Adding efforts to multiply what works: Co_Lab's second year in numbers

3 de Mayo de 2022

At the end of 2019, we began our journey at Co_Lab with a mission to accelerate knowledge building about complex issues which restrain development. In order to achieve this, we tried to foresee what is to come, promote the development of grassroots solutions and deploy action portfolios to address the multiple dimensions of an issue. In 2021, we reinforced the lines of work that we had introduced before the pandemic, and which grew more important since the irruption of COVID-19. Meanwhile, we also promoted innovative tools for public policy. We focused on three focal points: financial inclusion and socio-economic recovery, vaccines and misinformation, and environmental citizen science.

When the pandemic irrupted, we were working on financial inclusion because of its potential to promote multiple SDGs, and it revealed its strategic nature, which forced us to react quickly through a series of actions. For example, due to isolation measures, digital management became a key challenge, because it was a critical requirement to access many resources. Although digital operations were already spreading, not everybody had the same level of preparation, and barriers were now more evident than ever. What, in theory, may look like “just a procedure” poses a significant obstacle in low-income populations. Therefore, we prototyped and experimented with a mapped solution: the informal intermediation of financial and digital services. People tend to rely on people who are close to them or who they can trust to access these services. Bearing this in mind, we launched the Con Vos (With You) network together with the Municipality of Concepción del Uruguay, Province of Entre Ríos, Argentina. This initiative is an example of how mapping, experimentation, and growth come to life during their implementation. Due to its potential for digital inclusion, it was included in the Handbook on Smart Urban Innovations.

The lessons we learned, the recommendations for public policy, and the multiple actions we carried out in terms of financial inclusion were published in 2021 in “Close up: Financial Inclusion and Grassroots Solutions”. This journey led to the need to continue investigating an aspect of these solutions that caught our attention: their feminization. Women play a key role in social organizations which support low-income populations and in charitable practices, woven with logic based on their close relationship and intended to help people move forward. Therefore, together with the UNDP Gender Area, we developed a specific solutions mapping where we interviewed 60 women from low-income populations and we hosted six workshops where they were called as specialists to discuss the most recurrent solutions. No one knows more about their issues and their possible solutions than themselves.

The need to work on financial inclusion was becoming more and more evident and necessary. With the support of the United Nations Volunteers programme, we implemented Fintech for Inclusion, together with Shaping Horizons, Ashoka, UNDP Mexico, and the National University of San Martín, with the purpose of promoting solutions through volunteer work. Fifteen teams participated in this initiative and went through a remote pre-incubation, ideation, and acceleration process, which resulted in the creation of projects to promote financial inclusion and socio-economic recovery. Moreover, we recorded the mapping experience with 10 volunteers from different provinces in Argentina in “Búsqueda compartida: mapeo de soluciones CoLaborativo” (Shared search: CoLaborative solutions mapping), which sheds light on a model to reach different territories simultaneously and, thus, encourage potential agents of change in their communities. This action was so effective that it allowed us to confirm the patterns and solutions we had mapped earlier. This provided greater support and diversity to our original findings in financial inclusion.

The pandemic also brought to light the relevance of our work on vaccines. Confidence in and access to vaccines were now a frontline challenge. In an effort to address this, we developed a comprehensive action plan in alliance with Fundación Bunge y Borne. Together, we conducted a field study in 2021 which included four focus groups with people from the great Buenos Aires area. Our findings are detailed in “Access and Confidence in Vaccines: What can we Learn from What Works?”. Along the same lines, together with Chequeado, we developed a pilot with the Spanish adaptation of TED's Healthy Internet Project, a participative tool to categorize content on the Internet and report sources of misinformation.

On the other hand, our work cycle on environmental citizen science grew quickly and continuously, and we ended 2021 having projected its growth. The air quality measurement pilot project with cyclists is scaling through the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development in Argentina and open-seneca in the Provinces of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Córdoba, and Tucumán. This initiative was also chosen as a case worth studying in “Collective Intelligence for Sustainable Development”, a publication compiled by Nesta and the UNDP accelerator lab network.

We launched a mapping of environmental citizen science, which was co-created with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation of Argentina and which keeps on growing through collaboration. This mapping includes various initiatives: from children who adopt watercourses as pets to research groups who put their work at the service of organized communities to monitor the environment. One of the mapped projects calls for participation by sending photos of mosquitoes and their breeding sites to draw collaborative maps about dengue in real time. Thanks to its innovative nature, it was given recognition by the Honey Bee Network. Moreover, the launch of the mapping led to the inclusion of a federal program formulation on this regard on the public agenda. Prioritizing and raising awareness of collaborative knowledge-building efforts bears fruit!

The purpose of many initiatives, among others, is to raise environmental awareness. As a consequence, together with the Citizen Laboratory of the School of Agricultural Studies at the University of Buenos Aires, we developed a test in which neighbors from the Municipality of Quilmes weighed and sorted their household waste to identify if the experience was effective in that respect. We also designed another pilot to test the feasibility of a model in which citizen science projects are implemented in articulation between scientists and provincial governments to reveal evidence on water-related issues. For the purpose of developing this initiative, we adapted an environmental monitoring app and we entered into an agreement with the Municipalities of Mercedes, Balcarce, and San Antonio de Areco. We also provided support to the Municipality of Bragado in their collaborative measurement and characterization of their urban trees.

As we moved forward along different fronts, we kept receiving new messages from the future and we wanted to pay attention to them. This led us to initiate an exploration process in which we ended up identifying and analyzing more than 50 change signals which, around 2030, will have an impact on the achievement of sustainable development in Argentina. We intend to create spaces where we can start conversations about matters which may not need to be addressed urgently, but which will be inevitable. In order to help teams and organizations perform their own horizon scanning, we wrote a practical guide to facilitate the process.

In conclusion, looking back, we see a 2021 where we worked on addressing complex issues with a portfolio strategy, where we explored trends, and where we mapped and tested solutions developed by people or groups to deal with their problems. Many of these initiatives are in full expansion and have become independent, beyond Co_Lab. This effort transcends the numbers that summarize it. What we are most excited about, however, are the underlying arithmetic operations. Adding efforts, voices to hear, initiatives to prioritize and evidence to advance what works to multiply what is right and promote development at a different speed.