Car sharing at the United Nations in Laos? There’s an app for that

BY Zumrad Sagdullaeva, Jakob Schemel | June 23, 2017

How many of you have taken Uber, Lyft or Didi Chuxing to get around town? With these apps, all you need to do is follow three easy steps: set up a pickup location, a final destination, and press “request.” What if we told you that the United Nations is getting into the car sharing business too? Our goal is not to make money, but instead to save costs, be more efficient, and reduce our carbon footprint. It all started with agencies making spontaneous phone calls and sending emails to request cars when they need to conduct project monitoring or meetings with government and civil society partners.  We noticed that in Lao PDR, smaller UN agencies cannot always afford to buy vehicles and often rent cars. On the other hand, the bigger agencies own cars but do not always use them. Inspired by mobile apps that are disrupting the transportation industry, our team at the United Nations proposed a solution: a GPS-based, fleet-sharing application that allows staff from different UN agencies to book a UN vehicle and provides back-office data. Pool managers assign drivers, monitor vehicle performance, and pick up passengers as needed. In September 2016, we launched the pilot UN car sharing system. FAO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, the six largest UN agencies in Lao PDR, were the frontrunners in trying out this new system.   The system tracks fleet movement in real-time, while the back-office processes allow an in-depth analysis of fleet use and performance. It also pinpoints high-risk events such as extreme acceleration, harsh braking, and accidents. It also generates automatic monthly cost-recovery reports. Imagine the data possibilities! Join the ride As people began to use the car sharing service, we faced some uphill battles. For example,  most  drivers employed by the UN do not have smartphones. Then there’s the unit costs of the system which is US$30 per car, per month, in addition to initial investment costs. But these issues haven’t proven prohibitive, and the indications are that we are moving in a promising direction. Our data shows a 36 per cent drop in fuel costs when comparing the car sharing pilot (October 2016-April 2017) to the same period in the previous year. And there might even be a benefit when it comes to traffic and carbon emissions: we noticed a 26 per cent reduction in kilometers driven. This is surprising because we aren't all in one office - most UN agencies are located across the city of Vientiane. With all the hype and positive results that we received, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the International Organization of Migration, UNAIDS, and UNIDO have now also joined the fleet-sharing pilot.   The UN Country Team has included the fleet-sharing system as one of the key areas of cooperation under the Business Operations Strategy 2017-2021, which is how we pool logistics and other functions across the 17 UN agencies working in Lao PDR to save money and get better services.   We are planning a cost-benefit analysis after the pilot stage ends in June. The road ahead So, will the GPS enhanced car sharing app work for the UN? We are yet to find out. We do know that we can improve it by doing a few more things, such as: Systematic use of the online booking system: This will lead to using cars efficiently, which, on the long run, means more savings. Centralize the management of the pool of cars: This could be done by assigning one person a month to manage the pool of cars among UN agencies. Book cars for transfer time only: Some users still require the car to stand idle for the duration of their meeting. This makes sense for brief meetings only. Track the availability of a vehicle/driver: If drivers are unavailable, this should be noted in the system to avoid any impractical requests by users. Improve the user-friendliness of the system: Integrate a GPS-based booking function, add the possibility to book a return trip in one go, and “join the ride” auto-function. Develop a mobile application. Integrate instant user feedback feature: Upon completing a ride, the system should automatically prompt a request for feedback from users. Benefits should outweigh the costs: The monthly maintenance fee sums up to US$360 a year, per car for the post-pilot period. We should consider the functional requirements or explore using an alternate software provider.     By adding these features, we believe that car sharing could bring significant savings, improve efficiency, and it could potentially be scaled-up globally. We also hope that sharing our experience will be useful to other teams trying to do things differently within the UN!

Read More

Joining up data in the humanitarian–development nexus: Why does it matter?

BY Beata Lisowska | June 14, 2017

Imagine living in a community that faces poverty and vulnerability and has limited resilience to shocks. Your livelihood is dependent on subsistence farming in a region that is vulnerable to climate change and crop disease outbreaks. Only 26.7 percent of households in your region have enough food to last until the next harvest. 50 percent of the population in your district are refugees and you find yourself competing for the little resources that you have at your disposal with people who have fled from prolonged conflict. It is estimated that 935,000 South Sudanese refugees will arrive in Uganda by the end of 2017, entering through West Nile – a region that already faces poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity and has limited resilience to shocks. With so many refugees arriving there is danger of conflict breaking out between communities in need of assistance from the humanitarian and development sectors as they compete for limited resources. How does data help to understand the needs of these communities and drive collective development and humanitarian responses that are beneficial to them both? A clear need for joined-up data As it stands, the socio-economic indicators for a given region and statistics on host populations in Uganda are collected using household surveys or censuses and are usually published by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. However, data on refugees – where they are and how they are doing in relation to socio-economic indicators – is gathered by the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other actors operating within a region that perform refugee needs assessments. Data is published as a bi-weekly update on the Uganda Refugee Response Portal by the UNHCR and the Office of the Prime Minister. The needs assessments carried out by other actors are not usually publicly accessible. In practice, data on different communities within a region cannot easily be joined up. For those seeking to address development or humanitarian issues, to help improve outcomes for those living in complex communities, there is no single data story that gives a complete picture of the issues that people face. This means that decisions on how best to address an issue can only ever be a ‘best guess’, without full knowledge of the potential for knock-on effects – positive or negative – on other communities in the area. It’s not just a question of joining up data – often data for evidence-based decision-making is simply not available. For example, it’s not possible to track how many refugees provided with land choose to settle in a region, move around the country or go back to their country of origin. This is because refugee communities are often missed from household surveys, censuses are few and far between, and if a refugee becomes homeless they may fall off the data radar altogether. Signs of progress in bridging the divide There are, however, signs of progress in the humanitarian–development nexus. The Ugandan government recognises that humanitarian and development assistance are intertwined, and this is reflected in the Ugandan National Development Plan under the Settlement Transformative Agenda, which develops programmes for the benefit of both refugees and refugee-hosting areas. Recent efforts by the Government of Uganda, UN agencies and the World Bank to develop a ‘Refugee and Host Population Empowerment’ strategy is testament to an understanding that the development of both local and refugee communities is linked and that priorities for long-term sustainable outcomes must benefit both. However, such frameworks should be supported by principles of joined-up data, such as FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) to inform new policies and recommendations. In the past, as observed by Oliver Walton in a research report on preventing conflict between refugees and host communities, the barrier to effective initiatives in the humanitarian–development nexus “has been a tendency for donors to keep humanitarian assistance for refugees separate from broader development assistance”. We now seem to be moving towards a common political will to overcome the barriers highlighted by Walton. The missing piece is the joined-up data to make it happen.   Photo: @UNHCR

Read More

Why the UN in Burkina Faso is listening to what young people are saying

BY Metsi Makhetha, Daouda Djouma | June 7, 2017

There are 4.5 million people between 15-35 years old in Burkina Faso, according to the last general population and housing census of 2006. By 2025, this number will almost double to 8.6 million people, which means that roughly half of the population in Burkina Faso will be young. Some young people in Burkina Faso feel that the government does not take their aspirations seriously. To voice their disapproval, millions rose up against the system on 30-31 October 2014, and they caught the government’s attention. On 18-19 June 2015, young Burkinabés met with decision-makers at the National Youth Conference to talk about the importance of their participation in development programs and projects to promote peace. Mr. Michael Kafando, the former Head of State and President of the Transition was so impressed that he said: “With young people, everything is possible. Without the youth, watch out!”  Sustainable development planning with young people As the UN in Burkina Faso began to work on the new framework of cooperation and support to development for 2018-2020, we connected with young citizens to better understand their needs. Twenty-six young people (two per region) worked with us to collect data from all regions. They received support from the National Volunteer Program and the Centre for Democratic Governance and Africa Monitor trained them on data collection techniques. The 26 youth researchers conducted two surveys to 1,532 individuals between 15-35 years old. With a qualitative survey, they collected and registered young people’s perceptions on the implementation of UN programs in Burkina Faso. They carried out 65 focus groups. Six opinion leaders (religious, customary, associations, and politicians) also participated. In total, more than 598 people took part in the qualitative survey. We learned that education, health, and decent work are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) they care about the most. For example, youth want to receive technical training because they think that the educational system is outdated and the main pipeline to unemployment. With the quantitative survey, they obtained data on the baseline of the indicators of the SDGs and the National Plan for Economic and Social Development. While some of these findings might be expected, we found it important to undertake this listening exercise.  While we at the UN are gearing up achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we found out that we need to start with a dialogue so that young people in Burkina Faso know what their government has promised to do.  From the research, we learned that 72 percent of respondents had not even heard of the SDGs. Fifty percent had never heard of the National Plan for Economic and Social Development 2016-2020. This surprised us! Measuring progress to ensure transparency and accountability In the context of Burkina Faso, monitoring and reporting on socio-economic indicators is a major challenge. Approximately 25 percent of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework output indicators were not reported over the period of 2011-2015. Two problems were the infrequency and lack of accountability from the agencies in collecting the data. To address this problem, we are implementing Open UN-Burkina, modeled after UNOCHA’s  Online Reporting System (ORS). The platform will: Enhance the transparency of the activities of the UN in Burkina Faso; Strengthen the participation of state and non-state partners in the UNDAF indicators. This platform will provide information which will be accessible to everyone. It will also have a tool that will allow young people to give their opinions and collect the data continuously. With this platform, our aim is to ensure transparency, accountability, and improve our targeting efforts. We hope that this enables a continuous dialogue with the youth of Burkina Faso.  To the young people out there: monitor our work and hold us to account!

Read More

How twelve UN entities in Viet Nam integrated their ICT systems and optimized their workflow

BY Clement Gba | May 25, 2017

At the UN in Viet Nam, we had a hunch that sharing costs associated with IT equipment, infrastructure, and skilled staff would improve our overall efficiency and save costs. With this hypothesis in mind, we started working on an integrated One United Nations Information Communications and Technology (One UN ICT) system as part of the reforms of the Delivering as One initiative. In April 2015, 12 UN agencies unified their information, communication and technology systems and started working under one roof at the Green One UN House. This move is part of the Deliver Green initiative which aims to make the UN a carbon neutral organization by 2020. The difficult bits Technical: Integrating 12 IT systems into one was not an easy task. We also had to ensure proper separation of our IT networks for security purposes. In the context of UN Country Office operations, this is a major achievement. Financial: The integration of IT infrastructures and systems required upfront costs, with a return on investment  beyond the first years. This means that we needed to spend some time developing a strong business case and understanding of the financial and non-monetary benefits in order to get investments from the managers across 12 UN agencies. Institutional: To accommodate the administration of staff, ICT policies, compliance, and requirements, we had to create a unique set of governance and institutional arrangements. Human resources: Prior to the move, our ICT staff only supported users from their respective UN agencies. Under the new initiative, all ICT staff provide support to users from the 12 UN entities operating at the Green One UN House. To scale up the One UN ICT project, we sought help from headquarters, with two interagency missions in 2008 and 2012. We also received support from the United Nations International Computing Centre in Geneva which with us for more than a year to make the integration of the systems a success. What we got out of this effort Extension of ICT services: All UN Viet Nam staff, whether based in Vietnam or providing advisory services to the government from elsewhere, project-based staff, as well as staff living outside the capital city of Hanoi have access to telephone services. This means the whole UN system in Vietnam can now call each other for free anytime, anywhere, so long as they have an internet connection. Provision of additional ICT services: The Green One UN House, now uses Cisco Jabber, an application that enables  computers and mobile devices to function as a telephone via Voice over IP technology and uses the wire/wireless network as the medium for transmitting telephone service. The application works beyond the physical compound of our office. Provision of file server storage services: UN agencies in Vietnam have a Business Continuity Plan. The new data system provides a file storage server that can also be used by other Country Offices as part of their Business Continuity Plans. Client-focused and quick turnaround for ICT requests: All ICT services and transactions are managed by Common Services. The system triggers a ticket number that assists the back-office assign a request to an IT expert. The system is benchmarked against specific key performance indicators, and helps managers track and trace users’ requests. A user feedback survey also helps measure the quality of the services.   This model provides real-time updates on the operations of the team and is going to be expanded to other UN Operations Centers as well as Country Offices. We hope that sharing our experience will be useful to other teams trying to save money and optimize workflows. At the UN in Viet Nam, we are proud to be working with a highly skilled and a top-notch IT team. Yes, this is not an easy road but based on our experience, the benefits (in terms of systems upgrade) far outweigh the challenges! Photo caption: The Green One UN House IT Team/ UNCT Viet Nam

Read More

Ghana: How listening to those “left behind” changed our thinking

BY Bianca Juhl Andersen | May 17, 2017

A 14-year old orphan girl told us her story. When her parents died, she was forced to drop out of school. She was 10 years old. In a desperate attempt to earn money to provide for herself and her younger siblings, she became a sex worker. She charges GHS 5-12 (USD1,25-3) per customer - barely enough to even cover her expenses. She sleeps outdoors, despite the high risks of theft and sexual assaults - especially during the frequent power cuts in Accra, Ghana’s capital, leaving the area dark and dangerous. Her dream is to go to school, and to gain skills to get a good job. But first she has to deal with her daily need to earn money, the ever-present danger of assault and violence from customers, and health risks. These are some of the stories we have been hearing during a consultative process we as the UN in Ghana have convened over the past several months. We have been listening to human rights experts, advocates and representatives on the human rights challenges in Ghana; on both current and future challenges. Based on these expert inputs, we reached out to excluded groups who have little or no voice in Ghana: people with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTIs), underage sex-workers, prisoners, and injection drug users. We wanted to consult representatives of groups of people, whose human rights are at risk of not being respected, and have little or no access to decision makers in Ghana. For the first time, we used our networks to identify people from these hard-to-reach groups and met with them to better understand the human rights challenges they are facing. Obscured by data gaps We met with representatives from three of the identified groups, where we had vast data access difficulties: underage sex workers, the LGBTI community, and injection drug users – about 50 people in total.  We asked open-ended questions because we wanted to understand the challenges they face with respect to their human rights. While challenges differed across the three groups, there were common concerns such as security and personal safety, stigmatization from society, the need for education and skills training, and the lack of access to health facilities and medical care. When we talked to, for instance, the underage sex workers, they all shared a common wish to stop working in the sex industry. They wanted to go to school instead – they wanted a “normal” life. But to stop working as sex workers and return to school, they need to get an income to provide for themselves and their families. In our work in Ghana, the UN is committed to ensuring that human rights are recognized and protected. Human rights are at core of the UN’s pledge to support Ghana in meeting its commitment to the sustainable development agenda. Despite our ongoing programmes, these harrowing stories were new to us, as we hardly even knew that underage sex workers — or intravenous drug users for that matter — existed in Ghana to the extent they do. The need to check in with those we serve Engaging with people who face these issues changed our thinking. We assumed they wanted to be taken off the street and given educational opportunities. But that was not necessarily the case — at least not in the short run. The main objective of the underage sex workers was to ensure an income for their families – and to stay safe. In the long run, they want expanded opportunities, but in our strategies, we need to consider interventions that preserve the income they provide to their families. We are now exploring how best to enable government and other partners to address the problems we heard, in the UN’s next strategic plan, the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2018-21, via interventions by UN agencies working together to make sure that no one is left behind in Ghana. The UNDAF will be finalized in partnership with national stakeholders in 2017. We will keep you posted on how we will address the issues heard in our consultations. As we move forward, the UN will support Ghana to ensure that human rights challenges are fully addressed - so that no one is left behind.

Read More

The true poverty of data

BY Alexandru Oprunenco, Tom Saunders | May 10, 2017

Eradicating poverty remains a long-standing goal of global development. It’s also a centerpiece of the 2030 Agenda. And while no one would doubt the importance of this goal, a lingering question remains: how do we measure poverty and how do we best make use of poverty data? Beyond income as a measure of poverty The standard approach to measuring poverty is monetary metrics or the international poverty line, which in October 2015 was updated to $1.9 from $1.25 per day. Monetary poverty is at the core for the progress indicators under MDG1 and to a significant extent under SDG1. The main advantages of this approach are its relative easiness to measure and international comparability. The key disadvantage is however that it fails to grasp multiple deprivations including access to basic services, such as health and education. The Multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI) was in part developed to answer exactly this question: how can we have a more truthful measurement of human poverty by combining several crucial dimensions of deprivation. Seeds of discontent: when numbers meet reality Both the income based and multi-dimensional approaches to poverty measurement are examples of upstream data: while they  provide the advantage of international comparability, their uses are quite limited when it comes to informing programmatic interventions and contextualizing poverty in national or subnational contexts. For instance, years of schooling can mean something completely different in countries with strong or weak public educational system and thus have different relevance as a part of poverty measurement depending on the country context. So the risk is that while comparability of data is important to drive a spirit of competition among countries to advance their development, it might not give policy makers the data they need to make decisions based on reality. Take poverty data in Moldova – a focus on income only has made available data increasingly devoid of sense. While the poverty rate has fallen more than thrice, the poverty has increasingly topped the list of public’s concerns. How can this seeming ‘cognitive dissonance’  be explained? Part of the explanation is that nation poverty line is set artificially low. Another part of explanation is that focusing on the monetary aspects of poverty conceals important dimensions such as access to health or education or high discrepancies resulting from characteristics of different categories of population. For instance, issues related to access to health services in some rural communities of Moldova or the capital city can be of completely different nature. So, we need a different poverty measure in Moldova that would be able to: a) reflect better realities on the ground and b) be granular and context-aware enough to inform and inspire action either on nation and/or local and community level.  But how can we move forward to achieve that? Is there an alternative way? The democratization of the public policy space, and the advent of new technologies fortunately opens opportunities to test alternative approaches to poverty measurement. One of these approaches involves harnessing the collective intelligence of those living in poverty to inform policy interventions. After all, as G.K. Chesterton famously quipped: “By experts in poverty I do not mean sociologists, but poor men.”  (of course, we can’t blame him in the 19th century for omitting poor women as experts in poverty...) While tools for harnessing collective intelligence are constantly evolving, getting peoples’ views on poverty isn’t all that new.  In the 1990s the World Bank undertook a number of comprehensive studies that tried to incorporate the voices of the poor into poverty measurement exercises. These consultations, conducted in 23 countries around the world, used a number of participatory methods to capture the experiences of those living in poverty in a given place and time. Consulting citizens about what poverty means to them isn’t particularly new. However, making this information useful for decision makers - civil servants, politicians, and those with aid budgets, is an ongoing challenge. Together with our partners from Nesta and the Moldova National Bureau of Statistics we have decided to undertake several pilots to understand how the knowledge of those living in disadvantaged circumstances can be successfully harnessed to inform decision making. First, we want to redefine what poverty and its various dimensions mean in Moldova. And we want to do it together with poor and vulnerable people in Moldova. This is a stark departure from most current approaches that rely on experts defining poverty dimensions, not poor people themselves. Our assumption here is that we will be able to focus on relevant aspects of poverty dimensions that are relevant in the Moldovan context, even if these would mean sacrificing the international comparability of data. This will improve  decision-makers’ understanding of the issues that matter most to poor Moldovans, and hopefully improve their ability to act, for instance, shifting from monetary social assistance to the one targeted to identified aspects of poverty. Furthermore, we will be able to highlight differences across different regions and have a more granular understanding of how various characteristic of people affect their poverty (age, employment standing, people with disabilities, etc.) status. Eventually, this understanding will lead to different indicators suitable for either national or local decision-makers (eventually households themselves – working together on understanding and measuring poverty can bring completely different power dynamics and give poor people agency to act). In practice this will involve holding conversations with 20 groups of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, from the unemployed to the elderly, to understand the issues matter most to them. These conversations will be carried out by local NGOs in Moldova. Since this is not the first time we have held consultative processes in Moldova we have decided to use two simple methods to try to understand these issues: semi-structured group discussions, led by a trained facilitator, and a ranking exercise, to understand the relative importance of the various issues that vulnerable communities face. While these conversations will not aim to bring together a representative sample of vulnerable people in Moldova, they will hopefully give us a much richer understanding of what it means to be poor in Moldova. Making participatory evidence useful Many citizen consultation exercises stop at this stage: the consultation is used to write a report, which is then handed over to policymakers, in the hope that they will act on the information. However, as the work of Nesta’s Alliance for Useful Evidence has shown, promoting the use of evidence in decision making is not just about the quality of the evidence, there is also a need to make it useful for the consumers of evidence. This has several implications, from supporting decision makers to develop the skills to make use of evidence, through to tailoring the presentation of the evidence to the needs of the audience. Building on these insights, in the second stage of the project we will design several tools for various audiences and test them in small scale pilots. The first will be a survey that will be designed in conjunction with, and carried out by, the National Bureau of Statistics in Moldova. It will be used to complement the Household Budget Survey (HBS). The goal is to provide a richer picture, for policymakers, of what it means to experience poverty in Moldova. The second will be a tool that NGOs, community groups and potentially local governments can use to inform their planning and budget allocation, based on the needs and knowledge of the communities they serve. What will success look like for this project? Well, we hope to inspire other countries to pursue similar journeys on redefining poverty based on their national context and views of poor people themselves, in order to better explain and inform interventions on the ground. Alongside this, we hope that the methods that are developed through this pilot and the lessons that we learn will prove useful for those wishing to harness the collective intelligence of citizens.

Read More

Opening up the magic of pooled funds at the UN

BY Richard Bailey | May 4, 2017

In the development field, donors can provide funds to the UN through pooled funds, a special type of mechanism that has made our work – reaching the right people at the right time with the right resources – much easier. Thanks to pooled funds, we can support humanitarian interventions, peacebuilding, development and climate change efforts in an accountable and a flexible way. Accountable to tax payers, flexible in the field To ensure flexibility in complex situations such as in Iraq 2004, the money donors contribute is pooled together and administered centrally by a UN fund, rather than being earmarked to a specific UN agency. Once a fund-allocation decision is made, the money is passed from the central UN fund to the UN entity responsible for implementing the relevant programme. But in a short period of time (since 2004), they have impacted our financing systems: They now account for 8 percent of the total funding for the UN’s operational activities and they are expected to grow in the coming years. This is just the beginning. The drive for more joined up work across the UN and with partners is gaining momentum. UN pooled financing mechanisms will play an increasingly strategic role in financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and you can see our analysis here. Where does the money go? For the first time, we have begun to publish UN pooled-fund data using the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard (IATI). We adopted the IATI data standard because it helps us compare funds across the UN. At the same time it enables us to get our data on pooled funding out there in the public.    Publishing our data in IATI means that we have a reliable, machine readable way of ensuring that high quality financial data on pooled funds is published once and can be used whenever and wherever it is needed. The UN Development Operations Coordination Office and the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, the center of expertise on pooled financing mechanisms in the UN system, partnered on this major step to make our transactions transparent. Like much of the drive for the more than 500 publishers already using the IATI data standard, publishing data is only the first step. The goal is to make sure this data is used, so dig in and let us know how you use it! Photo:© 2010 Arne Hoel/World Bank

Read More

In DRC, building bridges between peacekeeping and development

BY Per Bjälkander | May 4, 2017

Have you ever read an article about the failures of UN peacekeeping? And wondered why the UN invests significant money towards sending foreigners into war-torn countries, only to get caught up in stories of sex abuse and some peacekeepers hiding in their bases when the going gets tough? The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is not new to such stories. When President Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 after over 30 years of autocratic rule, the country tumbled into chaos with an increased number of armed groups. This led to internal and regional conflict involving many neighboring countries. Despite several peace agreements, the country is struggling to recover from this history of conflict. Old problems continue year after year. State building, where the international community tries to support the government in developing institutions, is still ongoing. Several presidential elections have been postponed. Armed conflict has escalated in new parts of the country such as the Kasai provinces, where we recently lost UN workers. There are currently approximately 2.1 million people who have been forced to leave their homes due to violent conflict. Collaborating for a cause We at the UN are asking ourselves: how do we help break this trend? UN civilian and military peacekeepers (MONUSCO) have been in the country 18 years and have tremendous capacity. The United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo includes over 20 other UN organizations that are also present in the DRC, and many work on similar issues as the peacekeeping forces. The problem is that there isn’t enough collaboration between the UN organizations and the peacekeepers. However, with the new global consensus as agreed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there is an understanding that development actors, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers need to work together. To sustain peace, we need functioning schools, social services and local councils just as much as we need “blue helmets.” The UN in the DRC wants to innovate by finding ways to take advantage of the peacekeepers’ presence to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing on promoting peace, justice and strong institutions. Peace keeping and development agencies working together  Our main objective is to ensure that MONUSCO and the UN country team have a joint strategy that builds on what each one does best. The UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) need to be in line with national priorities and capture the SDGs. Therefore, the UN decided to first support the government in adapting the SDGs to the Congolese context, in order to prepare a new National Development Plan. For SDG 16 which aims to promote peace, justice and strong institutions, the government prioritized reducing violence, fighting corruption and good governance. To build on this work, the UN also supports the Ministry of Planning in arranging a meeting with government officials, specifically on the topics of peace, justice, and strong institutions. With the help of MONUSCO, government officials presented and discussed baseline data for reducing violence, fighting corruption and good governance. It is critical to know where we stand in order to measure future impact. What’s next? The UNDAF has been postponed by one year due to significant political issues and delays in drafting a national development plan that the UN could align itself with. The year will provide extra time for a discussion between the UN and the government on strategic priorities. In the meantime, the UN is putting in place “joint task forces” on specific themes where MONUSCO and the UN country team have a common interest. Inspired by the call for new ways of working at the World Humanitarian Summit, we are working together on reintegration of ex-combatants, displacement, justice, gender and human rights. Stay tuned for more about this in future posts. In countries where violent conflict exists, let’s remember that teaching a young person a skill is peacekeeping, and getting a young combatant out of war is development. Photo: UNHCR/B.Sokol

Read More

Finding the balance: Right to privacy and the drive to innovate in the UN

BY Jens Wandel, Robert Kirkpatrick, Mila Romanoff, Gina Lucarelli | April 28, 2017

It is now more and more accepted that big data (distinguished by higher volume, variety and velocity, and often collected/created in real time by private sector entities) has an important role to play to support the achievement of the SDGs. Many examples exist demonstrating the value of big data to target interventions based on real time information and as a source for new insights into human behaviour. To name only a few… Cell-phone location data has been used to understand how human travel affects the spread of malaria in Kenya. The relative size of air time top-ups can give a real time indication of household vulnerability. Tweets can be used to ‘now-cast’ food prices. Banking transactions give an indication of recovery after a natural disaster.  Throughout the UN, teams such as those in UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR and WFP among others work with UN Global Pulse and others to use big data to inform programme design to advance the sustainable development goals. Addressing challenges in access to big data while ensuring privacy During the Ebola crisis in West Africa, some attempts were made to access anonymized call detail records from mobile phones to understand people’s movement patterns in order to design prevention and response plans for a rapidly moving deadly disease. One of the challenges experienced during this effort was the lack of a regulatory framework that would assure governments and private sector companies that data would be used responsibly. This meant that using data when it was needed was harder than it needed to be. While there are many benefits to the use of big data for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, the absence of a common set of principles on data protection, privacy and ethics makes it harder to use big data for development and humanitarian goals. These gaps also complicate efforts to develop standardized, scalable approaches to risk management and data access from partners outside the UN. Putting heads together: lawyers, computer scientists and development experts To ensure that big data is used responsibly, we must use it in a way that respects the right to privacy. Given the emergent nature of technology, and the fact that more and more data is produced by ever-changing technologies, our operating principles need to continuously adapt. Within the UN, we lead a task team devoted to data and transparency. Together with UN Global Pulse, we are working on developing frameworks for safe and responsible use of big data for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. We started with a  large and ambitious goal: to facilitate data innovation within the UNDG and across the 165 countries where UN teams work together with governments and partners. We started small. Together with legal, policy, data specialists and practitioners from the UN and the UN Global Pulse Data Privacy Advisory Group, the UNDG now has a Guidance Note on Big Data for SDGs: Data Privacy, Ethics and Data Protection. This is the first guidance that has been officially approved and adopted by UNDG with regard to big data and privacy and ethics. The guidance sets the ground for further work and implementation of more substantial mechanisms for responsible data access and use for the achievement of SDGs. The main objectives are to: Establish common principles across UNDG to support the operational use of big data for achievement of the SDGs Manage risk, taking into account fundamental human rights Set principles for obtaining, retention, use and quality control for data from the private sector This new scope of work was only possible due to collaborative work between various experts – from data privacy, data security, legal, policy, data and humanitarian and development practitioners. With this work we are acknowledging the importance of trust between the public and private sectors and the need to understand any potential risks and harms involved in data use for social and public good taking into account a particular context (things like geography, gender, political and social norms etc.). Our guidance goes beyond privacy of individuals as it takes into account the needs and interests of vulnerable groups. We recognize the need to establish proper risk management frameworks and understanding of the risks that involved in the use of data as well as its non-use. It’s a small step, but one we think is in the right direction. Growing sources of data can and should be used to the public benefit -  safely, and taking into account human rights, while embracing a quickly evolving technological environment. That’s the UN of the future. Photo credit: © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Read More

New voices to build Costa Rica’s future

BY Alice H Shackelford | April 26, 2017

We at the UN in Costa Rica are designing our  next UN common plan for 2018-2022 to support the Government in its efforts to achieve the Global Goals by 2030. To do that, we are following the crowdsourcing spirit of the new development agenda. We are trying to adapt our decision making  so that our new UN Development Assistance Framework is developed with the full wisdom of the crowd. An outreach strategy to leave no one behind To transform the national and UN planning we worked  with a clear objective: engaging those who are often left out of  mainstream development and public policy discussions. In Costa Rica, these communities are often indigenous people, people with disabilities, people of African descent , youth, LGBTI population, migrants, refugees, women (domestic workers and migrants), and children and adolescents. Our intention was to get to know their needs and demands, to know more about their perceptions in terms of development, and, most importantly, to build on what they know to make them part of the solutions. For this participatory journey, we partnered with the University of Costa Rica, specifically the School of Communications, to find the best methods to build a consultation strategy. This partnership helped us identify some of the building blocks for our outreach strategy: People-centered: The way we engage people will be customized to each of the groups that we will approach, i.e., language, accessibility, etc. Action oriented: When we do consultations as the UN, we must have a purpose beyond collecting the demands, needs and solutions; it should invite to action and "engage" people on promoting the 2030 Agenda. Complementary methods: Combine quantitative and qualitative to tell the story behind the data. Expanding reach: We need to combine two types of consultation: virtual tools which can expand the consultation to many people and collect data in an innovative way, and other more traditional techniques to reach the most excluded communities. Less is more: The online platform should be concrete, with a minimalist design that will allow users to swiftly engage in the consultation process. Messages should be short, concise and clear. With these blocks in mind, we moved to develop and implement our strategy to involve those communities that are commonly left behind. And our journey begins As a start we invited people, mainly individuals who had not participated in this type of consultation, to participatory meetings, where they could discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a creative and interactive way. We consulted 400 women and me from traditionally excluded groups such as: people of African descent, indigenous peoples, LGTBI population, migrants, women (domestic workers and migrants),  young people, persons with disabilities, refugees, children and adolescents. We travelled to various regions in the country (San José, Caribbean South, Limón center and the indigenous area of Térraba) to reach these communities or otherwise they wouldn’t be able to engage in these dialogues. The kind of questions we ask are: What are your group’s demands regarding development? Do the Global Goals encompass your demands? Which SDG should be accelerated in the country and why? What are concrete actions that could be taken to achieve these SDGs? Who can we work with to achieve them? The people we talked to reflected on their experiences, shared their perspectives on SDGs and posed possible solutions to the identified problems. What did we learn? During the consultations, each group had their own specific priorities, but there was a common refrain: People in Costa Rica that we spoke to understand their rights and are ready to claim their fulfillment. Here are some great quotes from people we spoke to during these sessions acknowledging and demanding their rights: "Because of our geographical situation there is little access to specialized educational centers, barely a school, so in order to have an education we have to travel long distances or leave the community, and this is not always easy ... it is a lie that we have access [to education]." Young indigenous person from the Térraba territory. "The labour market leaves out a very vulnerable part of the population... us young people... We do not have work and we cannot find a job ... we end up taking whatever work we can get". Young person during our consultation. "I know many women who want to work, and are hardworking, but they either don’t get a job, they get paid scraps, or the salary is unfair for the job they do." Migrant person present at our consultation reflecting on SDG 1, No poverty. "Access to justice is not real... the stigma for being Afro still exists and when it comes to imparting justice there is a tendency to blame the Afro because of discrimination..." Afrodescendant from the southern Caribbean region. We hear these experiences and value them as important data. In order to gather more inputs during our consultation process, we also set up a web platform to share information about the 2030 Agenda and its goals, asking the people of Costa Rica to have their say in the priorities. We currently have collected more than 250 responses on the platform.   This crowd-sourcing process has impacted how we formed our development priorities. For the first time, the fulfillment of the rights of most excluded populations in Costa Rica, was made explicit in our UN strategic plan as one of the three objectives for the UN and partners to achieve in the next four years (2018-2022): Support to the Government of Costa Rica to implement the national agreement for the Sustainable Development Goals Strengthening Costa Rica’s public sector management Support most excluded populations towards the fulfillment of their rights To keep ourselves accountable, we are now thinking about how to share back with the communities the impact that their voices had on our planning process and how they will transform our future work for the country. Meanwhile we are already working on a monitoring framework for our plan. Towards public accountability The monitoring and evaluation framework is part of any UN strategic plan design phase. So, we decided to be in touch with these communities and other actors engaged in our programmes to check up on whether or not we are delivering on our promises. For that, we thought about upgrading our web platform and use it to monitor the UN programme in Costa Rica. When we shared our plans with the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy, their enthusiasm with the idea was such that they proposed to change the scope of the platform and use it as a tool to measure the Costa Rican government's accountability towards the achievement of the SDGs. Costa Rica is the first country in the world to sign a national pact with its people to deliver on the Global Goals in the 2030 Agenda.  And they are inviting people to have their say. Check it out.

Read More

Designing for Fragility in Somalia

BY Marc Jacquand | April 12, 2017

In vulnerable districts of Somalia, we at the UN in Somalia and our partners have limited visibility of the situation on the ground. Due to security issues, we do not have a significant physical presence in districts  where violence continues. This brings us to dilemma: How can we plan our programs effectively if we are not aware of realities on the ground? This weakness undermines the impact of the resources we invest, while increasing the risk of doing harm through ill-designed programming and weak implementation. Unpacking fragility To plan and program, we need to understand what is happening in these vulnerable districts, particularly what we refer to as “fragility”: What triggers conflict and what are the avenues for reconciliation? What are the security, rule of law and justice arrangements? What is the capacity of the government? What socioeconomic activities are communities involved in? Standard situation analyses and needs assessments often do not provide a clear picture of fragility as they tend to be state or country-wide, and are too far removed from details at the district-level. If the UN’s strategic plan and joint programmes are designed based on sound fragility measurements, we hope they will not only be more accurate, but also increase impact for vulnerable areas and populations. We need to gain a better understanding of fragility to understand the vulnerability of districts, particularly if they relapse into conflict under the influence of armed groups.  The lack of district-level data and intelligence So why haven’t we been gathering this kind of data? There are three reasons: Until now, planning and programming in Somalia has been fragmented with little effort to share data, information and intelligence about what happens at the district level. This is true both within the UN and between UN and its partners. Until recently, the UN’s stabilization efforts had little focus on community-level realities and the multidimensional elements of fragility. Until not so long ago, many districts were inaccessible. Recent military gains, as fragile as they may be, offer an opportunity to know more and do more in these districts - if we have the analytical and risk management tools to do so. We want to improve our analytical capacity, at a time when we are designing a new strategic plan and supporting the government of Somalia with their national development plan. We are now focused on community recovery and the extension of state authority and accountability. What does this mean? Supporting Somali-owned and Somali-led processes remains central to our new approach, but it is based on a greater focus on locally-led recovery efforts in areas that have never felt a positive presence of the state. We are also focused on better analytics to understand conflict dynamics and respond accordingly. Stress testing and a one-stop shop We believe that robust risk management and greater investments in fragility measurements at the district level will increase the UN’s impact. Our new approach focuses on advances in risk management. For example, we applying stress testing methods, where a strategy or a programme is subjected to a series of assessments against potential risks and obstacles. This is to ensure that the strategy or programme contains all the necessary measures to address, prevent and respond to risk or obstacles. We also want to provide a coherent and consistent trend analysis of the situation in South Central Somalia. To measure fragility, our core analytical product is an open platform called the Fragility Index Maturity Model, which will be officially launch soon. This model puts together a basic operational picture of progress at the district level. It brings together internal UN resources as well as data from other partners already operating in Somalia, such as the Stability Fund and the US Office of Transitional Initiatives. The model will assess districts by tracking progress on security, policing and the rule of law; governance and reconciliation; and the quantity, quality and accessibility of education, health and other social services. We hope that this information will be useful for UN agencies and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, and other partners such as USAID, DFID and the federal and local government in Somalia.   Check back here for updates and do get in touch if you have advice or questions.

Read More

Open data for a safer and child-friendly Albania

BY Bas Berends, Jorina Kadare | April 5, 2017

We need open data, especially about whether our cities are child-friendly and safe for women and children. Here at the UN in Albania, we wanted to fill this data gap in order to put issues of gender equality and sustainable cities higher up on the local government’s agenda. Our larger goal was to collect important data and make it available to both the municipality and the public. We planned our innovation on this hypothesis: if more data from administrative sources and surveys is collected and made publicly available, better informed and more efficient policies will be designed and implemented. We based our hypothesis on evidence, including the annual public opinion survey - Trust in Government, jointly funded by UNDP and the EU Delegation. When we kicked off our work in open data in Albaina, we gained the support of a local open data activist, Redon Skikuli, the founder of Open Labs Hackerspace in Tirana. “I'm really happy to see the UN push open data as a set of tools that empower citizens and make central and local governments more transparent, ” Skikuli said. Blending Data Are there spaces where children can be in contact with nature? Are there health check-ups in the community where children are sick? Is it safe for children to walk or cycle in their community? These are the questions we started asking citizens through surveys, which were divided in two parts. The first half focused on how children and their parents perceive their own cities. UNICEF, along with the Observatory for Children’s Rights, had already done some vital groundwork which we could build upon. The second half of the survey focused on safe cities, as part of UN Women’s “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces” initiative. It is a first-ever global programme that develops, implements, and evaluates tools, policies and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of and response to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls across different settings. We plan to blend data and, in this way, create new insights. Data from these public surveys will be combined with administrative data from the police department, the tax office, the education system, and other government departments. It will then be made available as open data for citizens. That way we can triangulate information and get a fuller picture. As a next step, we also used data from the surveys about child-friendly and safe cities as a basis for conducting two  bootcamps; one on child-friendly cities in October and one on safe cities in November 2016. We identified problems and designed solutions with children, youth and women. In our experience, great ideas arise from such bootcamps, especially from our participants. Both events turned out to be highly interactive and  productive. More about these events in our next blog. Data to reengineer municipal services Tirana’s Municipality hosts nearly one third of Albania’s inhabitants, so the municipality has expanded to a much larger area. The territorial expansion of the Municipality created both challenges and opportunities, particularly when it comes to improving the delivery of services, supporting local economic development, and reducing inequalities between different local governments. In Tirana, public service reform is high on the political agenda and the Mayor’s office is busy modernizing and digitizing public services. The vision of the municipality is to transform Tirana from a city struggling to provide its citizens with basic services to a city that is desirable and accessible to residents and visitors. The reform effort has already resulted in an in-depth review and reengineering of 148 services, such as waste management, public kindergartens, public works and issuing of permits. In this backdrop, UNDP Albania and the Municipality organized the Tirana Smart City Conference 2016 – 2026. At the conference, focusing on 5 key themes - mobility, economy, living, society and rural life, participants spoke about how Tirana could become an efficient, economically viable, sustainable and more livable city. Open data and citizen engagement at the local level are particularly important, as they can lead to greater transparency and accountability. More importantly, they can lead to a more efficient local government, and better public service delivery and policy through evidence-based decision-making.  UNDP is currently supporting the Municipality of Tirana in making the data collection processes more effective and making the data visible through an open data portal. This isn’t an easy task! Lessons Learned Data is collected sporadically and there are concerns about sharing data between different departments, timeliness, validity and quality. The municipality officials see the data gathering and data entry process as additional work unrelated to their jobs. Currently, the municipality has 31(!) channels for citizen requests; varying between municipal units, public enterprises, phone lines and an app. Citizen requests could be anything from requests for construction on renovation projects to complaints about government services. Most of the data collected are in Excel format and bear little connection with each other, resulting in difficulties in analyses in the open data portal. In other words, some steps are still needed to make sure that Tirana benefits from a functioning open data portal that can incorporate data from different sources. We hope that the efforts by both UNDP and UNICEF strengthen the municipality’s ability to learn about public concerns and to make good use of innovative ideas among citizens. This will also help the UN in Albania to focus its future efforts when assisting the government to create safe and sustainable cities and communities. Next steps Moving forward, the municipality, assisted by UNDP, will continue to work on the smart city data infrastructure (including innovative financing mechanisms, user-centred research and innovation labs), so that high-value data sets can be posted in the open data portal. We’re also discussing a similar data infrastructure with the municipality of Korca in the south of Albania. Watch this space for more news about open data for a safer and more child-friendly Albania!

Read More

The journey begins: Real-time information for maternal health in Mauritania

BY Jose Levy, Blandine Bihler | March 24, 2017

In Mauritania, 13 women die each week at the time of pregnancy, childbirth or post-birth. Although the maternal mortality curve is beginning to move in the right direction, reproductive health indicators remain a concern. The maternal mortality rate is 582 deaths per 100,000 live births - one of the highest in the region. Those most at-risk are the poor, illiterate women from rural areas with low access to maternal health services, subject to socio-cultural prejudices, adolescents and youth. We at the UN in Mauritania are committed to supporting the Mauritanian Government's efforts to drastically reduce maternal mortality. UN agencies (WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF) are supporting the Ministry of Health to better identify malfunctions in obstetric care and to improve the situation. They also support the ministry to supply health centers with life–saving products and medicines. Faster information…could it save lives? The Mauritanian government needs faster data to know why women are dying and to target resources to save lives.  They also want more up to date status on stocks of essential products and medicines in maternity hospitals, pediatric units and health center pharmacies to prevent stock outs and be able to respond quickly to breaks in critical supplies. In thinking of new ways to solve this issue, we looked at one critical asset: an over 90 percent mobile phone penetration rate in Mauritania.  So we assumed that a real time monitoring system might be able to help. For almost a year now, together with the Mauritanian Ministry of Health and Community Systems Foundation - CSF, we have been working to design a real time monitoring tool in three health centers in Nouakchott, which despite being the capital still constitutes 80 percent of the maternal deaths in Mauritania. We wanted healthcare providers to be able to report in real time (less than 24 hours) maternal deaths and drug inventory. We decided to use smart phones because they are less expensive than tablets and at least in Noakchott they are very common. We also couldn’t use basic phones because they couldn’t handle the volume of data we needed. Once data is recorded through a mobile survey using an open source tool, Ministry professionals can consult the information through key performance indicators on an inter-active dashboard. So we tested it out. Nurses, midwives and doctors loved it. The app also attracted considerable interest among the other players in the health structures tested. If you are considering a similar solution, let us save you a few steps! Its great to see things coming together, but it has been a long and winding road. First, we built up the demand for real time data – which might be more than the system can respond to! Along the way, we had some seriously doubts in our ability to develop the envisaged system. To anyone thinking of moving in this direction   let us share some words of advice: Narrow your data dreams. High expectations and a lot of data gaps meant that it was difficult to establish the scope of what data we really needed. We started too broad - ‘basic social services (health, education and protection of victims of violence)’ but this wide scope had led to practical implications, making the system too cumbersome and non-functional (too many issues covered and therefore too much data to be collected at high cost). Working across different sectoral experts and parts of the UN, we needed criteria to prioritize which data we really needed. We decided to consider a sector having an analysis of the situation with a clear identification of the bottlenecks and priority actions to be carried out, which could be monitored in real time. Back in the days of the Millennium Development Goals we had done a bottleneck analysis on how to accelerate progress in maternal health so this was a good factor in deciding in favor of a focus on this issue. Health experts and data teams on board from the beginning. We started this  real time monitoring journey within the UN’s Program Management Group which is responsible for monitoring the results of the UN’s work in Mauritania. It brings together management across the UN and the monitoring and evaluation officers. We made progress, but really it was only when the health technicians were brought on board that the blockages could be lifted and we got real commitment and momentum to work together on this. Once we had the health people in the room, the added value of the real-time monitoring system was immediately clear. Those struggling to reduce maternal deaths saw it as an action-research tool that allows them to adjust their response strategies. So, if you plan to embark on a similar adventure, bring in the content experts from the start. The mobilization of technical expertise: a challenge. Once the scope of the real time monitoring system was identified, the next challenge was to find a partner capable of supporting us in implementing it. After several unsuccessful attempts, we contacted CSF, based on the suggestion of our colleagues at UN DOCO, who already worked with the foundation in the framework of the UNDAF online monitoring tool. As CSF holds a long term agreement with UNFPA, we piggybacked on this and started our collaboration. After a first scoping mission in October 2016, CSF conducted a pre-piloting mission in Nouakchott this January to propose a mobile based solution to capture data at the health facility level. Plan for the recurring costs of data collection. When we started, we looked at several options for data collection, based particularly on UNICEF’s experience with a real-time monitoring system. We looked at  one model that would have regional planning units and regional offices of the national statistical office collect the data and others that thought volunteers from the UN Volunteers Programme could do on-site collection of health data. All of these options had cost implications. Once we considered what would build on the work of the Ministry of Health, we realized that a smart phone would be best so that health personnel can directly record data as they are the ones closest to the job. Within two or three months, we will expand the system to all health facilities in two regions of Mauritania and will provide real-time information on maternal deaths in these two areas and, ultimately, adequate response measures to prevent the occurrence of new deaths related to gaps in the health system. Mauritania’s maternal health real time data journey continues…stay tuned for our next installment and do get in touch if you have questions or ideas.

Read More