Having a Say: Micronarratives on rebuilding society after the pandemic

December 26, 2020

Photo credit: unsplash / Belinda Fewings

In UNDP’s Accelerator Labs, we genuinely believe in the power of collective intelligence: We applied this methodology in our “Don’t Burn – Compost” project, and we continue testing new ways of learning with society. This time, we’re testing the so called “micronarratives” method, using SenseMaker (TM) software, which allows the gathering of people’s stories, and invites them to self-interpret their entries.

The method combines both qualitative and quantitative approaches and is designed to determine a course of action in conditions of uncertainty. In other words, using the tool we dive deep into each individual story or experience (micronarratives), and look for emergent issues.

Through this study we gathered 100 stories (86% of respondents were women) asking people to share their experiences in times of pandemic, visions of the future, and insights from their own adaptation. Here are some interesting pieces of knowledge we can derive.

Unlike many other research methods, respondents interpret their stories on their own

People have experienced COVID-19's impact in all areas of their life:

•        There is a fair distribution across this triad, with the majority reporting impacts on their mental or physical well-being (26%). However, there were groups of stories also forming around productivity or work (17%) or interpersonal relationships (17%).

•        15% of respondents placed their story in the middle of the triangle suggesting impacts were felt equally across all three areas.

•        13 stories in the category of “productivity or work” were seen as very positive / positive, whereas only one story was marked as very negative / negative.

Despite recent reports of increased domestic violence cases, there were some stories that give positive insights:

“It is very difficult to get out of quarantine. I am so used to being with children as well as they are used to me being around. Since now, I will not be at home, and it will be harder for them as I helped take care of them during the day”, a young man wrote.

Another story from a young woman builds on the “caring” narrative:

“I deal with the uncertainty of the crisis to the best of my emotional resources. In some cases, it’s easy, in the other it’s tough. In early March, I planned to look for a permanent job as I used to work on a temporary project before. Certainly, the instability affected me primarily in financial terms, canceled all purchases related to life improvement such as a laptop. In fact, I did not travel in the times before Coronavirus, because all income was covering the apartment costs and current expenses. I did not save money. Therefore, in the first place during the pandemic, there was insecurity about financial sustainability.

On top of it were added health problems of my grandmother. After a stroke, she lost her sight, so she had to have surgery. I live in Kharkiv, my grandmother is located in Poltava region, so it was a bit easier to take her for examination and surgery to Poltava. So far, the epidemiological situation there is better. Remote work on the project allowed me to go home and help my grandmother with the house chores. I listened to her stories about the war and went through her photo archives. Naturally, the photos were old and damaged with the span of time. For that reason, I started digitizing my grandmother's home photo archive.

I discovered new questions or rather a new world for myself by travelling in memory of my grandmother. During the quarantine, I reassessed the issues of saving money, maintaining my own health and that of my family members, travelling and its format (memory journey), so I will pay more attention to this. First of all, it's some personal challenges and self-reflection on a topic, which is important to me.”

These and other stories are emerging signals for us, they inform us of closer family ties, the inclusion of men into caring, and elderly family members reconnecting with the younger generation.

In the next section, we asked what changes are essential to improve the post-pandemic recovery:

•        The majority (47%) of respondents stated that changes were ongoing/needed to happen in the area of interpersonal interaction.

•         21% placed their story mid-right, suggesting a balance between needing to change how people interacted and the way people worked.

•         11% respondents shared a story on experiencing change in the way people worked.

•         Only 6 stories (6%) discussed environmental issues.

The later seems to be interesting to explore further, since we have seen a lot of reports in the media about the positive impacts of quarantine on the environment, and also taking into account the fact that the extensive exploitation of nature, including deforestation, increase the chances that viruses could be transmitted from animals to humans. Nevertheless, in Ukraine, this aspect remains largely out of the picture, hence stronger emphasis on awareness raising on interrelations between the health of nature and our own health is needed.

If we drill deeper into the stories that emphasized the need for change in the way people interact, we see some clear trends: people talk about people being indifferent to the lives of others, hiding information about being infected, or having little empathy with the conditions of others.


As a person who has to receive insulin every three months at my place of residence, I worry about going to the clinic repeatedly for the drug. At the beginning of the quarantine, I bought them enough at my own expense, but now my stocks are running out. Thus, I have a choice: either to buy the drugs again or sit in line with 50 or more people risking my health. I wrote to my doctor wondering if there was insulin. “I do not know what is in the pharmacy”, the doctor answered. Therefore, I am puzzled about what to do.

Terrible negligence

Yes. Many people around me are already sick. There are two cases in the kindergarten, which our children attend: a child and an educator. The kindergarten was not closed, the group was not sent to quarantine. We had to take the kids from kindergarten to save their lives and health. The boy who attends the martial arts classes with our children should be in self-isolation because there are cases in his class. However, he goes to work with his mother, as he has nowhere else to go. The infection spreads very quickly. The symptoms are the same: fever, coughing, and rapid lung damage.


I am concerned about the increase in the number of infected people in the country as well as about the disregard and contempt of the society for the recommendations of the Ministry of Health on the use of personal hygiene products. The population got relaxed too quickly and saw the easing of quarantine as its lifting.

Another interesting domain to look at is the pace of change required, as viewed by citizens:

If you knew what could positively affect the situation in your story, you would act:

The majority of respondents stated that the necessary changes are of an evolutionary nature - small, but steady steps (38%), whereas 32% saw change as being revolutionary - a complete overhaul of existing methods. 12% considered change to be somewhere in the middle.

Over half of the stories falling at the top of the triad were marked by respondents as negative (54%).

Can you see a pattern of a demand for quick change in how people interact and treat each other emerging?

Stepping stones for recovery

We asked people to share their vision of the future after the pandemic. We wanted to see which principles people expect to strengthen during the recovery period. A large portion of people saw opportunities in the future in collective action and cooperation.

In order to achieve your vision, change is most needed ….

A particular narrative can be seen here: people rely on individual and collective actions, but not on the structures and processes – as our research shows, government, policies and structures were not seen as partners to sustainable recovery.

What opportunities did the pandemic create for people?

We saw quite a few stories where people could not find any positive aspect of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the remote working opportunities, building stronger relationships with family members, and the time to re-think values were mentioned quite frequently.

«Analysis of consumption, what is needed and what is not. You value your loved ones more, you live today and you do not put off for tomorrow what can be done today.»

«The crisis had a positive effect on consciousness. We all were busy with our own affairs at work or in school. In the family circle, we communicated very little and quickly dropping just a few words. Misunderstandings began to appear when everyone stayed at home. As a conclusion, being in this constant motion, we forget how to listen and understand each other. Therefore, we needed to hold multiple conversations.»

«We learn to rebuild relationships with loved ones. It’s not easy to do 24/7.»

«We have witnessed a responsible and careless business, so now we can choose those (companies) that not only earn money but are also part of society and create conditions for its comfortable existence.»

«You should always have your own "airbag" to keep your family at the very least needed. You should rely only on yourself. Unfortunately, the state does not care about the citizens who pay taxes and maintain the state apparatus.»

Translating the narratives into action

Micronarratives are not meant to provide a holistic picture of society, nor they can replace common research methods. They give indicators and signals to act on in conditions of uncertainty and complexity. In which directions should we look when creating solutions to problems that were brought on by the pandemic, or worsened by it?

-        Harness the reconnect within families observed during lockdowns to create more equal and supportive relations. Such interventions could be based on mapped solutions from families who were able to build harmony in a short  time -- we could learn from them and their practice to inform scaling up strategies.

-        Design “hyper-targeted” supporting measures: there is no “one size fits all” in times of pandemic. The conditions in which people found themselves are even more fragmented then before. Applying human-centered design in the time of a pandemic becomes even more urgent

-        Work to strengthen empathy within society. People perceive the dangers of the virus differently, some are over-cautious, some are careless – policies and interventions should seek to build mutual respect for the safety of others.

UNDP Ukraine partnered with CSO “Insha Osvita” in a joint effort to learn about the perceptions of people about the impact of COVID-19, and their visions for a sustainable recovery. The research was done using the method of micronarratives, which allows for statistical patterns to emerge and for the respondents themselves to use the qualitative data as a narrative explanation for the quantitative data gathered. The responses to multiple choice questions enable further in-depth analysis.

UNDP Ukraine’s Accelerator Lab is a global UNDP initiative aimed at identifying, elaborating and scaling-up innovative and sustainable solutions for local communities. Ninety-two Accelerator Labs teams are serving 112 countries to tackle 21st century development challenges.

Text: Ievgen Kylymnyk, Head of Exploration

Editing: Tetyana Kononenko, Euan Macdonald, UNDP Ukraine