Trailblazing UNDPs Digital Transformation – The Case of Kyrgyzstan

November 9, 2022

Leading the way

When the Chief Digital Office (CDO) launched the Digital Fitness Programme in February of 2022, our Country Office was one of the first to express its interest in participating in this capacity-building programme, designed to drive the digital transformation of our organization. Kyrgyzstan’s Resident Representative, Louise Chamberlain, led the way and expressed her team’s interest and ambition to be early adopters and to lead by example.

Digital Transformation starts with you

We often think of large organizations as impersonal constructs, and independent entities by themselves. However, each organization is the sum of its constituent parts, namely the people that make it work. Digital transformation, therefore, is not a process that simply happens on an organizational or departmental, or shall we say, meta-level. Any change process must start with the individual and we in the Kyrgyz Republic approached the training with exactly this mindset.

Embarking on a digital transformation journey

In mid-September, when Bishkek saw its last days of beautiful, sunny autumn, CDO facilitators, Nithima Ducroq and Dhani Spiller arrived at the CO. Prior to their arrival, we filled in the Digital Fitness Programme Survey, providing the trainers with a baseline understanding of our current digital fitness level, and allowing them to tailor the content to the specific needs of the CO.

On the first day, we gained a deeper understanding of UNDPs Digital Strategy UNDP’s Digital Standards and how to apply them to daily work. As part of the Digital Fitness Programme learning journey, we developed project ideas, based on the current needs and trends in the country and divided into several teams.

Viktoria Petrova, Head of Exploration at UNDP Kyrgyzstan Accelerator Lab put it this way: “A human-centric approach, which was the core of the training program, a well-designed methodology with very practical steps simulating project design, implementation and impact assessment combined with the energy and communication skills of the trainers made the experience extremely useful and encouraging for us. The follow-up session with the opportunity to communicate project ideas and receive additional feedback already resulted in continuous ideation among colleagues and application of the newly generated insights and knowledge on on-going and planned activities. This will help us to make UNDP’s digital offer more sustainable and integrated and promote digital culture.”

Producing actual project ideas that can then be further developed is a crucial part of the training programme, allowing participants to apply the methodologies and concepts they are learning directly to their work. This means that we are gaining not only new knowledge but also are using the training time to work on actual projects we are developing.

Start with the need and test early and often

During the five-day training, the Digital Fitness Programme addressed our specific needs, concerns, and challenges. We also spent time learning the main steps in the digital product lifecycle, and common mistakes - helping us to avoid pursuing ideas that end up in the “digital solutions’ graveyard.” The modules that resonated most with participants were those covering user research and engaging end users in a co-creation process, as well as prototyping activities that helped the teams to discover any shortcomings of their project ideas early and allowing them to pivot right from the beginning.

“I have a lot of insights. I liked the detailed instructions to develop a sustainable digital solution. As a part of hate speech project team, I learned that it is incredibly important to test any solutions internally before we deliver it to partners. Prototyping allows us to test ideas quickly and improve them in an equally timely fashion,” said Saltanat Boronbaeva, gender mainstreaming specialist.

Achieving digitally enabled programming

A concise training programme, such as the Digital Fitness Programme, can only provide the foundation on which participants must then build upon in their daily work. We developed vision statements for the CO, setting goals and formulating clear and concise steps to work towards these goals. And even more importantly, each of us personally committed to taking specific steps to be an active driver of the organization's transformation. ARR (Assistant Resident Representative) Erkinbek Kasybekov engaged the CDO team immediately to understand the process of UNDP's offer to governments to implement a Digital Readiness Assessment with them.

Jenny Jenish Kyzy, Head of Experimentation of UNDP Kyrgyzstan Accelerator Lab shared: "As a design thinking practitioner, I am especially glad to see Digital Fitness Programme advocating for the human-centered approach. We talked to real clients and focused on analyzing problems from clients' perspectives. Within a short training period (two weeks), they engaged us in designing four different projects using this mindset and digital tools. Hopefully, we will be able to experiment with some of these soon. By saying this, we continue our training on our own with the support of DFP. Another personal takeaway is having learned more about the Digital Public Goods Alliance co-launched by UNDP & UNICEF. From now on, we know how to explore ready-made digital solutions that are publicly available at the open-source platforms. Moreover, I feel like we, as a Country Office, can also contribute our locally made digital solutions to the DPG (Digital Public Goods) Alliance. This way, we can benefit the global community".

Digitalization is central to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and economic development around the world. Concomitantly, digitalization and technological development have been declared a priority direction by the Kyrgyz government, and steps are being made to ensure that this new future is inclusive for people of all genders and backgrounds.

Having learned the standards and steps of the Digital Fitness Programme will impact our development work. Equipped with knowledge, we will assist the country to identify gaps, strengthening capacity, and promoting digital inclusive growth.

Practicing what we preach

In good old human-centered design fashion, the Digital Fitness Programme team conducted additional research with our CO participants to better understand which parts of the programme were most relevant and adapt the content accordingly. The team is continuously reviewing, adapting, and pivoting where necessary to improve the training – this approach is built into the roll-out plan of the Digital Fitness Programme with the aim of delivering it to all country offices. The Kyrgyzstan CO is thrilled to have been among the first to benefit.

If your Country Office is interested in the Digital Fitness Programme, reach out to