From Roadblocks to Opportunities: Advancing through Sensemaking

A few months after embarking on our journey as part of the Accelerator Lab, we were keen on understanding the details of the programmes at the United Nations Development Programme/Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (UNDP/PAPP) and to look at opportunities that could be capitalized on. As part of this effort, we conducted a series of mini-sensemaking workshops in January 2020 using a simplified version of the Global UNDP protocol on Sensemaking and Acceleration to learn about each project, how it fits into a larger programme, and to seek opportunities in current and future programming. The mini-sensemaking workshops gave us an initial idea of the direction of programmes. During the spring of 2020, we joined a larger team at the UNDP/PAPP on training on systems transformation conducted by CHÔRA Foundation under UNDP’s Global Innovation Team, which has led us to visualize the initial conclusions of the mini-workshops and set the stage for a deeper analysis of current programming.

UNDP/PAPP was selected alongside six other Country Offices to be part of the first cohort of ‘Deep Demonstrations’ supported by the Innovation Facility, as a commitment to focus on systemically addressing development issues. The ‘Deep Demonstrations’ engagement is expected to span 10-12 months and result in thoroughly exploring a policy issue, building a new set of competencies at UNDP/PAPP and the government counterpart, and identifying leverage points for designing and implementing new programmes around the chosen policy issue.

Identifying a Policy Area

The training held during the spring marked the first step of identifying a development area that UNDP/PAPP strives to transform. At the onset of the training, we were asked to identify a policy area whereby the problem: (1) affects a double-digit percentage of the country’s population; (2) the risk holder or problem owner is a high-level decision-maker; (3) has drivers that are transnational. Based on these criteria, we have chosen to work on youth-inclusive agri-food value chains for the following reasons:

  1. The percentage of youth (18-29 years old) in the State of Palestine is approximately 23% of the population, and the unemployment rate among those youth is around 45%;
  2. The Prime Minister’s Office has announced the year 2020 as the ‘Year for Youth;’
  3. The Prime Minister launched the Cluster Programme in 2019 with a focus on agriculture to support the resilience of farmers and as a way to stimulate the contribution of agriculture to the GDP as it has historically been the dynamo of the Palestinian economy;
  4. The policy area included the entire value-chain and was not meant to only be focused on agricultural practices but rather include processing, food treatment, packaging, logistics, retailing, recycling, branding, marketing, and exporting.

Jumping to Conclusions

The choice of the policy area was to some extent attributed to our comfort in swiftly landing on a solution to reduce the time we are in the ‘uncertainty’ zone. During the first few sessions of the ‘Deep Demonstrations’ training, we were trying to fit the exercise to positively confirm our bias that we have figured out one of the solutions to youth unemployment. The training has challenged us to lift the discussion from solely focusing on youth-inclusive agri-food value chains to exploring productive sectors more broadly as a policy area, which marked the first step from myopically looking at a policy area to realizing that it is a symptom of a larger system failure. The exercise of narrowing down the three most relevant elements of any problem space is subjective and highly influenced by individuals’ experiences, exposure to new areas, beliefs, and comfort with uncertainty. However, the more individuals were involved in the discussion, the more ideas were generated to contribute to the thoroughness of the problem space.

Unpacking the Problem Space

The methodology proposed by CHÔRA Foundation is to explore a problem space by identifying the three most relevant elements to suggest leverage points that UNDP could capitalize on. The problem space does not operate in a vacuum and the dynamics that affect any problem space but are not within our control are labeled as the lateral dynamics.

After lifting the discussion to focus on productive sectors, the problem space pivoted to inclusive economic development, which then enabled the mapping of existing and pipeline projects at UNDP/PAPP. The mapping was useful in showing where we are in terms of transforming inclusive economic development and in presenting opportunities of areas that could be strengthened by consolidating certain projects, embedding systems transformation into new projects, or identifying areas that could be tackled by other development actors in the State of Palestine, whereby UNDP/PAPP could be an advocate.

Insights and the Way Forward

Mapping projects along the problem space proved to be a useful tool in stimulating discussions among programme staff at UNDP/PAPP, as it was an opportunity to get a holistic view of how projects relate to each other and show specific elements within the problem space that we might be heavily engaged in at the expense of other elements. The usefulness of the tool has led us to create two additional problem spaces to map out all projects of UNDP/PAPP across: (1) inclusive governance and basic services, and (2) sustainable management of natural resources.

Mapping projects along the problem space proved to be a useful tool in stimulating discussions among programme staff at UNDP/PAPP, as it was an opportunity to get a holistic view of how projects relate to each other and show specific elements within the problem space that we might be heavily engaged in at the expense of other elements. The usefulness of the tool has led us to create two additional problem spaces to map out all projects of UNDP/PAPP across: (1) inclusive governance and basic services, and (2) sustainable management of natural resources.

What was particularly insightful is that while we were creating the problem space for the sustainable management of natural resources, the constitutive elements were similar to those identified for inclusive economic development, which offers an opportunity to merge the areas and potentially focus on working toward a circular economy in the State of Palestine. One of the common issues that surfaced while analyzing the three problem spaces is that we have been focusing on setting an enabling environment but more through supporting governmental counterparts, and an opportunity for better positioning of UNDP/PAPP would be to strengthen community engagement.

Additionally, while some successful initiatives have been identified for instance in conserving natural resources, they have been confined to specific geographic areas, and have the potential of being replicated in other areas. Another insight on tackling inequalities is that programmes largely integrate this at the activity level and exploring structural root causes to inequalities could relay a higher impact on the policy level.

This approach to systems transformation and the mapping of projects is only the beginning of the road for UNDP/PAPP. During the next 10-12-month engagement as part of the Innovation Facility, we will have the opportunity to further analyze the Palestinian context and its readiness for inclusive economic development. The goal is to consider points that UNDP/PAPP could invest in to kickstart the economy and enhance the resilience of Palestinians. The capacities of the staff at UNDP/PAPP will be enhanced throughout the process to apply a systems transformation lens to other policy issues and change the way development is done.

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