Visualizing Complexity During Crisis – Cooperation, Coordination, and Complexity

November 10, 2020

Landing Page of UN Country Team Coordination Platform

Cooperation is not necessarily a challenge and can be quite a beautiful experience when successful. However, coordinating cooperation for success can be challenging. This situation was faced in all circles when the COVID pandemic hit. Whether among high-level decision makers such as leaders and executives, teams, or simply at home management duos, an adjustment was needed for us all to cope. Workflow management tools are far from perfect, but they can be useful in improving communication and in turn, efficiency during such periods.

When the Gambia registered its first few COVID cases in March while the country office was testing an alternating remote Work From Home (WFH) system, AccLabGM intervened by sharing with UNDP staff tools that would ease the adjustment process on telecommuting. These tools shared in the form of an email quickly circulated outside of UNDP and made its way to other UN agencies including the UN Resident Coordinator Office. This marked the start of when other agencies really sparked an interest in the Lab, prior to which was still seen as a grey spot in the larger development framework.

This breakthrough was solidified with a blogpost on possible responses to COVID which set the groundwork for our collaborations for much of the year, starting with the UNDP Programme Units. What was supposed to be a gradual adjustment to eventually working with the UN Country Team, was accelerated with a request from WHO and UNICEF to AccLabGM to understand our insights on improving workflow efficiency at the inter-agency level during the pandemic. An opportunity presented itself to test a lab method, and a prize challenge was chosen in response.

The results of a 48-hour prize challenge to develop a functional demo of workflow efficiency and communication tool were presented to all members of the UN Country Team. A working group comprising of an interagency band of IT and Communications staff from UNDP, UNICEF, and UNFEA, chaired by AccLabGM, would select a vendor to develop a Content Management System (CMS) for this purpose. Concurrently a UNDP COVID Coordination Group was also supporting the government through the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) to develop a similar project to create a crisis dashboard tool.

The Lab has developed several learnings from these two projects including on the ease of facilitating cooperation at a very high level; decision making; the appropriate digital tools involved in that coordination process; and on user driven vs process driven solutions. Criss-crossing the learnings as best practices in both processes have been a major factor in the execution of these projects, but more importantly in their evolution. That has been most apparent in role delegation, partnerships development, and solutions and beneficiary mapping.

A data source for the UN Country Team CMS platform dashboard section exists through the Ministry of Health COVID 19 tracker and WHO data. An element to introduce automation to that process was being explored when the UNDP Crisis Bureau was presented to the global Accelerator Lab network. AccLabGM quickly engaged the Bureau to explore how their services could be applied to the project to enhance the dashboard feature on the platform. As this integration is being explored, the NDMA crisis dashboard tool is also being pursued with the inclusion of other, new agencies; this time FAO and WFP, with AccLabGM playing its favored integrator role alongside UNDP’s Environment Unit. Provided the needed capabilities at NDMA are in place, a data scarcity issue can be avoided, leading to timely and efficient coordination around crises situations.

As these two projects evolve, what is visualized is two dashboards operating in parallel, contributing to the efficiency of cooperation at the UN level, but also with our main partner i.e. the national government, through NDMA in this instance. Hopefully, this will give us a new understanding of complexity and how to manage it, but also insights on parallel thinking within systems and data science.

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