The management of the Covid-19 crisis reversed the country's socio-economic progress. One of the most affected groups has been the Colombian youth. Difficulties such as school dropouts, the lack of policies that promote their labor income, the sustained fall in occupied youth, and the general increase in unemployment rates have generated feelings of hopelessness, reflected in:
- The perception that nobody represents them
- The feeling that they are not heard and recognized in their fears and concerns
- Lack of trust in government, institutions, and decision-makers
- Hopelessness regarding their educational, economic, environmental, social, and political future
- Disbelief in the promise of education as a way to improve the quality of their lives
- Not seeing employment or entrepreneurship as life options, with the consequence - in many cases - of choosing illegal economies as a lifetime opportunity.
The "National Strike" and the social protests in recent years reflect the widespread discontent of the Colombian population, exacerbated by the impacts of the Covid-19. Youth have found in social protests the opportunity to transform their fears and concerns into action demanding results, such as: a free and quality education that is up to the challenges of the 21st century; building an inclusive future where their dreams are represented; transparency and accountability from institutions, the media, academia, and the private sector; the possibility of influencing the policies and programs directed at them and; new leaderships that represent and allow them to feel connected with the hope of change.
Technology as an enabler of social understanding
Citizens, especially the younger ones, increasingly find more face-to-face and digital spaces to participate in decision-making and action processes. Technology becomes an enabler that allows us to accelerate social understanding regarding these spaces for public deliberation and, therefore, of the proposals, needs, and discomforts of Colombian youth.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Colombia is experimenting with Citibeats, an ethical and responsible artificial intelligence (AI) platform that bases its technology on three pillars:
- The protection of the privacy of the users
- The representativeness and inclusion of the data
- The application for use cases with a positive social impact
Citibeats facilitates social understanding of the current situation in Colombia through real-time monitoring and follow-up of opinions and proposals expressed in digital and face-to-face spaces. With this process, we seek to identify the main topics of interest to the population, contribute to making better and more informed decisions, and identify new fields of action in the near future. The diagram below summarizes the citizen understanding project we are implementing in Colombia.
Citizen understanding in practice: initial insights
We already have initial insights from the listening process from July to October 2021. Some of them are:
1). In recent months, most of the conversations in Colombia revolved around the categories of Peace and Justice, Governance, and Social Inclusion:
- Justice and Peace: The Peace Agreements generate concern regarding the perception of their non-compliance. In addition, the persistent violence against young people in the protests generates an alarm, for which guarantees are required to protect our youngsters.
- Governance: The conversation grows with the start of the electoral stage for next year. Citizens begin to propose and debate desired measures for this new stage and point out the need for transparency in this process.
- Social Inclusion: In October, Colombian women have focused their conversation on Social Inclusion and Health (with an emphasis on mental health), while men have focused more on Governance.
2). The narratives tend to have peaks when they revolve around various viral events that occurred, such as, the presentation of the report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); the installation of the last period of Congress; the condemnation of Epa Colombia; the celebration of the five years of the signing of the Peace Agreements and claims for their application; the presentation of new tax reform; the discussion in the Constitutional Court on the legalization of abortion; or the recent debate on the abolition of the Law of Guarantees.
3). We introduced specific analyzes on needs, social unrest, and population groups:
- For the specific case of October, insecurity in the country and mental health were some of the most prevalent needs, while the murder of two children in Tibú and the Law of Guarantees led to social unrest.
- Throughout the four months analyzed, conversations and concerns about population groups of women and youth grew.
- Women: There is debate about the prevalence of sexist attitudes, the persistence of gender violence in the country, demands on freedom of choice over their bodies (safe abortion), and the need for greater participation of women in positions of power to legislate on these issues.
- Young people: There is concern about the low participation of young people in the vaccination day, pointing out the need to generate information campaigns aimed at young people in the face of misinformation and mistrust. The lack of opportunities for youth is pointed out as a trigger for social instability, demanding attention to the needs of this group. In the context of next year's elections, citizens point out the need for youth participation in the polls and decision-making spaces. Comparing online conversations with face-to-face spaces generated by UNDP and strategic allies, such as Avispero, young people highlight concerns about corruption in the country, the need to prevent gender-based violence, and the importance of promoting education. Regarding Governance, the main request that they convey revolves around creating spaces for conversation and relationships with institutions. Finally, in discussions about health, the recommendations to work for mental health stands out, informing and giving access to free public services.
4). Comparing the present with historical periods (Nov 2019 - Feb 2020 vs. Sept- Nov 2020 vs. Jul - Sept 2021), we observed that discomfort and need for Peace and Justice predominate more in historical periods (64% and 68%). Still, in 2021 the conversation about Governance grows (election 2022). In addition, there is currently a greater emphasis on the issue of young people and their economic inclusion in the country.
Soon, we will have more depth and precision of data that will allow us to enrich our systemic understanding of Colombia's current situation and our youth, to propose appropriate actions that would enable us to contribute to improving public deliberation in the country. Each step of the implementation of this strategy has brought challenges and learnings, ranging from the design of the social understanding strategy, the incorporation and appropriation of the use of this type of technology within UNDP, semi-automatic analysis of data, deepening of the analysis obtained, among others. The path begins so far, so stay tuned to continue learning with us!
Democratic Governance Team
UNDP Acceleration Laboratory
 This is not the first collaboration between Citibeats and UNDP: in 2020, together with UNESCO, UNDP launched a project driven by Citibeats technology to combat the infodemic on COVID-19 in the Dominican Republic.
 Social understanding is a practice that seeks to go deeper than social listening exercises because it identifies patterns and relationships of textual language beyond trends and influencers and seeks to provide information for decision- making that end up as action.