Introducing Accelerator Lab in the country office, Photo: UNDP Sudan © 2019

 

In the week of July 22 – 27, UNDP conducted a series of activities marking the soft launch of Accelerator Lab in Sudan. With its global launch the week before, the labs are UNDP’s offer to catalyze innovative solutions to complex development challenges through the world’s largest learning network. UNDP has introduced the Accelerator Labs to establish new ways of thinking, designing development interventions and create ecosystems of innovation. The Lab will provide its support through a combination of non-traditional approaches to tackle development processes – sense making, solutions mapping, collective intelligence and experimentation.

Our aim for soft-landing in Sudan was primarily to educate the country office about why UNDP Accelerator Lab is needed now, how will they work, what are we offering to our partners, beneficiaries, and secondarily to sensitize key and potential partners on our new domain and skill set. Sudan’s soft-landing process included three steps:

 

1. Understanding the baseline within organization

It was vital to gauge Sudan country office’s understanding of innovation in general, and the Accelerator Labs in particular, in order to inform and help us design soft-landing learning activities.  An online survey was conducted amongst country office colleagues on their understanding of the Lab, importance of innovation, scope for new partners preference, and to get a sense of what they felt was an urgent frontier policy challenge. Using a set of eight multiple choice questions, the additional purpose of the survey was also to gently introduce staff members to the three protocols of the Accelerator Labs.  Deployed for a week amongst programme and operation teams, a total of 43 responses were received that comprised 75% programme and 25% operation staff members. Almost 90% of the responding staff members demonstrated general understanding of the Accelerator Labs and importance of innovation for development. While majority of them felt urgent frontier issues in the country to be in the areas of governance, unemployment, policies and resources.

Fig 1: Word Cloud on Frontier issues captured from online survey

 

When asked about potential new partners for engagement, a vast majority expressed the importance of partnering with private sector, youth, universities and civil society organizations. The online survey hence helped in early horizon scanning for the Accelerator Labs. 

Fig 2: Word cloud on Partnerships for Sudan Acc Lab (Online survey result)

 

After the first line of online familiarization, the second leg of soft landing for country office involved a deeper offline and in-person dive into the Accelerator Labs protocols through two sets of action learning sessions held in Khartoum and Darfur field office.

 

2. Action learning in the capital and deep field

In collaboration with UNDP’s MENA Region Innovation Lead, Jennifer Colville, two action learning workshop sessions were conducted in Khartoum office and El Fasher, North Darfur office. In both sessions, a total of 44 staff members participated. The sessions introduced the Accelerator Labs, its two new team members in Sudan along with quick but deep dive into the lab protocols – sense making, solutions mapping, collective intelligence and experimentation.

Khartoum session applied system thinking approach to making sense of women’s political participation, which was a topic identified as one of the areas UNDP would be supporting during Sudan’s transition period. The system thinking approach used issue mapping tool to map key drivers behind the challenge of women’s political participation in Sudan and three priority areas that need to be tackled urgently. The session prioritized three drivers – i) Unequal distribution of wealth, ii) Poor quality of educational materials and iii) Stereotyping of women’s roles in society. It was followed by solution mapping and ideation exercise that led to the design of portfolio of hypotheses to experiment.

The Darfur field office, which comprised of staff members attending from West and South Darfur, went two steps further. They explored a range of Darfur specific challenges and applied prioritization tool to arrive at the most urgent frontier policy challenge - High unemployment of Darfuri youth. We prioritized potential challenges based on the following criteria: i) frontier status (how new is the issue?); ii) unknown status (how unknown is the issue? How much do we not know about the issue?); iii) how much impact could it have? iv) what is the risk of not doing something about it? and v) how difficult is it to get from idea to project (with regards to this issue)? Sense making exercise followed with ideation for solutions and design of portfolio of experiments to develop a shared understanding of the drivers and collective identification of urgent and innovative interventions required to address the critical issue.

In both workshops’ participants were found to be highly interested and energized. To improve the Accelerator Labs knowledge, colleagues highlighted the requirement of rapid and expanded learning sessions for staff member, which will enable them to apply the lab tools themselves and better advocate for the Accelerator Labs with their stakeholders.

El Fasher office in action, Photo: UNDP Sudan © 2019

 

3. Socialization of the lab with partners

The third leg of soft landing involved socialization of the lab to our current and potential partners and donor community. We organized two sets of sessions. Similar to the internal action learning workshop with a sneak peek into the Accelerator Labs methods and tools, a one-day workshop was held with partners from NGOs, private sector, academia, start-ups, business incubators, youth, women groups, which generated immediate interest and willingness to collaborate on future undertakings.

Socialization workshop with development, national and international partners. Photo: UNDP Sudan © 2019

Final engagement was “breakfast with partners” meeting on the last day of the soft launch week, with selected donors introducing the Accelerator Labs, country office past innovation work and sharing of experience and deliberations from action learning workshops during the week. The reflections with donors opened doors of opportunities wherein two partners expressed interest to explore the possibility of applying collective intelligence approach for situation update and analysis exercises targeting the transitional phase of the country.

Sudan Acclerator Lab Team Members – Basma (Head of Solutions Mapping), left and Ali (Head of Experimentation), right. Photo: UNDP Sudan © 2019

The soft launch week in Sudan helped UNDP in three areas – i) Advocating about the opportunities with Accelerator Labs which helped in getting the crucial buy-in from our existing and current partners. ii) Positioned UNDP as a development agency prepared with unique skillset, tools and capabilities to address rapidly emerging and next-generation development issues which are vital for acceleration of the country’s transition processes. And iii) Supported mellifluous integration of the lab and its new team within the organization.

Watch more highlights from the soft launch week via the video below.

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