Whether it be climate change, environmental degradation, corruption, rapid urbanization, youth unemployment, or the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, these all present complex and systemic challenges that undermine development. The complexity of these development challenges, and the fact that they don’t respond to single point linear solutions, compelled the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to launch the Accelerator Labs network with a vision to re-imagine development for the 21st century.
As UNDP Uganda transitions to a new five-year Country Programme (CPD 2021-2025) anchored in inclusive and sustainable solutions to Uganda’s development challenges, the Accelerator Lab team has been deployed to assist in drafting programme interventions with Accelerator Lab methodology in mind. The CPD 2021-2025, aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF 2021-2025) and the third National Development Plan (NDP III 2021-2025), is taking a programmatic approach to implementation in order to address Uganda’s development challenges and accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
How did the Accelerator Lab support this process?
Inspired by the intriguing question posed by our Resident Representative Ms. Elsie Attafuah, “What is the Uganda we want?”, the Country Office team was enthused to imagine the kind of Uganda they would like to witness in the coming 5-10 years.
We found that the team’s imagination is well aligned to Uganda’s Vision 2040 and its aspiration of a transformed and inclusive Ugandan society where people have been lifted out of poverty, living an improved quality of life, more resilient and with reduced inequalities. To realize this, the Accelerator Lab team was given the opportunity to support the CPD design process as a means of crafting development programmes befitting Uganda’s prevailing challenges. The team supported the process through:
1) Engaging with unique partners
The CPD drafting process is usually quite consultative, involving a range of traditional stakeholders in government, civil society, private sector, and development partners. The extent of, and approaches for, involvement of the unique and ‘unusual’ stakeholders in religious and cultural institutions, communities, academia and the business sector is an area that has limited the identification and use of local homegrown solutions in programme design.
With this in mind, the CPD drafting process has deepened engagement with these unique partners. This approach has enabled the UNDP Uganda Country Office to tap into their unique experiences and practices to analyze Uganda’s development challenges and identify potential solutions for nurturing and scaling through structured experiments.
2) Identifying strategic areas of focus
Unlike other UN agencies whose mandates are clear-cut, UNDP’s development agenda is very broad and therefore requires a highly strategic approach to identify priority areas. The journey to identify five integrated programmes required articulating UNDP’s strategic offer within a collective space with multiple partners, avoiding duplication of efforts, and unleashing UNDP’s comparative advantage and integrator role in a way that effectively compliments ongoing efforts and opens new frontiers for transformational programming in tackling complex development challenges. Challenges such as accelerating digital transformation while promoting digital inclusion, tackling urban poverty while building smart cities for sustainable urbanization, building resilience in the wake of the adverse socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and the imperative to build forward better, strengthening national innovation and startup ecosystems to boost private sector competitiveness and sustainably address the youth employment challenge, and many others.
This process identified three Priority Areas as entry points: i) Inclusive and Sustainable Growth, ii) Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and Resilient Development, and iii) Transformational and Inclusive Governance. From these, five integrated programmes have been prioritized for the 2021-2025 cycle and are being co-created with a broad range of stakeholders:
· Governance and Security
· Nature, Climate Energy and Resilience
· Digitalization, Innovation and Smart Cities
· Inclusive and Sustainable Growth
· SDG Integration and Acceleration
The Accelerator Lab has supported the process to refine problem statements and clearly identify drivers and priority areas in defining impactful and feasible theories of change. This process has also been anchored in harnessing lessons learnt from previous interventions.
3) Recognizing the value of data
Data has at times been referred to as the “new gold” or the “new oil”, due to its critical importance in understanding different dynamics as well as designing interventions.
As a team, we stressed the importance of utilizing all forms of data, from desk reviews to web and mobile data, not only to understand the complexity of development challenges but also in the identification of appropriate interventions. As a lab, this is one key area we have identified where we made an impactful contribution to the CPD’s integrated programmes.
4) Demystifying Accelerator Lab language
The Accelerator Lab team has taken feedback from other Country Office teams that the lab can at times use abstract and complex terminologies that might hinder colleagues from understanding, exploring and utilizing Accelerator Lab methodologies.
As a lab, we were given an opportunity to simplify our language, adapting some of our tools and using examples of how teams can deploy innovative approaches to re-think programme design. Together with colleagues we discussed ways to identify strategic levers of change that can cause system transformation, tap into foresight thinking, harness innovative data, and deploy experimentation. We also articulated the value of “sense-making” to understand patterns of a problem, establish the key drivers through issues mapping with stakeholders, and formulate a portfolio approach to experimentation.
Aligning Accelerator Lab Initiatives to the CPD
As ongoing Accelerator Lab initiatives continue to scale up and scale out, this is reflected within the new CPD’s integrated programmes and continues to play an influential role in how UNDP Uganda takes strides forward, from Nature, Climate Energy and Resilience to Digitalization, Innovation and Smart Cities.
On the ongoing efforts to combat deforestation in Uganda: Our Data Visualization Platform, having been embraced by the National Forest Authority (NFA) and showing great potential to transform forest management in Uganda, will soon be operating at full capacity while incorporating a wetlands monitoring system. Meanwhile, our partnership with the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) continues, whereby large institutions in the health and education sector, such as hospitals, universities and boarding schools, are being incentivized through evidence-based co-creation of preferential electricity tariffs to increase the utilization of electricity as an alternative to biomass energy for cooking.
On the ongoing efforts to tackle youth unemployment: Our E-Commerce Platform in partnership with Jumia Uganda will continue to serve greater segments of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), with partners identifying potential for the model to be scaled nationally and regionally. Meanwhile, we continue to support enterprises identified within the Multi City Challenge Africa and SDG Impact Accelerator, while strengthening Uganda’s innovation ecosystem through rollout of the web-based national innovations hub and continuing to build an enabling environment for entrepreneurship within priority sectors.
A lengthy process
Inevitably, some colleagues continue to question the Accelerator Lab methodology and report that they find it a bit lengthy, asking questions like “How long would one continue to test a solution before it is ready to be scaled?” and “Do you need to go through the entire cycle of exploration and experimentation before you can hone an intervention?”
In Uganda, where interventions have at times been implemented without consulting beneficiaries and without extensive experimentation, our Accelerator Lab is championing the value of utilizing innovative and systemic approaches, agility, and the power of engaging unique people, unique data and unique partners as a cornerstone to development solutions. As a team, we feel that deeper interrogation of an issue could save a lot of resources in the long-term and ensure programming remains efficient and effective.
We keep this in mind as we strive to continue moving the needle.
By Hadijah Nabbale, Head of Solutions Mapping; Deborah Naatujuna, Head of Exploration; Berna Mugema, Head of Experimentation; Innocent Fred Ejolu, Partnerships, Innovation and Development Solutions Specialist; Michael Mubangizi, Communications Analyst; and Ashley Prigent, Communications Specialist.