Silo Fighters Blog

What Can Ship Identification Systems Tell Us About Development Policy?

BY Pulse Lab Jakarta | August 9, 2018

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

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Powering up data collection systems in Palestine

BY Subhra Bhattacharjee | July 11, 2018

In 2016 we prepared a Common Country Analysis (CCA) for Palestine. A CCA is UN speak for a detailed analysis of a country in preparation for a multi-year action plan of the UN. It identifies key development challenges and where the UN needs to focus its development investments. For our analysis this time, we decided to look at people. In hindsight it appears to be the obvious thing to do, but we were not the first to think of this. The Nepal UN Country Team did it before us. For our CCA we asked ourselves two questions: Who are the most vulnerable groups in Palestine? What are the structural drivers of their vulnerability? We thought if we could identify the most vulnerable groups and analyze the structural drivers of their chronic vulnerability, we will have a good sense of what it will take to ensure that our sustainable development investments leave no one behind. The first call for ideas brought out 61 proposed groups, each backed by passionate arguments as to why they are the most vulnerable. We merged some groups, reduced duplications, clarified categories, tinkered with definitions, and after extensive discussions, honed our focus to 20 vulnerable groups. This gave us a window to the factors that keep some groups in Palestine systematically at a disadvantage. Next, we did a deep-dive to understand why development was leaving some groups behind. For some groups, including out-of-school children and children in the labour market, the lack of adequate data makes it difficult for government to formulate specific policies and programmes for these groups. Alternative data collection methods for groups that are small compared to the population After a comprehensive exercise to account for the data, especially looking at Sustainable Development Goals indicators, we noted that relevant data on smaller groups couldn’t be collected only through existing surveys. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) uses representative samples for each geographical area of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), and even though it produces high quality data consistent with international standards, there is a lack of up-to-date and periodic disaggregated data on several smaller groups. Take for example, the fishermen of Gaza. There are some 4,000 registered fishermen in Gaza, accounting for 0.2 percent of Gaza’s population of two million. If PCBS samples 1,000 people from Gaza for one of its quarterly labour force surveys, it will have at most two fishermen in its sample. We cannot draw any reliable conclusions about the socio-economic conditions of fishermen in Gaza from a sample of two people. And if PCBS included more fishermen in their sample, the percentage of fishermen in the sample will be larger than the percentage of fishermen in Gaza’s population. To create a large enough sub-sample for fisherfolk, PCBS will need to do a new level of sub-sampling by profession or sector on top of the two layers it is already subsampling. This would significantly increase its cost of surveys. Are you still tracking with us? Keep reading.   Flash surveys to the rescue So, for the smaller groups, we at the UN looked for an approach to gather data that would not cost too much, would not create too much additional work and most importantly, that is able to produce good quality data. The first thing we tried is a series of flash surveys – with small samples, and short questionnaires. These flash surveys had several benefits over the more traditional surveys with bigger samples and longer questionnaires: They allowed us to test our systems for collecting primary data and iterate quickly and cheaply if necessary to work out the flaws in the system. They enabled our enumerators to get hands-on training at a relatively low cost to us. They are also particularly suitable for understanding the smaller groups that don’t get adequately represented in the bigger surveys. We chose four vulnerable groups: adolescent girls, children in labour, the elderly and persons with disabilities as pilot cases. UNFPA took the lead in this. They engaged the Sharek Youth Forum, a non-profit, and one of UNFPA’s implementing partners to conduct the surveys. OHCHR, FAO, UNRWA, helped with the quality control. 37 university students (28 from the West Bank and 9 from Gaza) were recruited from Sharek’s network and trained as enumerators by an expert. The survey questionnaires in Arabic were uploaded on KoBoToolbox, a free and open source suite of tools for collecting data. Many of the young enumerators owned smartphones so they downloaded the app on their phones and entered the data for each person they surveyed into their smartphones. Sharek provided the others with tablets. A village, a town and a refugee camp were selected in each governorate. Sharek’s enumerators visited schools to survey adolescent girls, reached out to the elderly in their local communities, and found persons with disabilities through support groups. ILO provided information on the areas with high concentration of child labour. The enumerators collected the data over a period of two weeks, and, in some cases, they used paper forms to collect the data and documented problems as they arose. The enumerators collected data on a small number of key demographic variables for each group. For the data on the four groups produced by Viz for Social Good, click here, here, here, and here. Before even looking at the data, we noted a few things. First, we now have 37 trained enumerators who can be deployed again at short notice to conduct other flash surveys. The investment in training and the hands-on experience they got has started the process of creating systems to collect data on vulnerable groups. Second, we need to finesse our sample selection if we want to use the surveys to provide baseline indicators and monitor progress. Third, we need to think through how to combine the data from smartphones and paper surveys. Fourth, we need to figure out how to identify our target groups based on more rigorous definitions. For instance, not all work done by children should be classified as child labour. According to ILO, child labour refers to work that “deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development”. Fifth, flash surveys need more quality control if they are to serve the same purpose as traditional surveys. This is because with smaller samples of flash surveys, the choice of location will need extra attention to ensure that the sample is indeed representative. This year, we will work through these wrinkles. Engaging people in their own data analysis In data circles, we often hear the idea of engaging communities to collect and use their own data. But the instances of it being done in a meaningful, low cost, sustainable way to generate usable data are few and far between. Could we pull it off? We decided to experiment with combining data collection and empowerment for one of the most vulnerable groups in the oPt, namely, Area C communities. Area C accounts for 60 percent of the West Bank. It has some of the most fertile agricultural land and almost the entirety of Palestine’s natural resources. An estimated 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C and a greater number depend on its resources for their livelihoods. Area C is controlled by the Israeli military,  which has exclusive control over land, planning and construction. Significant portions of Area C land are allocated for Israeli settlements and declared as Israeli state land. Only about 30 percent of Area C is available for Palestinian construction, but so far Palestinians have been issued permits to build on less than one percent of the land. Since construction permits in Area C are closely tied to Israeli spatial plans, spatial plans driven by Palestinian communities have been used in recent times to empower communities, and to rally the Israeli Civil Administration to issue permits to Palestinians for construction. In addition to Israeli military orders, land ownership in Area C is governed by a complex legal framework resulting in insecurity of land tenure and confusion about ownership and user rights of private land. Consequently, land registration has been a long-time priority of local and international development actors in the oPt. As the next activity of our project, we integrated a community-driven process to map land ownership and user rights. UN-Habitat took the lead in developing a system called the Social Tenure Domain Model. This participatory tool is a pro-poor, gender responsive system based on free and open source software, which means that all the data collected and stored is available to the communities and owned by the users. The system is based on information and evidence shared by local communities making them a part of the decision-making process. The system records and analyzes the social tenure relationship of people and land, and the social services/amenities that available to the inhabitants of a location. It fits the oPt’s highly complex tenure system, because it supports a continuum of land rights ranging from formal to informal. An Arabic interface was created for the system so it can easily be deployed in other Arabic-speaking countries. UN-Habitat also provided training for the Palestinian Land and Water Settlement Commission staff. This system for community mapping of land rights with a special focus on women and youth will help us empower the community, build social cohesion, and generate data on land rights. The resulting database will serve as a shadow land register, support land valuation, raise awareness about land governance in Area C, and inform advocacy efforts to defend land rights of Palestinian communities. These efforts are supported by the ‘Road Map for Reforming Palestinian Land Sector’ of 2017. Right now, the background work is still ongoing. The model will be piloted in 2019. Will this actually work? We don’t know. For now, we know that we now have the systems in place to replicate or update the data collection of smaller groups through flash surveys, we can engage communities participate in collecting and analysing their own data and integrate a community-driven process to identify land ownership and user rights, at a lower cost than in the first run. And we will use whatever we learn from these initiatives to finesse our methods in our next set of data collection initiatives in 2018.

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Making money move: New financing to achieve the SDGs

BY Richard Bailey | July 3, 2018

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Regardless of where you grew up, we all learn about the importance of securing every penny, rand, real, euro, yen, ruble, or rupee. And the saying is particularly relevant today since development organizations like the United Nations (UN) must mobilize more than US$3.0 trillion every year if we hope to achieve the ambitious goals laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Official development assistance (ODA) is still an important finance mechanism but only $140 billion are secured each year. If we, the UN, intend to accelerate progress so no one is left behind, ODA needs to be used more strategically, and other sources of finance must be secured. There also needs to be an organizational shift from strictly funding programmes and initiatives to an approach that involves “funding and financing” to tap into international, national, private and public financial flows. Perspective shift: from funding to financing A growing number of blended finance sources have helped advance development aims in recent years.[1] Private sector guarantees, syndicated loans, and shares in collective investment vehicles mobilized $36.4 billion,[2] while socially responsible investing exceeded $6 trillion between 2012 and 2014. Impact investors and development finance institutions created a new investing asset class that is projected to grow to $400 billion by 2025. When it comes to financing, the rules are changing, and the UN is looking at new ways of aligning financial flows and attracting new investors. UN Country Teams (UNCTs) in Kenya, Indonesia and Armenia explored ways of helping national governments and local partners secure broad, non-traditional funds for development purposes. They mapped out challenges, unlocked new types of financing and used resources in a timely and innovative manner. The three most successful tools adopted were impact investing, Islamic financing, and sector-specific fund modalities. Impact investing in Armenia In the last few years, Armenia has turned into a thriving tech start-up hub and financing initiatives have followed two major trends: venture philanthropy and impact investing. To capitalize on these new forms of funding, the UNCT set up a country platform for SDG implementation that is aligned with national reform and SDG efforts. The collaborative space allows the UN, development partners and civil society to strengthen relationships and develop new ones with international financial institutions, donors and philanthropists. Other innovations: SDG Innovation Lab, the Kolba Social Innovation Lab, ImpactAim Venture Accelerator. Islamic financing in Indonesia Home to the world’s largest Muslim population and the tenth largest economy, the Government of Indonesia recently turned to inclusive and ‘green’ financing to accelerate the SDGs. The UNCT saw the potential and embraced new forms of finance to support sustainable development initiatives. Good practices include employing blended finance instruments and Islamic financing (Baznas).[3] In 2017, UNDP channelled zakat (charitable funds) for a micro-hydro energy project to improve access to water, renewable energy and livelihoods in some of the most remote parts of Indonesia. Other innovations: Financing Lab, “Bring Water for Life” and #TimeforTigers crowdfunding campaigns. Primary health care financing in Kenya One million people in Kenya fall into poverty every year because of a fractured health care system,[4] which is why the national government prioritized rolling out Universal Health Care in the “Big 4 Action Plan.” The UNCT supports the government by working with private sector partners on the Private Sector Health Partnership Kenya initiative and SDG Philanthropy Platform. Bringing together the private and public sectors together has opened doors to new cross-sectoral opportunities in the health, tech, early childhood development, nutrition, and technical and vocational training sectors. Make it rain: harnessing the potential of innovative financing The cost of solving the world’s most critical problems currently runs into the trillions, forcing development financing into a new era. There are no other options if traditional development aid no longer makes the grade. The UN has to pivot and embrace the changes taking place or risk becoming redundant and irrelevant. Luckily there are many opportunities to seize, and the UN has plenty of comparative advantages to bring to the table. The organization has a long, successful history of bringing together partners, training and recruiting experts, scaling up projects, and imparting technical knowledge. UN staff are skilled in advising, brokering knowledge, innovating, analysing data, and measuring impact. As we have seen in Kenya, Armenia and Indonesia, capital can be mobilized through impact investing, attracting early investors, or securing funds for larger investments in sectors identified by the central government. Embracing the latest tech innovations (e.g. e-health or mobile diagnostics) can turn unattractive investment areas into “bankable propositions.” Perhaps the most important takeaway is to not “let perfection be the enemy of the good.” Change may take time but UNCTs can’t wait for everything to be in place before embarking on new initiatives or adopting innovative types of financing. Steps to secure the right kind of capital have to be taken because time is running and “business as usual” no longer works—the numbers tell the whole story. Societal progress involves taking calculated risks, and achieving the SDGs is no exception. Unlocking new sources of funding is one way the UN can make sustainable gains and help governments make returns on the 2030 Agenda. ---- [1] Discussed in detail in “Financing the UN Development System. Pathways to Reposition for Agenda 2030” (September 2017), Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in collaboration with the MPTF Office, http://www.daghammarskjold.se/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Financing-Report-2017_Interactive.pdf. [2] Amounts Mobilised from the Private Sector by Official Development Finance Interventions: Guarantees, syndicated loans and shares in collective investment vehicles’, OECD working paper, 2016. [3] Baznas was established by the government based on Presidential Decree 8/2011. The agency is responsible for collecting and distributing zakat at the national level. [4] Thomson Reuters Foundation, February 2018, http://news.trust.org/item/20180209112650-s1njv/.

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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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Busting silos in statistical capacity in Guatemala

BY Carmen Aida Gonzalez, Claudia Lopez Robles | May 16, 2018

When the Guatemalan government realized that it had failed to achieve 63 percent of the  targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it was a wake up call. Guatemala has struggled for years to connect, coordinate, and analyze its national statistics, making it difficult for decision makers to understand what investments the country needs to move forward. When the time came to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, the Government committed to taking action and help improve the lives of the Guatemalan people. We knew we needed to up the game on data analysis from different public institutions. Currently, only 15 percent of the indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals can be fully produced by the National Statistical System in Guatemala. In Guatemala, obtaining disaggregated data is not an easy task since most institutions aren’t yet aware of the importance of such data. For example, obtaining disaggregated data on indigenous peoples and people of African descent is a struggle for national administrative records, despite their best efforts. Fortunately, Guatemala will carry out a population and housing census this year, and with these results, we at the UN hope to obtain disaggregated data about ethnic groups, people living with disabilities, migratory origin and other relevant information. Need a Data Strategy? We’ve got 70 of them To address the immediate challenge of limited data, we at the UN in Guatemala formed an inter-agency team of statisticians last year, spearheaded by UNFPA and bringing together UNDP, UN Women, IOM, OHCHR, FAO, IFAD, PAHO/WHO and the World Bank, with the support of the Resident Coordinator’s Office. This team came together to identify the resources that each agency had and what type of data we needed to achieve the Global Goals in the country. We wanted to do three things: 1) strengthen the National Institute of Statistics by developing strategies according to each statistical office in the country; 2) systematize good practices at the national level regarding health-related statistics; and 3) work with public institutions on participatory statistics management and SDG indicators to mainstream the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.   For us at the UN, one “aha” moment was discovering that public institutions have very diverse statistical capacities. Through this exercise, we were able to see the level of disparity and the gaps that we as the UN can help fill in order to collect data better. Out of 70 statistical strategies that we identified with the National Institute of Statistics, we helped fine-tune the six that we considered to be essential for producing relevant data for the SDGs in Guatemala. The institutions we are working with are: The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food The Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources The National Telephone Fund The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction; and The Ministry of Security These public institutions are contributing to various SDGs, including: SDG 2 Zero Hunger; SDG 3 Good Health and Well-Being; SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation; SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities; SDG 12; Responsible Consumption and Production; SDG 13 Climate Action; SDG 15 Life on Land; and SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, to name a few. Currently, the National Institute of Statistics is doing an in-depth analysis of these six key statistical strategies to develop an overarching plan for the production and management of national statistics, with an emphasis on baseline development, including SDGs indicators. The goal is for  Guatemala to increase the percentage of monitored indicators for the 2030 Agenda from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent. The data that we obtain from these strategies will help us to disaggregate data related to gender, age and geographical location represented in the rates of population. Helping improve health stats Another important area of work is the collaboration between PAHO/WHO, the National Institute of Statistics, the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance and the National Registry of Persons to systematize vital statistics, such as the number of births, marriages, and deaths. In the coming months, the National Institute of Statistics will publish a report that we developed collectively as an example of best practices for collecting statistical data. The report highlights the challenges that the public institutions face, because until now, Guatemala had limited resources to generate and produce quality data, hindering institutions from taking evidence-based decisions.  Taking the field experience to a virtual class Together with UNDP Colombia and the National Institute of Statistics, we  developed an e-course, aimed at national officers working in public institutions that are part of the National Statistical System. This e-course will run from May to June 2018 and will be delivered through webinars and a virtual panel to a group of 40 people. The added value of this online course is that it’s being adapted to the Guatemalan national context and each participant will receive personalized feedback from the instructor. We also want to reach national officers that live outside the capital city. The National Institute of Statistics will be responsible for following up with the liaison officers and we hope that this tool be used widely across all public institutions to continue empowering national officers. If you are interested in using this Spanish language course for your context, let us know. As for us at the inter-agency statistics team at the UN in Guatemala, the silo-busting has only begun...

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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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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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Dominican Republic: 5 Steps to Develop a SDG Data Innovation Lab

BY Mildred Samboy | February 8, 2018

Have you ever wondered how much hazardous waste is generated in your community, city, or country? What is the proportion of women who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health? Or how many people have declared themselves victims of discrimination or harassment in the last 12 months? Imagine if you could have access to this data in a country of more than 10 million inhabitants in the center of the Caribbean. In the Dominican Republic, only 37 percent of the indicators that make up the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have data available for monitoring and 44 percent do not have information or sources for their measurement. This constitutes a challenge for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda). SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production is one of the biggest statistical challenges for the country. As established in the 2016 Rapid Integrated Assessment “there are significant biases in the integration of (SDG 12) indicators into the national development planning and their availability for an adequate monitoring and fulfillment of the fourth axis (sustainable development) of National Development” in the Dominican Republic [1]. All of this considered, how can we measure the SDG 12 indicator related to the generation and proportion of hazardous waste in the country? To figure this out, we joined forces with the National Statistics Office, the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to come up with a strategy. The result was a data innovation lab built in five steps: Step 1: Select key stakeholders Which institutions are fundamental in the development of an SDG data innovation lab? Multisectoriality is essential to guarantee the richness of this exercise. Two things were paramount for this step: To bring the institutions in charge of statistics and planning (the National Statistics Office and the Ministry of Economy) on board. These institutions are part of other coordination structures, such as the National Commission for Sustainable Development (SDGs Commission), which is the 2030 Agenda coordination and advisory structure (See Decrees 23-16 and 26-17). In this exercise, the UN System in the Dominican Republic worked with the Technical Secretariat of the SDGs Commission to identify a proposal of indicators and criteria for this initiative. To include as many stakeholders as possible in the discussion; from representatives of the public sector (hospitals, General Customs Directorate), to the private sector, to Academia, to environmental organizations, everyone related to the disposal of hazardous waste was invited to participate. This exercise demonstrates the importance of challenging these structures to enforce the fluidity and comprehensiveness of the statistical systems, and their responsibility in the process, guaranteeing an effective relationship that helps bridge existing gaps. Step 2: Select the indicators Which indicators should be selected and prioritized for the development of a Data Innovation Lab? Prioritizing indicators at a national level means choosing them according to the country’s statistical needs. The parameters for this lab were: (A) Lack of source or measurement methodology (B) Indicators within the SDGs identified for the Voluntary National Review (VNR) for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF 2018), in which the Dominican Republic will participate this year. Following these parameters, the Statistics Office presented a proposal with the following indicators: "Proportion of wastewater safely treated"; "Hazardous waste generated per capita and proportion of hazardous waste treated, disaggregated by type of treatment"; and "Number of companies that publish sustainability reports". Of these proposals, hazardous waste was prioritized, taking the Environmental Compliance Reports [2] as a starting point. Step 3: Build participatory and formative spaces How can sectors express and validate the challenges and opportunities for improvement related to the selected indicator? Following this initiative, two main consultation workshops were held with institutions related to the field. The results of the first consultation highlighted the challenges and bottlenecks that make it difficult for the indicator to be measured.  The second workshop aimed to find innovative solutions and improvement opportunities to the problems identified in the first workshop. In both workshops, over 20 young people from academia and civil society institutions volunteered, moderating and summarizing key findings and conclusions at each table discussion. Step 4: Check the possible sources of the indicator How to guarantee results and sustainability in the statistical development of the indicator? In addition to the consultations, a group of specialists were tasked with reviewing the Environmental Compliance Report. This source was important because it is an environmental Administrative Record (forms, reports, files, among others). This review led to a joint exercise by the Statistics Office and the Ministry of Environment to collect and analyze data regarding hazardous waste, together with the private sector, academia and hospitals. It also made it possible to generate technical, statistical and environmental capabilities linked to the indicator, and has created tools to formalize this practice within the institutional framework. Step 5: Systematize, develop and implement What can we do next? The final step is to follow up on the findings and conclusions of these exercises, by developing initiatives that could have a direct impact on the improvement, organization and visualization of the data related to the hazardous waste indicator. One of these initiatives would be a Hackathon to foster the creation of applications and software development for data collection and visualization. Another, which is already underway, is the elaboration of a technical data note (explaining the indicator metadata) by the Statistics Office. This note will be validated by several sectors that will have the opportunity to rethink together the statistical development structures of the indicator. At last, this team is also working with the culmination of the construction of the database of the Environmental Compliance Reports and its respective baseline. What we learned This experience shows that there is a link between the statistical development capacity of our countries and their needs, challenges, accomplishments and opportunities, which must consider the political and social dimensions. Implementing the 2030 Agenda in the field brought institutions from different sectors together to break existing barriers. While working together was as a challenge, it was also an opportunity to improve practices and actions. Strengthening the national statistical system will only be possible if the key sectors involved have the tools, the capacities and the will.     [1] The Rapid Integrated Assessment (RIA) Tool aims to support countries in mainstreaming the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) into national and subnational planning, by helping assess their readiness for SDG implementation. Click here to access the Dominican Republic’s 2016 RIA elaborated by UNDP and MEPyD [2] The Environmental Compliance Report (ICA, its Spanish acronym) “is a technical report that explains the degree and quality of compliance of a facility, project, program or other activity by its operator or entity (company, NGO, government) with regards to environmental laws and regulations governing a certain place, resulting in a process of auto management.” (Dominican Republic Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Environment)

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Fusing datasets to track the impact of disasters in Indonesia and beyond… VAMPIRE is on it!

BY Anthea Webb, Derval Usher | January 25, 2018

When El Niño-induced drought placed huge pressure on communities across Southeast Asia, the UN in Indonesia quickly established an inter-agency focus group to monitor the impact. The World Food Programme, UN Global Pulse Lab Jakarta and the Food and Agriculture Organisation responded to the need for faster analysis with an integrated data tool called VAMPIRE! (The Vulnerability Analysis Monitoring Platform for Impact of Regional Events).  How’s that for an acronym! What VAMPIRE does: blend and visualize in near real time As climate affects food production and prices, it is a decisive factor in the health and welfare of millions of communities. The 2015 El Niño drought caused food prices to spike in Indonesia, stretching the budgets of poor families who already spend more than half their incomes on food. The situation was even more serious given 37 percent of Indonesian children are chronically malnourished. The project team had to move quickly to develop a data tool for the Government of Indonesia and partner agencies to decide where and how to allocate resources. The first iteration of VAMPIRE applied data science skills to automate the analysis of the extent of the drought and populations at risk. The tool is a multi-tier system that fuses several datasets. First, it visualizes the national socio-economic survey and WFP’s household food security surveys. This data provides information on the percentage and distribution of poor, agriculture-dependant populations, as well as food insecure communities. Second, it analyzes data on rainfall anomalies and the Indonesian Vegetation Health Index. Rainfall anomaly is a measure of the amount of rainfall in a period compared to the long-term average for that time of year, while the vegetation index is a proxy for drought. Based on the measure of economic vulnerability and exposure to drought, the tool identifies priority areas where people may require assistance. Government Uptake Collecting data on rainfall anomalies and food security is not a new or unique activity for governments. However, the platform adds value by dramatically reducing the time required to bring this information together and visualize it in high-resolution and in near real-time. VAMPIRE has been installed into the situation room of the Office of the President (Kantor Staf Presiden) of the Republic of Indonesia, its sustainable home. The Government of Indonesia has used the tool to measure drought impact and identify fire risks. It has developed it further to estimate the impact of past government programmes as part of their regular monitoring and oversight. These are encouraging user-innovations by the Government of Indonesia that we are trying to incorporate as the tool scales to other countries (more on this below). Under the Hood Building upon these initial successes, the tool has been upgraded to include new, more detailed analysis on drought. More granular estimation of affected areas has improved the tool’s ability to identify and prioritize risk. Additional indicators on meteorological drought, agricultural drought, population density and dependence on agriculture are improving the methodology. In addition to drought, we have developed flood impact analysis capabilities into the most recent iteration of the tool. We can now estimate floods six days in advance, including the risk to crops and populations. For both flood and drought, we now include extensive disaster history information and improved UX, enabling users to explore the insights at different administrative levels and generate reports on this basis. Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Beyond Based on demand for the data tool from the Government of Sri Lanka, we contextualised the system to the country and embedded it within the Ministry of Disaster Management. The improvements made to the tool while shaping it to the context of Sri Lanka have informed its development elsewhere. This year we are in talks with the Government and UN Country Team in Papua New Guinea with a view to establishing a version of the system there, and we are in the process of open sourcing the tool to enable uptake elsewhere. We are also working to improve the notification and alert system for different users, as well as conducting further tests of the accuracy of alert thresholds, fine tuning them to sub-national needs and realities. We owe huge thanks to DOCO for its support of this project! And we hope that the development of the tool will take another leap forward now that VAMPIRE has been recognized as the winner of the 2017 WFP Innovation Challenge. We are delighted to have had the opportunity to develop a data tool in true partnership leveraging the expertise of each of our teams to produce an information system which is being used for policy making. We are always on the lookout for opportunities to scale the tool, so let us know if your UN Country Team could benefit from such a system and we will work out how we can best meet your needs. Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

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How we helped the UN use #dataviz for social change

BY Chloe Tseng | November 29, 2017

Working in the city of innovation, San Francisco, I’m surrounded by big tech giants and people who strive to make the world a better place. Early last year, Helena Price, a Silicon Valley photographer, started a project "Techies." She interviewed and took 100 portraits of underrepresented minorities who work in tech. Her project challenged the stereotypes and encouraged tech companies to hire a more diverse workforce.   Her message “everyone can leverage her/his own strength to make a difference” inspired me to initiate my personal project #VizforSocialGood. I created a series of data visualizations that illustrate challenges women face and shared them on Twitter to promote gender equality. After giving a talk about #VizforSocialGood at the Tableau Conference last November, I received a great amount of interest from the audience in contributing their skills. Therefore, I decided to transform my small project into a community that helps mission-driven organizations harness the power of data visualization for social change. In the past 10 months, Viz for Social Good has grown into a community with more than 500 volunteers globally. We have partnered with several organizations, including the United Nations Children's Fund to visualize and increase awareness of the child refugee crisis; the United Nations Development Programme to analyze people’s views on poverty, inequality, and climate change to influence global leaders; and Stanford University to identify factors holding women back in science, technology engineering and math. Getting the conversation started with the UN Development Group During my quest to build partnerships with nonprofits, I stumbled upon the United Nations Development Group’s Data Visualization Contest sponsored by Tableau. I saw this as a sign that the UN was craving for data visualization, and thus I reached out and proposed a collaboration. In the first conversation with the UNDG team, I was impressed by their enthusiasm for data. I also saw countless, untapped opportunities for data visualization that could empower staff to carry out their missions. This conversation ignited my desire to bridge the data literacy and technology gap for the UN. That’s how we started our journey!   The fun and not so fun bits For this particular project with UNDG, our goal was to scope the UN Country Teams’ external partnerships and topics that they were working on in 2017. We quickly discovered that the data had 445 columns, and thus reshaping data was needed. We also learned that some of the value in the data were entered manually by staff, so the data was not always consistent. Therefore, it took us some time to “clean up” the data and make sure that the value is consistent across the board (for more details you can check Michael Mixon blog Anatomy of a Viz). Having said that, we truly enjoyed working with the UNDG team! They were genuinely curious about learning everything on data and data visualization (as proof, you can check the recording of our webinar where we got more than 200 participants!). Their passion was contagious and encouraged all of us to keep moving forward with this project. It’s certainly fulfilling to see how our visualizations have been used to educate people internally and externally, and have helped the team understand their own data. Check out the selected data visualizations by clicking on the images! Author: Neil Richards Author: Chloe Tseng Author: Michael Mixon Author: Lilach Manheim Author: Ivett Kovács Getting involved with Viz for Social Good First the good news: anyone can become a volunteer. Viz for Social Good is a community, not a competition, that allows everyone to enjoy creating visualization while making a positive impact. Each project is just like a virtual hackathon -- we receive a data visualization project request from nonprofit, we share the project with the community online, and anyone who is passionate about the social cause can jump in. People can then share their data visualizations on Twitter using the hashtag #VizforSocialGood. It’s always fun to see how each volunteer analyzes and interprets the same data in a very different way. To join the community visit: https://www.vizforsocialgood.com/  Our future plans Next year, for nonprofits, we want to scale our impact by not only designing visualizations for them but also strengthening their skills through presentations and trainings. Also, we would like to get involved with many other more social causes that we haven’t worked on this year, such as LGBT issues, racism, and wildlife.   For volunteers, we hope to provide them more growth opportunities through in-person hackathons in their areas. Our community mostly connects virtually, so we would like to have local events for people to get together, talk about a social cause, and visualize it. Don’t be shy, come and join our community!

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Using Machine Learning to Accelerate Sustainable Development Solutions in Uganda

September 14, 2017

A year and a half after it was prototyped, the radio content analysis tool developed by Pulse Lab Kampala and partners has become fully operational. The findings and lessons learned during the process were compiled in a report entitled: “Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda - Opportunities for Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Action.” The recent Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good Global Summit has brought together partners to define a roadmap for governments, industry, academia, media, and civil society to develop AI in a safe, responsible and ethical manner benefiting all segments of society. At the summit, the radio content analysis tool was showcased as one of the applications of AI currently in use at the UN. The tool was designed to leverage public radio content as a source of information to inform on issues relevant to sustainable development. The most complex part in the development of the prototype is capturing the transcription of spoken words into written text. This technology, called speech recognition, is used in applications ranging from simple voice dialing (e.g. "Call home") to fully automatic speech-to-text processing where every word is being converted into text (e.g. dictation to a document or email). The world’s largest IT companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and IBM, invest significant resources in speech recognition for their products. There are also companies that specialise in speech recognition as Nuance Communications (Apple’s supplier) or HTK. This type of companies offer automatic speech-to-text dictation in about 50 languages, but languages and dialects from the African continent are not available among them. The radio content analysis tool was developed as part of a project conducted by Pulse Lab Kampala in collaboration with the Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The tool works by converting public discussions that take place on radio in various African languages into text. Once converted, the text can be searched for topics of interest. The tool is now fully functional in the Northern and Central regions of Uganda and available for three languages: Luganda, Acholi and English (as spoken in the country). The report outlines the methodology and processes of the radio content analysis tool, distills the technology behind its creation and presents the lessons learned along the way. It also details the results of several pilot studies that were conducted together with partners from the Government, UN agencies and academia to understand the validity and value of unfiltered public radio discussions for development. The hope is that the processes and lessons detailed in the report can serve as examples and inspiration for using radio talk and data analytics to inform decision-making processes in development and humanitarian scenarios, in contexts where other sources of data may be missing or insufficient. Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda from Global Pulse Uganda’s population is the youngest in the world, with 77% of its population being under 30 years of age. The country is now gaining international recognition for the development of Artificial Intelligence products by its youth.Listen to insights from the young Ugandans working at Pulse Lab Kampala on the development of the radio content analysis tool.   Cross-posted from the United Nations Global Pulse Blog.

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Why we’re turning to solar energy at the UN in Namibia

BY Caroline M Nkuziwalela, Saidu Kamara | August 2, 2017

On Saturday, 25 March 2017, UN Namibia took part in the global Earth Hour movement. We joined millions of people from every corner of the world to show support for climate action.  Our participation in this movement proves critical in that, saving electricity today, we establish better energy saving habits which lead to a brighter, better future. It’s easier said than done though. Did you know that in Namibia, between 40 to 80 percent of energy is imported from South Africa, which is facing shortages and has regular energy cuts? To tackle this, following the United Nations Partnership Framework agreement, we will assist the Government strategically to develop its own energy sources, prioritizing solar energy, for energy security and secure commitment towards a low carbon development pathway. Turn on the lights, sustainably What if we told you that the UN House in Windhoek is going to turn into a self-sustaining, energy efficient building? The UN House is comprised of 12 UN agencies, all of whom participate in the conversion to a solar photovoltaic PV system. A photovoltaic system, or solar power system, is designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics and is being widely scaled as a primary source of renewable energy in many facilities across Africa. Imagine how much energy we could save if the lights at the office automatically switch off after 10 minutes of inactivity. Simple habits can make a difference in the way we use electricity.   For this reason, we launched last week a grid-interactive solar photovoltaic (PV) system at UN House. The facility will make up for a portion of electrical energy consumption and it will also help us save money. As Namibia receives a high amount of sunlight, this move towards renewable energy promotes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’ and is in line with the UN’s mission of Greening the Blue. The recommended system size of 90 kWp will offset 19 percent annual energy use, with a 20 percent reduction in electricity costs annually. That’s a lot! The expected internal rate of return when this project is cash financed is 21.5 percent. This means we expect to break-even after five years. The solar panel system is not a backup solution but rather an energy subsidy system. When the solar panels produce more energy than is consumed, the difference is fed back into the national electric grid, increasing the availability of power distribution across the city of Windhoek.  Investing in Namibia’s Renewable Energy Plans Due to poor insulation, inefficient lights, appliances, and heating and cooling equipment, we pay more for energy costs than we should. This is money we could save by investing in energy efficiency. In partnership with the Namibia Energy Institute, we plan to update the existing energy audit for the UN.  We will also carry out a cost-benefit analysis to improve increasing energy efficiency by switching to energy-saving devices. Moreover, by installing a solar energy system, we can focus on renewable energy, particularly solar, without having to increase the price of our electricity. With the help of renewable energy experts, we are supporting the government of the Republic of Namibia on a large-scale feasibility plan for Namibia’s first concentrated power plant. A concentrated power plant uses mirrors to focus the sun's light energy and convert it into heat to create steam to drive a turbine that generates electrical power. In addition, we are also researching how to transfer this technology to the country, i.e. exploring the potential for manufacturing solar panels locally, PV parts/equipment, and building capacities and skills for the renewable energies industry. Given the size of the sector in Namibia, we also supported a project tasked with experimenting different approaches to generating bio-energy through the use of agricultural waste. Our main goal is to learn from the previous work and engage the Namibia Energy Institute in technical advisory and support capacity. We’re excited about the possibilities that solar energy can bring to our work and Namibia. We will keep you posted on our journey there!

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