Step 2: Deep Listening and Community Data Collection

February 2, 2022

“3L approach (Listening, Learning, Leveraging) involves listening to people, learning from them, and leveraging their solutions. It is one of the most important approaches in UNDP”, says Manal Fouani, UNDP Resident Representative in Ukraine. “The approach, mixed with ‘deep listening’ methodology from the Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ACL) and latest research in the community activation field, is the basis of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ project”, adds Oksana Udovyk, Head of Experimentation of the Accelerator Lab and initiator of the project.

In Step 2 out of 7 steps of the “Butterfly Effect” project, we will share with you our process of “deep listening” and the first insights that we have “heard”.

What is deep listening?

Deep listening is a collection of listening tools aimed at discovering different meta-narratives and local insights, with the possibility of further engaging participants in transformative actions.

Meta-narratives are people’s perceptions, cultural dynamics, hidden thoughts, fears and hopes. They are made up of a set of beliefs and values that ALC calls K-factor*, which is crucial for system transformation. If people believe that change is impossible or that the coal mines will not be closed, transformation will be difficult, even with adequate funding.

A community or individual’s meta-narratives cannot be expressed through surveys or other forms of data collection. Alissa Bankovskaya, coordinator of the “Butterfly Effect” project, observes: “Traditional surveys and statistics provide us with very useful and valuable information, but these are often insufficient to identify hyper-local specificity and to hear all the voices”. By following the deep listening methodology, we can listen to peoples’ thoughts; hear their reasons, concerns, opinions, and ideas; and identify locally specific needs.

* K (Kultura in the Basque Language) = The system of beliefs and values that define us as a society: our origins, who we are, the way we think, what moves us and the reasons why. In short, it is our roots and all that has contributed to world views.

How did we do it?

In the fall of 2021, we conducted a series of interventions in Chervonohrad and Myrnohrad, engaging traditional and innovative qualitative methods supplemented by quantitative data.

We used four tools to collect and analyze available data:

●          Electronic petitions, complaints, and applications from the public budget

●          Local election data and political programs of local government officials

●          Listening through social media

●          City big data from the Center for Innovation Development (CRI)

We used four tools to generate new data:

●  Forum theatre

●  Minecraft and LEGO

●  Viber chatbot

●  Communication and observation

More About Listening Tools and First Insights

Electronic Petitions, Complaints and Applications from the Public Budget

Ukraine offers two community tools to influence political decisions and events in cities and the country as a whole: electronic petitions and the public budget (participatory budgeting). Topics and content in the electronic petitions and participatory budgeting demonstrate main concerns in the community, which have become the subject of our study.

Electronic Petitions

At the local level, no electronic petitions have been submitted for mine closures or transformation of the coal industry, showing that neither of the pilot cities is using the petitions as a tool of influence. However, petitions concerning the unemployment of miners and late payment of wages have been made at the national level. The government's response to the petition was the creation of an anti-crisis energy headquarters and a center for the transformation of Ukraine's coal regions.

Participatory Budgeting

Between 2018-2021, 29 projects in Chervonohrad have been submitted, some of which have been implemented and are under implementation. The winning projects are usually about urban infrastructure: kids’ playgrounds, bicycle lanes and a dog walking space.

Between 2018-2021, three projects in Myrnohrad were underway in the fields of leisure and sports: local sports and entertainment areas. The projects signal the city’s need for spaces accommodating activities to do outside of work.

The main point of interest from Myrnohrad was that the locals voted for projects offline, whereas citizens of other Ukrainian cities more commonly vote online. In Myrnohrad, with a population of about 47 thousand inhabitants, only 950 people were involved in the voting process. The low online participation in Myrnohrad indicates an insufficient level of digitalization in the community, which in turn limits the ability to submit petitions for various projects and to initiate their implementation.

Local Election Data and Political Programs of Local Government Officials

As officials seek to retain relevance to their constituents, political promises often reflect the needs of the community. We analyzed the needs and decisions of urban communities according to the programs of political parties elected to the city councils.

In both cities, we observed a number of similarities - for example, attention to improved urban infrastructure. However, Chevonohrad politicians focused on business development and liberalization of the market, Ukrainian cultural heritage, and European integration, while Myrnohrad politicians talked about social support systems and protecting the interests of the Donetsk region. Political parties in Chervonohrad also spoke about public participation in the decision-making process and wider involvement of the community in city management, which came up several times in our interviews.

Although Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad have completely different parties, we saw no evidence in any of the political forces’ election programs addressing the issues of mines and miners.

The situation with imminent mine closures on a legislative level may be neglected by many government officials and citizens alike, but the absence of politicians’ voices on the topic of mines and miners does not mean people have no strong opinions on the mine closures. We dig deeper with our other deep listening tools in order to uncover voices that have not been heard.

Social Media Listening

During the study, we monitored publications on social networks related to the process of transformation and closure of mines in Ukraine’s coal regions. We analyzed the reactions and comments of coal city residents to various materials published on the topic. In general, people were actively responding to articles and messages. Comments showed that people are commonly

●          seeing few prospects for the development of cities without mines, but are waiting for proposals for alternatives to employment,

●          demonstrating a sense of fear for their future and a sense of “losing everything” with a mine closure,

●          and generally frustrated and angry by the emotional strain of the topic.

The sample of comments show there is a need to work with anger and frustration, existing fears and other connected emotions.

Big Data from the CID

Based on the data of the Economic Profile developed by the Center for Innovation Development together with VKURSI (see more details from Step 1), we analyzed the key indicators of socio-economic development of Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad based on systematized information from more than one hundred government data sources.

According to the results of the analysis, the belief that most employment and most profitability come from the mines proves to be not quite true. The mining cluster occupies a large part of development, but a combined larger number and variety of other enterprises has been expanding.


From 2016-20119 and onward, the number of employees at the Nadiya mine at Chervonohrad, which will be closed in the near future, has been decreasing. However, about 5,000 enterprises operate in Chervonohrad. Most people work in hospitals, but the other most common clusters are wholesale and retail trade, transport and repair, and computer programming. Myrnohrad's situation is similar. Dozens of development clusters and about 3,000 operating enterprises operate in the city. Between 2016-2019, the number of officially employed people at the mines decreased significantly, whereas in the same period the number of employees in the agricultural sector began to grow.


In Chervonohrad, no mines are among the top five most profitable enterprises. Chervonohrad’s metal structures plant has the highest profit. In Myrnograd, profitability is led by an agricultural enterprise. The data confirms that economic clusters are developing into profitable and sustainable industries, whereas activity concerning the mines is decreasing rapidly in profitability.

From the big data analysis, we can consider a campaign countering main fears of “losing everything” from mine closures with visual data showing the employment and profit potential in other sectors.

Theatrical Observation

While surveys or interviews ask people specific questions for definitive answers, forum theatre gives people the opportunity to play out existing situations and possible development scenarios. Researchers also have an opportunity to observe much more than just a play.

Together with coaches Vlada Kryzhna and Natalia Titiyova, and with residents of Chervonohrad and Myrnohrad, we explored issues surrounding coal mines closing. The participants were people of all ages, genders, education, activities, and professional qualifications. They were given a chance to develop personas and perform a play on the topic of coal mine closures (see an example here). Anyone from the audience could stop the play and enter the scene to propose their own solutions.

Forum theatre brought to greater attention the role of women in the coal mine cities’ society. Women in Chervonohrad and Myrnohrad are dependent on men working in the mines, as many have a lower salary or no personal income. Their role was reflected in the gestures, postures, and props in the play.

The wives of miners were particularly afraid of the mine closures and were keen on finding solutions; however, they did not seem to believe themselves as agents of that possible change. “The role of women is to inspire the man (miner) to look for alternative jobs”, says one of the participants of the play. “Of course, I will move if (I’m offered) a highly paid respectful job… but not to slavery in the factory”, commented the miner-actor, referring to the high salaries and good social security support that miners currently have.

The combination of the womens’ belief in others being the change and the miners’ reluctance to reskill reveals a passive attitude toward transformation. For women, concern lies in financial security for the family, not necessarily in mining culture itself. As many of them show motivation for alternatives to mining, we can consider redirecting some focus from miners’ reskilling to give attention to women’s empowerment and reskilling.

Of all our deep listening tools, we foresee great advantages in bringing forum theatre to other affected communities. Forum theatre allowed us to go beyond the “listening” agenda and into participation. It created a space to deal with fear, anger, and frustration around a topic and to further work on possible alternatives collectively.

Minecraft and LEGO

Children and adolescents can reflect the views of their families, have an impact on their family, and most importantly will become the most active part of the population in the next 15 years. In most studies their opinion is not asked, but neglecting their voice is neglecting the future. To include the opinions of this significant portion of the population in our study, we turned to the interactive tool of gaming. To attract the youngest citizens, we used Minecraft and LEGO (see an example here).

In Minecract, real maps of Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad were transferred into a game environment which we named Minegrad. The children had the opportunity to change the urban spaces by building objects and structures that they thought would improve their city. The youngest participants used LEGO constructors to build their own structures for their cities.

The children built the future of their cities with curiosity and enthusiasm. The total time spent by all participants in the game was 13 hours 26 minutes, granting us ample content for observation and analysis.

With the help of LEGO and Minecraft, the children of Myrnohrad created an observatory, library and IT hub, which speaks of their need for cultural, educational and technology institutions. However, more humble spaces were also remarkably popular in the gaming event.

Most of the children of Myrnograd built swimming pools. Although the city has a swimming pool that used to be used for Olympic training, it has fallen into disrepair. A clean, functioning swimming pool seems to be a highly desired amenity, as the historical pool was a recurring topic people brought up in our interviews.

Additionally, the children-built ATB supermarkets where most of the citizens could spend their leisure time and meet each other. We learned in our interviews that the supermarket is among the few places where people can socialize in the city. The creation of ATB supermarkets by the children is one more indication of an acute need for more public spaces in the city.

Viber Chatbot

Viber is the mobile phone messenger app widely used in Ukraine. The Viber chatbot tool allowed us to conduct a survey reaching the maximum number of people. Users could make a few clicks on their phones, rather than filling in an online or paper-based survey. With such ease of use, we received over 200 responses in a few days.

In addition to testing the Viber chat bot listening tool, we also tested a new set of questions and a way to analyze them. We created a questionnaire around the Manfred Max-Neef model of human-scale development’s nine fundamental needs: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom. “If we are looking for transforming the wellbeing of the city, not just replacing a coal mine with, for example, a factory, it means creating the space – a city where all nine fundamental needs would be met for its citizens,” says Udovyk.

After receiving answers from respondents, we built a graph representing the current state of satisfaction following the needs of citizens in Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad.

According to responses for Myrnohrad, the feeling of security and the availability of space for leisure scored the lowest number of points. At the same time, people were satisfied with their influence on the development of the city, the feeling of freedom, opportunities for their own development and having enough time to do their favorite things.

In Chervonohrad, people evaluated their quality of life - especially closeness, freedom and self-identification in society - higher than in Myrnohrad. At the same time, the categories of participation and influence in the community scored the lowest number of points.

People feel generally content with their own lives, yet they feel they do not have much agency outside their own personal spheres. Needs for external factors like city safety, leisure space availability, or sense of community influence have not been met for them.

Observation and Communication

We talked with approximately one hundred citizens in two cities during our field visits. Observing behavior and searching for narratives that express perceptions of the region is key to understanding the real problems and needs of citizens and initiatives. Our conversations focused on stories people told about their daily lives on topics inspired by the earlier mentioned Max-Neef model of human-scale development.

During the first iteration of the deep listening process, we collected a variety of stories from people in Myrnohrad and Chervonohrad by maintaining a balance of gender, age and education, as well as types and areas of employment. We involved representatives of municipalities, miners and their families, local teachers, health workers, students, NGO members, small and medium business owners (food, production, smithies), journalists, shop owners, vulnerable people and residents of different urban areas. We also explored the environment of the city by analyzing objects, spaces, places, activities and feelings.

We maintained privacy by coding each interview into a special matrix according to methodology by the ALC. We encrypted and translated about 300 relevant citations and applied several analysis parameters.

We have heard fear, anger, frustration and passiveness, as well as hopes and passion to find solutions in both cities. In Myrnohrad we heard anxiety connected also to closeness to the front lines. We also heard numerous aspirations for a “big leader” to solve the existing situation, nostalgia for the past connected with the Olympic swimming pool and a stadium, a number of recreational and educational activities for kids and a financially and socially secure life for miners’ families. In Chervonohrad we heard stories of entrepreneurship and business solutions, immigration to the EU, closeness to the big city Lviv and connection with the church as a main agent of change.

The combination of a 3L approach and deep listening methodology allowed us to hear all of these meta-narratives from the people of Chervonohrad and Myrnohrad. From the meta-narratives, we can begin identifying locally specific needs in the form of personas, which are characters comprised of aggregations of the patterns we find in our results. From personas, we can begin plans of action.

Read more about how we analyzed all the data and transferred them into actionable insights and personas here.

Text: Oksana Udovyk, Alissa Bankovskaya

Editing: Lily Ounekeo

This portion of the study was possible by the fantastic work of our partners and volunteers:

Kateryna Ivanchenko at the Centre for Innovations Development (CID), Denis Shilenko and  Natalia Tishkova at Mriia: Power for Change, Anna Chekhman, Vladislava Kryzhna, Natalia Titiyova, Anastasia Bezpalko, Daria Kondratieva, Ameesh Arya, Inna Kolomatska, Iuliia Rozhdestvenskaia, Michelle Nagava, Olena Kryzhanivska, Olga Kurylenko, Phillippa Elizabeth Tichotova, Tarini Goyal, Tatiana Davtyan, Victor Oladoja, Yuliana Petriv-Shaw