Steps taken by UNDP Namibia’s Accelerator Lab to tackle Information Pollution

UNDP Namibia launched the Accelerator Lab with its development partners, the German Embassy and the Qatar Fund for Development on 05 July 2019 at the DoBox at the Franco Cultural Centre (FNCC) in Windhoek. Canvases and murals were provided for attendees to draw, paint and write their expectations for #AccelerateNamibia.

On March 17th, 2020, President Geingob declared a state of emergency in Namibia  due to COVID-19, and like several other countries, Namibia closed its borders. Given the disruption of everyday life, the government tried to ensure that the right information about the pandemic was shared in an organized and consistent manner.

Even as the government finalized its COVID-19 communication strategy, misinformation and disinformation on various topics began to flourish, largely on social media. Common disinformation narratives during the first few weeks of the pandemic centered around the possible source and reasons for the pandemic, which increased xenophobia and fueled anti-Asian/Chinese sentiment across the country. Similarly, misinformation on 5G towers and its negative and carcinogenic effects also spread. As a number of government ministries had a mandate to disseminate public information on the pandemic, the Namibian government decided to launch the COVID-19 Communication Centre - a common government platform to engage the public on the COIVD-19 lock-down guidelines. The interactive communication center provides engagement with various institutions and stakeholders and gives the media the opportunity to engage through daily live press conferences and dedicated email responses.

As part of the efforts to promote the sharing of evidence-based information, a High-Level Research Coordination task force (HILREC) was constituted in March by the Ministry of Higher Education. There was recognition that a collaborative relationship among key stakeholders was necessary to fight the pandemic and UNDP Namibia’s Accelerator Lab was therefore approached to participate in the HILREC as an integrator and due to its close ties to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Together with policy think tanks, academic institutions, development organizations and private sector actors, the Accelerator Lab is currently part of various sub committees under the HILREC focusing on COVID-19, undertaking substantial responses to and research on misinformation. the Accelerator Lab, like many of the other Accelerator Labs around the world, was invited to take part in conducting research on COVID-19. The research which the various committees focused were on behavior change communication, combatting misinformation, developing applications on contact tracing as well as digital solutions to aid the homeless in receiving health and social benefits.

In addition to its role in the task force, the Accelerator Lab launched a social media campaign on Facebook together with the online business WilHit , which has so far reached over 4000 individuals through WhatsApp and other social media platforms, encouraging people to adhere to the preventative measures during the lockdown. This included an evaluation to determine the effectiveness of various communication initiatives in country on COVID 19. 

The Social Media Campaign which was supported by the UND Namibia's Accelerator Lab as well as other partners such as the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology on their My Namibia My Country My Pride campaign. The COVID-19 Campaign reached 40 countries conveying personalised information on social distancing and adherence to local regulations.

While being academically grounded, the research that the group has undertaken has also evolved to include a competition which crowdsourced artistic expressions of the lockdown experience.  This will be published and disseminated widely as one of the communications initiatives under the Ministry of Information Communication Technology’s “My Namibia My Country My Pride” National Campaign.

The Accelerator Lab is also intensifying its work to promote the fact-checking initiative to various Namibian organizations and institutions, and collaborating with these institutions to promote transparent and verified information and inculcating a critical thinking mindset.