Unusual sources of inspiration!

How an unusual source of inspiration, lead us back to a usual source of data: Are we exhausting available data before leveraging unusual data?

March 23, 2020

sourcing inputs


The unusual source of inspiration

Within an hour, a Facebook post by a popular media house mustered 1366 likes, 695 shares and 491 comments. Today, many workshops and conferences struggle to receive such immediate and engaging feedback. Scrolling through its Facebook home page, the prowess of this media house in eliciting citizen feedback was undoubted. While content typically drives online traffic, this media house tapped into something more; a loyal, invested audience who trusted and believed in their impact.  Their online followers also displayed a passion for South Africa’s advancement, fuelled in part, by frustration at inadequate service delivery and proper governance.

If UNDP South Africa (SA) garnered such a following, its social media platforms could be transformed into a collective intelligence and citizen engagement tool. However, with a limited online following this seemed unachievable. Could UNDP SA increase its online following by tapping into the audiences of popular media houses?


Unusual Inspiration: How can we increase UNDP SA’s online engagement to the extent that it could match (if not better) that of popular media houses?

Meanwhile at UNDP South Africa…

The Accelerator Lab (AccLab) was realising that sourcing innovative solutions from marginalised communities wasn’t going to be easy. Communities were resistant, mostly due to their frustration with previous researchers who extracted knowledge but offered nothing in return. They also suffered from a lack of basic service delivery and often used the meeting to request missing services (if I was in their shoes, I would do the same!). Communities also viewed the AccLab team as outsiders. The AccLab’s mandate was to source local solutions and if engaging directly with locals wasn’t achieving this at the required pace, the team considered alternative options. These included hosting a solution showcasing event, issuing an online call for innovations, or collaborating with local incubation/innovation hubs. These approaches would complement direct community engagement as they could not entirely replace it. Direct engagement allows for better understanding of social behaviour, motivations, cultural beliefs, and the indigenous knowledge giving rise to innovation.

The online call for innovation seemed achievable, however a deterrent was UNDP’s limited digital following in South Africa. With 3000 Twitter and 7500 Facebook followers in a country of ~59 million people (many of whom lack internet access), reaching the grassroot audiences we desperately wanted to hear from seemed impossible. Indirectly related, but certainly a symptom of the same issue, was the staff’s concerns regarding UNDP’s poor visibility in South Africa. During a programme  sensemaking exercise many aired their concerns of how little South Africans knew about the work of the UNDP, and that potential partners only see the surface of UNDP’s expertise. Additionally, how can staff actively help to promote the work of the UNDP in their personal capacity? Why would UNDP be considered the development partner of choice if its successes are not showcased and people are unaware it exists?

The Revelation…

If UNDP South Africa sought to increase its visibility in the country, and the AccLab sought to reach deeper into communities using digital platforms, why not partner with influential South African media houses, like those on my Facebook news feed? With ~7 million followers on Facebook, a partnership with theses “brands” could advance UNDP SA’s digital presence. By leveraging their following, UNDP’s social media and website traffic could increase, transforming it into a platform that raises the voice of the people in reforming and refreshing UNDP’s developmental approach. This would result in a contextual and tailored approach for greater impact on the ground.

For the AccLab, this could mean reaching more innovators. By partnering with community-based radio stations (who are often seen as the pulse of the neighbourhood), the AccLab could reach marginalised/rural communities, especially those who lack access to internet facilities. This became the basis of AccLab South Africa’s first hypothesis: If UNDP posts/articles are shared (and advertised) by famous media houses, UNDP could increase its online following, its community engagement, its visibility, and serve as a strategic entry point for the AccLab into communities.

The Experiment:Create a post on social media platforms (see above), request popular media houses to share and advertise posts, then assess the improvement in UNDP’s online engagement


Turning to usual data sources to devise an unusual approach…

To measure the success of the experiment, data on UNDP’s existing online engagement was required (this will serve as the baseline for the experiment). As Peter Drucker said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”  I turned to online tools, such as Facebook and Twitter analytics. To my surprise, these free analytical tools were vastly rich in data but were minimally exploited to enhance UNDP SA’s online reach.  Additionally, I searched for user behaviour insights on the UNDP South Africa website. I determined that while the country office had access to google analytics for its website, it was never utilised to improve UNDPs digital presence. Have a look at the wealth of information that was surfaced:


The reflection…

In devising an unusual experiment to increase UNDP SA’s online engagement, increase its visibility and find an entry point into communities for the AccLab, the team stumbled upon a treasure trove of information – an existing, usual source of information. Information, which itself, could have been harnessed to increase UNDP’s online engagement for the benefit of the organisation’s activities. It triggered thoughts about what other existing data sources continue to float around the UNDP, waiting for an invested party to interrogate, investigate, optimise and withdraw insights? How can we tap into such data to add value and reshape UNDP’s way of work? How can we develop processes that promote (if not enforce) the utilisation of existing data before we address the use of unusual data sources to transform the organisation’s developmental trajectory?

I look forward to hearing your stories of uncovering and utilising existing, yet untapped data sources laying deep within your organisation. For more information or to share your stories, contact me at klariska.moodley@undp.org. By the way, the experiment on leveraging famous media houses to increase UNDP SA’s digital presence is underway, being run in parallel with a collective intelligence study. Stay tuned for the results!