BLOG: Designing in Uncertain Times

June 2, 2020

by Farah Sinokrot, Programme Assistant, UNDP Accelerator Lab Jordan

On March 16th, Jordan’s prime minister declares a state of emergency: The airport is closed and all incoming passengers shall be subject to quarantine. All economic activity, schools, and universities are suspended. Jordan is on complete lockdown.  This is the advent of COVID-19: A pandemic that has flooded the world with waves of uncertainty, chaos and confusion. Countries have declared national emergencies, borders closed and economies are thrown into ransack, the United States oil prices have dropped below zero, armies are mobilized and soldiers occupy the streets while citizens are quarantined at home.

It is hard not to panic during such uncertain times. After all, this disruption has changed life as we know it. Change stirs fear, cynicism and negativity. However, it can give us a very rare opportunity to pause, reflect and embrace emerging positive behaviours that add value to our daily routines, well-being and ecosystem. It gives us the chance to notice the birds that are singing loudly, the sun shining brighter, the wind blowing a bit warmer, the next-door neighbour walking to the local grocery store for the first time ever, and her son offering to help an elderly man with his heavy grocery bags. Unity has overcome societal divides. The neighbourhood has created an initiative to help the elderly living alone and people in need, the local butcher is giving meat for free, the bakery is working overtime to meet demand. For the first time, ice mountains that divide Lebanon and Syria are seen from Jordan.

This led us to ask some interesting questions: How might we collect, categorize and share the positive effects of COVID-19 to start shaping behaviours? How can we concentrate on these positive behaviours when we are living in chaos? Can we extract these positive trends and inject them after Jordan prevails? What are the underlying motivations and challenges that are inspiring people to act? Also, what are the emerging needs and tools that must be created to facilitate positive change, accelerate and maintain the shift towards sustainable human behaviour? As different pillars rush to create an immediate response to address the adverse effect of the crisis, the Accelerator Lab decided to observe the current trade-off and see the beauty in destruction, in order to use the answers to these questions as a guide in constructing a medium to long term response.

In light of this, the Accelerator lab has had to revisit the way we work. Normally, the lab would kick off a new cycle by conducting sense-making and solution safari exercises in order to collect information from the community about the most prominent challenges they face and identify any scalable solutions that can benefit the entire community. However, the inability to be in the field during this crisis has forced us to think of new and creative ways to access information. Therefore, we decided to observe, collect, categorize and share the positive effects coming out of the current crisis. This will both lead to informing the community and promoting positive behaviours beyond the pandemic and also act as our sense-making exercise. The data we collect will serve as our base to design and experiment with interventions that carry new positive behaviours beyond the current crisis. 

Through this new approach, we are trying to learn how might we use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to extract positive trends from society, in order to bridge the gaps and add value to our lives post COVID-19. We are planning to learn how can behaviours be positively impacted? Therefore, we decided to work through the pillars and see how our new approach affects their current and ongoing programs. Stay tuned for what’s to come.