Innovation and emerging technologies are increasingly changing how international organizations are investing to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) says a new report published by the UN Development Program (UNDP) Innovation Facility.
The report highlights initiatives that are leveraging innovation to eliminate poverty, protect the environment, prevent conflict, manage climate and natural hazard risk, improve disaster response and advance gender equality. It further demonstrates how these innovations have led to more effective development solutions and to new service lines to government partners.
“When we design innovation experiments we focus on the development change, not the solution,” said Benjamin Kumpf, Manager of the Innovation Facility. “Innovation means foremost testing ideas, learning quickly and the ability to pivot, using technology that is appropriate for the context.”
The report also discusses how investments in alternative finance, data innovation, behavioral design and government labs are critical in unlocking the potential of innovation for development.
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UNDP has established six Public Sector Innovation Labs to help governments bolster citizen involvement in policymaking and redesign public services. In Moldova, a Public Sector Lab is using behavioral insights to improve policy formulation and testing around tax compliance and medical adherence.
To improve the implementation of the SDGs with real-time information, UNDP has partnered with UN Global Pulse focuses on a number of data experiments. In Tunisia, for example, the National Statistics Office is now able to track public perception of corruption in real-time based on sentiment analysis of online media and social media interactions.
UNDP is also working with countries to identify and test alternative finance options in an effort to achieve the SDGs, such as an impact bond to address youth unemployment in Serbia and the first “blue” social impact bond to fund coral and mangrove restoration to benefit poor communities in Grenada.
In terms of data innovation, the report finds that almost one-third of SDG indicators lack data collection methods and reliable data, particularly concerning gender inequalities for those living in poverty. The UNDP Innovation Facility collaborated with UN Global Pulse to address this issue, creating a portfolio of data experiments in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Arab Region. It also worked with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP) on UN Data Innovation Labs to support UN agencies in advancing data analytics capabilities and new partnerships.
Spark, Scale, Sustain emphasizes the need for greater understanding of service users’ perspectives, including deploying solutions that community “outliers” have discovered, co-designing with users and developing prototypes and feedback loops. Once such example is the UNDP’s work with the National Council for Women in Egypt. By designing messages delivered to women via electricity bills, the partners are aiming to address gender-based violence. The approach is based on findings about human decision-making and insights on specific behavioral barriers for Egyptian women.
To solicit new ideas, methods and design from citizens, including people who are living as refugees, UNDP has also launched innovation challenges to encourage new ideas, methods and designs from refugees from Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Nepal, among other countries. The winners receive support to continue developing their innovations to help solve development problems.