Exploring UNDP

By: Ayah Younis, Head of Exploration, Accelerator Lab - UNDP Jordan

August 7, 2022

As the newly hired Head of Exploration at UNDP, I started asking myself a simple question, where do I start?  

And with equal measures of excitement and anxiousness, I set about making a solid exploration plan, a responsibility which I found to be overwhelming at times, but one I took on with great enthusiasm. 

I met with UNDP’s top management to help answer this question, mainly the Resident Representative and the Deputy Resident Representative, who advised me to explore UNDP Jordan internally and engage with the country office (CO) teams. 

We set forth that task by conducting activities such as semi-structured interviews and field visits which helped us gain valuable insights into the CO teams’ work, the challenges they face, and their aspirations. In this blog, I will outline these activities and key learnings from each one. 

Semi-Structured Interviews 
Endorsed by the Deputy Resident Representative, we conducted several semi-structured interviews with the heads of three (thematic) teams. These interviews allowed us to re-establish a direct connection between the Lab and senior management, which had previously been interrupted following the pandemic and the hybrid working arrangements resulting from that. 

The main goal of these interviews was to decide our areas of focus through identifying emerging opportunities and challenges within UNDP Jordan, to develop our challenge statement1. Eight focus areas were singled out by mapping the projects, and five projects to which we could offer support by designing ad-hoc innovation tools.  

The heads of the teams were generous with their time as we needed two rounds of meetings and some follow-up questions with each of them.

Field Visits 
Photo:UNDP Jordan

Invited by the Resident Representative, we joined a series of field visits to UNDP projects both in Amman and the north of Jordan.  

The visits offered an opportunity to connect with the community members and provided us with a chance to learn more about their projects’ successes, as well as some of the challenges they had to deal with.  

or example, we learned that one common challenge was that despite the different projects and locations, the members were competing over the same resources due to the lack of solid scaling pathways for their projects. 

This is something that will be addressed in the Lab’s future work to ensure that scaling pathways are included early in the process and while considering the local needs. The field visits also allowed us to socialize with our colleagues in the field, whether in the car or over lunch which helped us to widen our knowledge of their work details. 

Top: solid waste sorting site in Shouneh Bottom: organic compost site in Mafraq

The Country Program Document 2023 - 2027 

Developing the Country Program Document (CPD) presented an opportunity that the Lab was fortunate to participate in. The CPD aims to align UNDP Jordan’s strategic priorities with the United Nations Sustainable Development Coordination Framework (UNCF) for Jordan and the capacities of the country office for the next four years.  

The Lab was involved as part of the core team that led the development of UNDP Jordan CPD, which included conducting sensemaking exercises, mapping stakeholders, designing stakeholders’ consultations, facilitating meetings, analyzing data, and contributing to writing the CPD narrative.  

The CPD allowed the Lab’s team a chance to collectively reflect on the country office teams’ experiences, UNDP Jordan’s comparative advantage, and identify where the country office is now, and where it wants to be in the future. It was intriguing to observe how the teams had common insights, and how they collaborated, and in some cases, they were unable to do so.  

We learned a lot about UNDP, in a Jordan context, and we are glad to have had an influence on the portfolios’ design for the coming four years.  

People’s Consultations  

Ru'a, Head of Solutions Mapping, conducting phone interviews with community members

To complement the CPD stakeholders’ consultations, we designed consultations with community members across various demographics. These consultations were carried out through phone interviews and an online survey. Our goal was to collect the top three challenges people face in their daily lives in Jordan, and their feedback on UNDP Jordan’s priority areas for the coming four years (pulled out from the UNCF).

As someone who was born and raised in Jordan, like most of our colleagues, it may have been easy to simply make assumptions regarding what challenges people face in Jordan. What we learned from these consultations would help us challenge our cognitive biases to act upon the assumptions we had.

As an example, we developed a better understanding of how deeply water scarcity has affected people’s daily lives. Despite knowing Jordan is one of the world’s most water-stressed countries.

CPD people consultations insights

This reminded me of something my colleague Danakhan Malhas, Innovation Specialist, said, “there is always something special about the impact of reading what people think and feel!” 

These consultations provided a good step to bringing voices of people to UNDP Jordan discussions, validating or correcting UNDP Jordan teams’ assumptions of the community members’ needs. Inspired by the people’s ideas for achieving a positive change, the Accelerator Lab came up with nine potential focus areas.  

It is important to note that reading hundreds of people’s challenges left us feeling overwhelmed and helpless for a few days. We had to recognize that these problems are inherited issues within the local systems, which may not be within our capacity to completely solve. However, we are well situated, with our knowledge and network, to make a sustainable positive change that would restore hope for many of our people.  

Solutions mapping

Head of Experimentation, talking to team members about their projects

To complete the process, we are running a simple mapping exercise to compile and visualize in one place the entirety of the country office’s efforts at different levels –projects, initiatives, local solutions, and partners. UNDP Jordan currently does not have such a product; we hope this product will help us and the CO teams tangibly grasp the depth, breadth, and linkages of the country office’s work.  

As we concluded exploring UNDP Jordan activities, we are now in the process of analyzing the observations, the data, and the ideas we collected to build the Accelerator Lab Jordan’s action plan. We are drafting five challenge statements, one of which will be prioritized with management and stakeholders as our core challenge statement.  

In the end, I am grateful to have explored UNDP Jordan internally, as we came out with a deeper understanding of its program, stronger relationships with the teams, and more confidence in approaching the community members.  


For more information on the activities mentioned in this post, I can be reached at ayah.younis@undp.org.