Four questions on building a global network to learn about development challenges

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

How do we protect ourselves in a deeply interconnected world?

Some argue that isolation is the way to protect ourselves in an interconnected world. We believe that the global community represents significant benefits for all. We don’t amputate an arm just in case it gets infected at some point in the future. But if interconnection is making us more vulnerable, are we engaging it to become stronger and more responsive at the same rate?

If interconnection is making us more vulnerable, are we engaging it to become stronger and more responsive at the same rate?

Four key questions to enable globally-networked learning

Learning as a global network in a way that leverages our interconnectedness requires that we remodel the way we learn. Part of UNDP’s answer to this is the Accelerator Labs, a network of teams covering 78 countries to help us accelerate our learning about what works and what doesn’t in development. The Labs are an experiment to build the world’s largest and fastest learning network — a network rapidly identifying and testing bold solutions for our most critical development challenges with a wide alliance of partners.

1. How do we ensure we get learning to the right people in the network — without deluging everyone with irrelevant information?

Taking advantage of the full intelligence of a global network rather than just those who are in our team and physically next to us requires breaking a trade-off between two conflicting needs. On one hand, the need to ensure that as soon as something is learned in one part of the network the right people in the rest of the network can take advantage of that learning. On the other hand, the need to ensure that people are not deluged with irrelevant information.

Photo by Maros Misove on Unsplash

2. How do we move from collecting knowledge “just in case”, to connecting people “just in time”?

Traditional approaches to knowledge management are premised on the collection of explicit and codified knowledge (e.g. guides, presentations, reports) stored in repositories “just in case” someone else finds it useful.

3. How do we operate as a boundaryless organization, seamlessly connecting with a variety of partners and pulling in expertise when and where needed, including those who are most affected by a development issue?

No matter how many smart people there are as a part of the network,there will always be more smart people outside of it . We have a responsibility to leverage not just knowledge within the organisation but from a variety of people and organisations who might know something about the challenges we’re working on. That might include other development actors but also mobile phone companies, social media networks, and the real experts — the people who are most affected by these challenges.

4. How do we increase ‘return on attention’, help people sift signal from the noise, and better deal with information overload?

For every newsletter that lands in your inbox, you’re considering your “return on attention” when you think about whether to open it or to delete it straight away. Does this newsletter give you something relevant and interesting every time or open it? Or is it variable and you think of reading it only if you have some spare time?


How we’re working on answering these questions

We have a few hunches about how to answer these questions — but no means all the answers.



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UNDP Accelerator Labs

UNDP Accelerator Labs

Building the world’s largest learning network around development challenges. 91 Labs in 115 countries.