Doing more with less, or how doing experiments in partnership can help SDGs go local

21 de Febrero de 2022

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  Lorena Moscovich, Head of Experimentation UNDP AccLab Argentina @lmoscovich

In the Co_Lab, we learn from grassroots solutions to scale them. In doing so, we map them, identify patterns, and test them using small-scale experiments. Our goal is to produce meaningful learnings that can increase our knowledge of the complex problems that hamper development and, as a result, use these learnings to improve development interventions. However, this process can be long and challenging, so how can we work faster? Which would be the best way to work together with governments and encourage them to adopt these learnings? Our answer is: experimenting through different partnerships.

We conduct experiments to test if the solutions that we have identified work. And we use a model that allows a twofold impact by building partnerships.

We partner:

  • With local governments that participate in the experiments, scaling up the initiatives and going grassroots to achieve the SDGs at local level.
  • With the organization responsible for the solution being tested, provide resources and leverage (and foster) its working capacity.

The first precedent of this model was the work carried out with the Municipality of Concepción del Uruguay that gave us full support and collaboration to launch the Con Vos Network, while the leader of the solution tested took part in the pilot as well.

We improved this model in our work with citizen science. It is worth recalling that, in the Co_Lab, we believe that citizen science is a participatory approach that can help development interventions by shedding light on problems outside the public agenda, bringing new evidence for the solution of well-known problems, and nudging behavioral changes by increasing the awareness of the volunteers who take part in the citizen science projects.

We made a solution mapping of Citizen Science initiatives, many of which have a lot of potential in achieving some of the above-mentioned effects, so it has seemed worth scaling them up. Therefore, we designed a portfolio of experiments to assess their growth potential by testing different hypotheses learned from these solutions.

For the first of these experiments, we partnered with Laboratorio Ciudadano ‒an organization based at the School of Agriculture of the University of Buenos Aires well known for different initiatives in which neighbors volunteer for weighing their domestic waste with personal scales‒ and with the Municipality of Quilmes. The three organizations together conducted a small-scale and flash experiment, between October and November 2021.

In this experiment that lasted only one month, neighbors of Quilmes were invited to fill in a survey either online or in-person in several locations distributed in the city during three consecutive weekends. In the survey, they shared information about their habits and beliefs related to the environment. All the surveyed neighbors completed the survey twice, the second wave was one week later. One-third of the interviewees were invited to take part in a citizen science experience between the two waves of the survey. People from this group separated and weighed their household waste during that week.

If citizen science has a behavioral effect, we hope to find a greater change in the levels of environmental awareness, and a greater predisposition to adopt environmentally-friendly habits among the volunteers who participated in the citizen science initiative compared to those who did not. We are still analyzing the data and have great expectations to learn about the results.

So far, we have two different examples in which the leaders of the solution mapped are also in charge of the fieldwork of the experiment used to test their solution. This means that we must work very closely, first the organization and the UNDP Accelerator Lab, to agree on how to design and conduct the experiments and analyze the information. In addition, the Municipality plays a crucial role in giving access to the territory and it is also involved in the design of the action. The Municipality gets the know-how of the solution, which can be replicated by their teams. For instance, in the case of Quilmes, they have also kept the scales used for the citizen science experience. In all, this model of experimentation enhances the organization, engages the city, facilitates the scaling of the solution, and allows us to conduct an experiment in a very short window of time. Of course, sometimes the collaboration can be challenging due to different backgrounds, mindsets, and the extremely busy agendas of the city teams involved in the actions. However, everything is worth doing as there are all gains in the balance.

This model of partnerships for experimentation takes a great deal of coordination and mutual understanding. It is a very nurturing experience that brings cross-fertilization of knowledge and technologies. It is also a way to earn new partners and build friendly and long-lasting relationships.

We have other experiments in our agenda with different local governments that are already onboard and willing to implement projects. If your Municipality would like to work on citizen science participatory projects like those found in our mapping, we are eager to keep on building this concept of co-experimenting with municipalities.