What 8000 Papua New Guineans have to say about sustainable development

BY Stephanie Laryea, Chika Kondoh | April 11, 2018|Comments 0

About 150 kilometres north of Australia lies the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. This young nation has over 1,000 distinct ethnic groups and more than 850 indigenous spoken languages. Of Papua New Guinea’s population of almost 8 million people, 80 percent still live in rural areas; and 90 percent of the provinces are only accessible by air or sea.

Due to underdeveloped infrastructure, it’s difficult to reach out to citizens that live in dispersed areas. About 30 percent of the population doesn’t have access to mass media. If we don’t know what citizens think about their country or what they need, how can we expect them to actively participate in society?

Reaching people through SMS technology

In our quest to find ways to localize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Papua New Guinea and learn what citizens think, we came across an interesting detail: when Digicel, the largest mobile phone network provider entered Papua New Guinea’s telecommunications market in 2007, it single-handedly opened communications to the most remote areas of the country. Access to mobile phones spiked from 1.6 percent in 2006 to 50 percent in 2016.

Some of our colleagues at UN agencies are already using mobile phones to communicate with Papua New Guineans. In 2016, UNICEF launched U-Report in Papua New Guinea, a free social messaging tool that allows for anyone, from any community, to comment on the issues affecting them. UNICEF partnered with Digicel to carry out SMS-based communications to collect disaggregated data on a large-scale in a rapid, low-cost and interactive way.

Drawing on UNICEF’s positive results, the UN team in Papua New Guinea sent an SMS blast to 103,466 randomly-selected Digicel subscribers to ask if they’d be willing participate in a Sustainable Development Goal  survey. Around 8,043 people registered and received questions based on data gaps previously identified by the government during a period of 12 days.

What we learned from 8,000 people

With simple text messages, we collected disaggregated data from all 22 provinces, 89 districts, from women and men of all range groups in Papua New Guinea. Believe it or not, the oldest respondent was 79 years old! On average, 72 percent of the people who registered, answered our questions. The data collected suggests where interventions are required by the Government, the United Nations or other development partners. For example:

  • 44 percent of women in the province of Milne Bay reported feeling safe on public transport, while only 16 percent of women in the country’s capital, Port Moresby, felt safe on public transport.
  • A staggering 90 percent had witnessed the effects of climate change in their local environment
  • 3 out of 4 said they had been affected by a natural and/or man-made disaster in the past 12 months.
  • Disparities among provinces, age groups and gender, revealed that we need to shift from an aggregated approach based on macro data at the national level to a disaggregated intervention approach.
  • Papua New Guineans want to be actively involved in civic participation. We identified that youth are vital agents of change; 75 percent of the population is under 35 years old.

Harnessing the potential of Papua New Guinea’s youth and using their his to our advantage and using youth networks will be essential in advocating for the SDGs. The UN in Papua New Guinea’s ‘Youth Champion 4 SDGs’ have discussed the survey findings and have provided insights on potential reasons for the disparity seen in some of the survey results.

To view the survey results in a quick and easy way, our partners at Viz for Social Good, a social non-profit organization specialized in data visualization, did an amazing job visualizing the data.

 Click here to see the data in Tableau. Author: Simon Beaumont

How we are using what we heard

Together with the national government, private sector, multilateral organizations, bilateral donors, NGOs, and academia, we held the country’s first-ever multi-sectoral data workshop to discuss data gaps and identify available data sources among the stakeholders present at the workshop. We shared the SMS survey findings and the platform during one of the sessions. We also categorized the disaggregated findings into the four outcome areas of the new United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2018-2022  and shared it with the program priority working groups.

Later this year, we will share our findings with the citizens of Papua New Guinea through mass media. Our plan is to use radio and newspapers to reach people living in rural areas and online/social media to target people living in the capital city. People will also be able to interact and share their concerns either by calling radio shows or using social media to discuss their views on key survey findings. With this, our hope is to raise public awareness on the status of the SDGs in Papua New Guinea.

Next steps

Reflecting on the use of SMS and mobile phones, the UN Country Team in Papua New Guinea will delve deeper to gather more sets of disaggregated data to establish a statistical model that will help development actors better target their interventions.  We will also look into mobile usage and demographic data, provided by Digicel, to build a platform of civic monitoring through SMS. This scaled-up project aims to push the agenda of area-based programming in the UN system as well as with relevant government departments, building on the findings that this SMS survey provided.

Watch this space for more!


Stephanie Laryea Stephanie is Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at the UN Resident Coordination Office in Papua New Guinea. You can follow her on Linkedin.
Chika Kondoh Chika is Communications Specialist at the UN Resident Coordination Office in Papua New Guinea. You can follow her on Twitter
Collective Intelligence, Data capture and analysis, Public engagement and partnerships, SMS


Stephanie Laryea Stephanie is Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at the UN Resident Coordination Office in Papua New Guinea. You can follow her on Linkedin.
Chika Kondoh Chika is Communications Specialist at the UN Resident Coordination Office in Papua New Guinea. You can follow her on Twitter

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