The planet is burning…so why are we learning?

We’re using learning questions as an open-ended way of reflecting during the action.
Tweet of John A. Sweeney
A Twitter account we highly recommend to follow.

Speed up to act…

For a global organization like the United Nations Development Programme, we care about action. To address COVID-19, UNDP is helping countries protect people from the pandemic and recover from the economic and social ripple effects in the months to come. We’re seeing the labs, innovation and digital teams throughout UNDP’s global network jump in, and pivot their work to adapt to this new context and what many are calling new normals. Agile appears to be having a moment!

  • UNDP in Argentina, through its Accelerator Lab, has teamed up with UN Women and UNVolunteers to launch the “Pay in Advance” initiative in order to secure income for self-employed people and small entrepreneurs in countries under lockdown.
  • In Tanzania, Pakistan, The Gambia, and several other countries, UNDP is working with partner labs to use 3D printers to make personal protective equipment.
  • The UNDP India lab is gamifying social distancing. They are also partnering with UN Volunteers’ V-Force on a social media campaign “GrandMaPa” to promote caring for the elderly that has spread across social media platforms like TikTok & Instagram.
  • Ethiopia’s UNDP lab team is using futures thinking to scope out economic impacts on the country’s industrial parks.

….Slow down to reflect

Within the action, we are also trying to make space for reflection and learning. Last year, UNDP set up a large global network of labs. When we did, we put out a daunting promise: to become the world’s fastest learning network on sustainable development challenges.

You know what they say about best-laid plans…

We’re trying to build more learning into traditional development planning cycles. Often in development, we invest in getting government, civil society, and private sector partners to agree on multi-year plans. These are important exercises as they help diverse perspectives create a common understanding of problems and, ideally, commitment to joint action.

Postnormal times ask us to move beyond best practices

As we look at the speed of change around us, and the way many stubborn social and environmental problems morph into new (and usually more entangled) challenges, we’re driven by the question — are there best practices for the challenges that we are now facing? We could be in the complex or chaotic quadrants of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin sense-making framework: the places where best practices don’t exist.

Take the response and recovery for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where are the best practices here? In a space where copy-paste is not an option, we’re using learning questions as an open-ended way of reflecting during the action.

Here is where UNDP is exploring questions like:

Building in time for learning when the world is on fire

Constantly shifting terrains like the ones we see around us these days demand we expand our toolbox. This is not news to those who’ve drunk the Kool-aid on sense-making, systems thinking, and other ways of dealing with bottom-up emergence. And yet, something about the COVID-19 days has dialed up demand for these kinds of approaches across many new domains.



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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.