. Many voices pointed to the community and citizens themselves as being the primary arbiters of security, rather than any formal institution. We shared these findings in the form of reports produced in English and Somali with local authorities. We recently organized the first of two radio shows in Baidoa and Kismayo and included key representatives from local and state level government who were interviewed based on the concerns that citizens had raised. Radio and citizen feedback State and district authorities have reported being satisfied with the radio format as a way of disseminating their work to the public, and value it as a space to hear and respond to citizen perspectives on their work. They also see value in using citizen feedback to guide civic education efforts, particularly as the district council formation process intensifies in Jubbaland and Southwest states. Public engagement: A key lesson we learned is that an initiative such as this one should remain flexible and adapt to trending topics so as to remain relevant and build public engagement. Participation from the public and from local government officials has not been as strong in Kismayo as it has been in Baidoa. Kismayo district has been at the centre of ongoing political tensions between the Federal Government of Somalia and the Federal Member States, as each vies for their share of power and resources under the new federalism arrangements. Representatives of the Member States met in Kismayo recently to discuss their grievances with the Federal Government and this coincided with the first round of the scorecard. The airwaves were dominated by discussions about these tensions (and of the deadly terror attack that had just taken place), and this left little room for public engagement on the scorecard questions which focused on service delivery. While this can be difficult to achieve within the context of a small pilot project, a longer-term intervention should be able to tap into initiatives like the Somalia Big Data project implemented by the UN Global Pulse to identify and leverage trending topics. Technology: Using new technologies increases the reach and inclusivity of citizen engagement but it also comes with limitations: FM radio coverage is mainly focused on urban areas and use of SMS responses means that those with very low levels of literacy may be excluded. This is also reflected in the demographic breakdown of respondents, as described previously. However, the literacy barrier may be overcome in the future with the introduction of other technologies such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR). The reach of shortwave radio may also increase participation from rural areas. Findings: The nature of the SMS and radio-based scorecard means that it is not possible to gain a ‘representative’ sample of respondents from which to calculate statistics that can be generalised (e.g. x% of people believe that public services are of poor quality). However, this initiative seeks to unearth rich qualitative data that can provide the ‘why’ behind trends and public opinion that surveys fail to provide. Moreover by ensuring diversity in the discussions, and drawing comparisons between groups (e.g. men and women, IDPs and non-IDPs), it is possible to discuss how perception varies between them. The finding that women, younger and less educated respondents were perhaps less willing to criticize government performance than their male, older and more educated counterparts was of particular interest to government officials as it suggests the need for greater engagement with this segment of the population in order to solicit and respond to their feedback. Radio stations and citizen-state dialogue: This is the first time that government-run radio stations are engaging in an initiative such as this one in Somalia. The project is providing an opportunity to build the capacity of these radio stations and strengthen their role as facilitators of citizen-state dialogue and cooperation. The space we created through SMS and radio has also opened up opportunities for citizens to discuss issues that fall outside of the scope of the intervention. For example, a number of messages have focused on Somali values and government’s relationship with al-Shabaab. This suggests that there is real potential for such an initiative to promote broader debate and dialogue in Somali society. As we move  into the second and final round of questions and radio shows focusing on citizen engagement and reintegration issues, there will be more opportunities for the Somali government and its development partners to better understand how constructive relationships can be fostered and sustained between citizens and local governments, as they seek to build the foundations for inclusive, effective and accountable local governance in Somalia. PHOTO: Internews Europe  

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The why and the how of Central America’s first all female hackathon

BY Alice H Shackelford | March 28, 2018

While hackathons are commonplace in some parts of the world, we wanted to try one in Costa Rica. Our first hackathon at the United Nations in Costa Rica was a chance to use technology to connect Central American experts in science, engineering and technology with sustainable development problems. During the formulation of our United Nations Development Assistance Framework for 2018-2022, we identified several challenges that Costa Ricans face daily: urban sustainability, waste management, security issues and a lack of mobility solutions for persons living with disabilities. Another related issue in Central America is the lack of women's participation in the digital tech space. Is there something that we at the UN in Costa Rica could do to create more equal spaces for women to unfold their skills in the tech sector? We think so! Bringing women and tech together To make this happen, we thought an all-women hackathon would fit the bill. We could work with brilliant women to come up with sustainable development solutions using technology. We linked up Cooperativa Sulá Batsú, The Center for Urban Sustainability, the Inter-American Development Bank, Google, the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research, CENFOTEC University, Universidad Hispanoamericana, Tecnológico de Costa Rica,  MIT Media Lab and Access Now, to organize the first female Central American hackathon and promote women’s empowerment. To join efforts means to go further! The way our hackathon worked 180 women from Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Mexico signed up for the hackathon. Interestingly, 60 percent of the ‘hackers’ came from rural areas. We organized a preparatory workshop on 7 and 8 October 2017 to discuss the problems we wanted to solve: urban sustainability issues. We also did some skills sharing about design thinking, prototyping, digitally based business models, and how to deliver an elevator pitch. Of the women who participated, 65 came to the face-to-face sessions and 48 connected via live stream. During the prep workshop we agreed on six goals: To promote an environment of mutual support, exchange and collective construction To address issues of 2030 Agenda, especially SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 13 (Climate Action) To promote gender equality and women’s empowerment by encouraging them to get involved in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) To promote the conditions for technology development from the perspective of young women in Central America To develop leadership conditions for young women in the tech sector To promote the creation of a technology network for young women in Central America Ready, set, hack!   We kicked off our 30-hour hackathon on 21 October 2017. For two days, women between 15 and 35 years old hacked non-stop at CENFOTEC University and the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (TEC). We divided the women into four categories, according to their age and technology creation experience. It was amazing to see how women who took part were pouring energy and creativity into their prototype idea. The Center for Urban Sustainability and the Inter-American Development Bank helped us to highlight inherent problems associated with solid waste management, urban mobility and public spaces. We also had Dr. Colin "Topper" Carew, the CodeNext Director from MIT Media Lab share his knowledge about technology and innovation. After 30 hours of coding, designing, troubleshooting, and a lot of coffee, the hackers came up with 36 prototypes; among these, 13 with a focus on solid waste management, 12 on urban mobility and 11 on public spaces. Some of the inventions were: A website and a mobile application that identifies insecure areas where assaults, harassment and kidnappings have been reported. The platform classifies the city into green, yellow and red zones indicating the safest and most risky areas. The idea is to encourage people to take preventive security measures and to help authorities develop actions to ensure the security of its citizens. A robot that maps the sewerage network to help local governments identify saturation and damage of the city’s sewer networks. The information can help the municipal governments in the decision-making processes linked to the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation. An app that provides bus schedules and routes for people living with disabilities. The app is connected to the bus service and has a "buzzer" function that notifies drivers ahead of time that a person with a disability will board the bus. This allows the driver to prepare the road vehicle and make it easier and safer for the person getting on the bus. The diversity of the innovations only confirmed the importance of creating opportunities for women to participate in the construction of digital technology. Betting on this project was definitely an awesome decision! Wrapping it up To mark the success of the hackathon, each team showcased their innovation to a high level jury from the United Nations, government, international cooperation representatives, civil society organizations and academia. The goal was to assess each project, evaluate the main successes, and make note of points for improvement. Instead of giving out an award based on rankings, the organizing committee provided valuable guidance that would help the teams advance in their work. Each team member received the same award and certificate.   What’s next? One of the key objectives for us at the UN in Costa Rica was to make sure that all teams would be able to finalize their proposals with support from the partners. It was also important to strengthen the tech skills of each woman that participated to ideally set them up for a successful university career related to the issues addressed at the hackathon. For example, our partners at Cooperativa Sulá Batsú invited the young women to be part of the TIC-as project, which aims to integrate young women from rural areas and urban areas in training spaces related to STEM, as an alternative to enter the labor market. The teams interested in finalizing their innovation can also continue to polish their proposals. For us, a huge indicator of success is that these scientists, engineers and IT experts  are now part of the solution to the problems that we face in sustainable development. This experience motivates us to continue working in innovative ways to work more in partnerships and to learn from the talent pool that is available to create sustainable solutions for real problems. The CENFOTEC University and the Tecnológico de Costa Rica established a follow-up strategy to create training spaces in the technology field and provide support throughout the admissions process to all the women interested in enrolling in a career in STEM. One area we haven’t  yet worked on, but would like advice on, is connecting women in STEM with catalytic finance. If anyone has ideas or tips on this so that the hackathon is a launching pad, do get it touch!

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Letting a thousand flowers bloom: An update from Kosovo on the Global Goals

BY Kotaro Takeda, Flutra Rexhaj | March 15, 2018

The UN Kosovo* team is on a mission: to bring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to Kosovo and to bring Kosovo to the SDGs. As we enter 2018, the Kosovo Assembly has just passed a Resolution endorsing the Sustainable Development Goals. Kosovo is a busy, complicated place, and its institutions are working simultaneously to achieve various development strategies (a Development Strategy, a Gender Strategy, the European Reform Agenda, etc., etc.), but they all contribute towards the creation of a more inclusive, sustainable future. We are pleased that Kosovo sees the value in adopting the SDGs and in using them to help power its own development agenda. The unanimous vote constitutes the natural conclusion of two years of “letting a thousand flowers bloom”. Given the unique political context in Kosovo, and other factors, the UN Kosovo Team has, from the beginning, taken a bottom-up approach to “seeding” the SDGs and preparing the ground for more formal activities to adapt and implement the SDGs. It all began five years ago with the participation of 9,000 Kosovars in the global survey “The World We Want” that helped to establish the goals. We are proud of the fact that there was Kosovar DNA in the Global Goals from the very start. Building on this initial level of public awareness, the UN Kosovo Team, with its partners, has been exploring multiple avenues for promoting and bringing the SDGs to life in Kosovo. Here are just a few of the many stories behind our approach of “letting a thousand flowers bloom”. SDG1 No Poverty: The Journalism Poverty Prize Poverty rates in Kosovo remain amongst the highest in the region. According to the Statistical Agency of Kosovo and the World Bank (2015), the poverty rate (those living below 1.82 euro per adult equivalent per day) was more than 17 percent, while the extreme poverty rate (those living below 1.30 euro per adult equivalent per day) was 5 percent. While many activities of the UN agencies along with partners have contributed to reducing poverty, none have been as successful in terms of raising public awareness about the persistence of poverty and inclusion as the Annual Journalism Poverty Prize. For the twelfth year in a row, the UN Kosovo Team and the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) have provided professional journalists the opportunity to showcase their stories about the reality of poverty in Kosovo. The best examples (print and online news, video, radio, and photography), as selected by a professional jury, win the Poverty Prize. PovertyPrize-15 In 2017 we were joined by the remarkable artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, who created a public installation of black and white photographs portraying prize-winning stories of poverty and social exclusion in Kosovo. The timing was powerful: Alketa was calling for Kosovars to vote to end poverty just as politicians were finishing a final week of campaigning prior to local elections. We had over 30,000 Facebook and 15,000 Twitter impressions that day. “Vote to end the poverty”- Alketa’s powerful art installation was mounted on the walls of the “Termokiss” building, (an Alternative Community Centre for Youth), sending a powerful message. “It is not so much about charity as it is about justice”, said Alketa. SDG 5 Gender Equality: 16 Days Against Violence Against Women Although Kosovo’s legal framework guarantees full equality for men and women, discrimination against women continues, resulting in inadequate protection for some basic human rights guaranteed by law. The 16 Days campaign began in Kosovo in 2013 and, since then, it has become the centerpiece of our efforts to combat violence against women. Every year, more people get involved and we must scramble to manage an ever-increasing number of events without diluting the impact of this unique campaign. In 2017, we were as always led by UN WOMEN, in partnership with the Kosovo Women’s Network, Care International, the Women’s Centre for Human Rights, the Assembly of Kosovo, and international organizations and missions, including OSCE, UNMIK, KFOR and EULEX, on more than 65 separate advocacy activities taking place across Kosovo to raise awareness of the need to eliminate all forms of violence against women. The highlight by far of this year’s events was the ballet performance “One Day”, performed by the Kosovo Theatre Ballet. This was a deeply personal story and a message of hope based on the experiences of a Kosovar survivor of domestic violence. This was another example of art and advocacy can mix in Kosovo, to powerful effect. It comes in the wake of the global success of the Bafta-winning short film HOME– a fantasy on the struggles of migrants, which was recognized as one of the most successful achievements in the region for 2017 by Al Jazeera. SDG 4 Quality Education: Podium, the UNICEF Innovation Lab approach to teaching the SDGs Creating environments where young Kosovars can learn about the Global Goals is another of our priorities since only the engagement and commitment of future generations will ensure long-term societal commitment and bring about lasting change. The Advocacy for Social Change initiative “Podium for the SDGs”, organized by the UNICEF Innovation Lab, UNV and the UN Development Coordinator’s Office, reached hundreds of young girls and boys from across Kosovo during its outreach phase. Later, over forty of them attended workshops where they learned to identify and link community needs to specific Global Goals, how to collaborate with peers, and how to advocate for their communities’ priorities. SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals: It’s Festival Time! The UN Kosovo Team continued to build on its long-standing partnership with the Dokufest, a world-class documentary film festival, in Prizren, Kosovo, to promote the SDGs. This year’s theme “Future My Love” was perfectly suited to Agenda 2030. We created a SDGs booth to allow participants at the festival to create a video recording of the future they want. And we helped to shed light on the boundless talent of young women filmmakers in Kosovo. UNV and the UN Development Coordinator’s Office also supported the 8th edition of Anibar, the annual animation Festival in Peja/Peć, where children were taught about the SDGs and were encouraged to produce their own animations around their favorite goals. In addition to working with these existing platforms for SDG advocacy and learning, we took the first steps in 2017 towards partnering with private sector around SDGs, with a focus on sustainability and partnership-building. More than 35 representatives from the private sector, UN Heads of Agencies, the American Chamber of Commerce, USAID EMPOWER programme and The Partnering Initiative contributed to discussions on leveraging partnerships for sustainable development. Setting SDG baselines 2017 also marked the first steps in setting up a robust data platform, to help inform the public and assist decision makers to monitor and report on the implementation of Agenda 2030. Gathering reliable data in Kosovo is always a challenge, but the SDGs represent a critical opportunity to promote synergies with existing efforts and to raise awareness of the need to further invest in improving capacities for data collection and analysis. What’s next? We’ve had a lot of fun so far, experimenting and piloting different ways to bring the SDG message to Kosovo. Now, with the Kosovo Assembly and leadership fully on board, it’s time to take stock and focus attention on nurturing those flowers that are blooming the most. In Kosovo, there is never a dull moment! * References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

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Silo Fighters Blog

Crowdsourcing for Development Insights in Madagascar

BY Hasina Rakotondrazafy | January 31, 2018

Madagascar is considered a biodiversity hotspot. Besides its majestic landscapes, this island country houses 5 percent of the world’s most unique species and plants. Known for its rich biological and ethnic diversity, the country hasn’t escaped the consequences of climate change. Since 2016, the southern part of the country has been facing the impacts of a serious drought due to the climate phenomenon of El Nino. The critical situation of this region has led the UN to focus several of its interventions in this area, specially to work with young people. Partnering with youth Representing over 50 percent of the population in Madagascar, the UN recognizes that young people are a key pillar to drive the country’s development. Several UN agencies have been partnering and working with them for many years. To monitor our work and enhance our accountability to the people we serve, we invited participants of our projects in the southern regions of the country to answer an important question: How are we doing? With this basic question in mind, the UN in Madagascar engaged in a exciting exercise to collect their perceptions on our work in their respective localities and, even more important, collect ideas to improve the impact of UN future actions. We specifically looked into the following projects supported by UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, FAO, IFAD, ILO, WFP and WHO. : AINA: A project that aims to mitigate the effects of extreme poverty by reducing the number of vulnerable families experiencing acute malnutrition. MIARO: Which focuses mainly on the prevention of chronic malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of the child. Maison des Junes: Works with young people so that they can better express themselves and be agents of social change. Ex-Juvi: Seeks to reintegrate young people that have been in conflict with the law. MRPA: Helps protecting the environment while creating and capitalizing on human and natural resources to maintain sustainable development. For this exercise, we partnered up with the Madagascar Innovation Lab, a young and dynamic group that designed, developed, and created a just-in-time analysis and collection tool called Integrated Data Processing (IDP). The Madagascar Innovation Lab, which is creating job opportunities for young minds alike, has a staff made up of 50 percent women and people with backgrounds ranging from machine learning experts to business analysts that work together on many innovative projects, including ours! Gather, upload, sync and repeat To provide reliable, consistent and accurate data in a timely manner, the Lab developed a  mobile application which allows the data collection agents to upload the information. We also developed a website to make available all the collected data http://snu.idp.mg. Data collection practices have been a vital part of the life cycle of development projects for decades, however, traditional paper based data collection can be a daunting task as it tends to take several months to combine the process of data collection until conclusions in reporting can be reached. This can ultimately alter the decision-making process and could potentially affect getting a project off the ground. With this new project that we are testing, using tablets or mobile phones allows the agents to expedite the data collection process. The application can hold an unlimited amount of surveys and questionnaires written in any language, categorized by indicators, demographics, and other specifications. How cool is that!   Initial results During the last months of 2017, we conducted our data collection in the south part of Madagascar with the help of 80 volunteers from two youth centers supported by the UN. The exercise involved four major regions, four cities, and eight districts, reaching more than 17,500 people. During the data collection, our volunteers informed participants about the initiative and how the results will be used. Much of this southern region is located in remote areas, only accessible by jeeps with a 4-wheel drive, motorcycle, or on foot, therefore getting there can be an adventure. So, to prepare for our data collection process, the agents are equipped with solar panels and power banks, which ensure they always have access to power supply. For the most part, Madagascar has managed to provide phone and data coverage to large areas of the island, so even from the remotest locations, our agents are able to sync the data on a daily basis. This has allowed our information and communication technologies to be fully functional from almost everywhere. Month’s worth of data can be mined and analyzed in an instant which allows us to gain access to information on various social, economical and environmental aspects of life in Madagascar. Making use of the data Our next immediate step will be to analyze the data to adjust our future actions based on the needs expressed by the participants during the survey. While we embark on full data analysis exercise, we have already made available to the general public the data regarding the participant’s opinions on each the projects and their ideas on how they could expand to support communities in new ways. We are excited to know how to better serve these regions, often left behind by key development interventions. From a coordination point of view, we are interested in looking at the data with an integrated approach to identify new joint initiatives where UN agencies can partner - an essential ask from the 2030 Agenda. We are also planning to use the data to review or UN Development Assistance Framework, but a quick win will be its use by the two youth centers supported by us that helped with this exercise: more activities related to young people’s concerns like drugs, alcohol, employment, professional training, early pregnancy, corruption, could be added to their interventions...  And this is just the beginning! We know from reflections on collective intelligence work that most often the missed step is going back to the people who are consulted to show them how their opinions and ideas will be put to use. We are already planning some activities to close the feedback loop. You will hear more about that adventure in our next installment! Photo: MIL team photos taken by BLU Life One X2 phones.

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