Digital sprints — new and faster ways of creating ideas

UN Development Programme
Mar 31 · 5 min read
This year we introduced a development process to test a new way of working on digital initiatives. We came up with six different projects — digital sprints — that use technology to help UNDP become a more efficient organization and solve complex development challenges.

Our world is changing at a rapid pace, so UNDP must adapt and transform with it. And when it comes to technology, the best approach is to have an agile, iterative process of working on a solution, testing it, and quickly changing what doesn’t work.

This year we introduced a development process to test a new way of working on digital initiatives. We assembled six teams in several bureaus and countries. They came up with six different projects — digital sprints — that use technology to help UNDP become a more efficient organization and solve complex development challenges.

The teams were brought together to our partner’s EY wavespace, which is designed to promote collaboration, exploration and creativity. But the most important component wasn’t the inviting design configuration or latest gadgets and apps which helped the processes run more smoothly. What made the real difference are the people who guided the teams through a five day brainstorming sessions; mentors who offered their technical expertise in data science, blockchain and other tech solutions to help explore the full potential of ideas, and the teams themselves who enthusiastically threw themselves into a new environment.

During the week, colleagues worked agreeing on what their minimum viable products — minimum features required to validate a product idea early on — would look like.

On day four, senior UNDP leadership came to hear them pitch their concepts and ask questions.

The brainstorm week ended with a panel discussion, and final hours to refine the concepts based on the feedback received the previous day and creating realistic timelines of when the projects could be tested.

An overview of the Digital Sprints brainstorming week.

Learn about the projects which may soon become part of our portfolio:

Digital Governance Innovation and Transformation

Up to one billion people don’t have a legal identity. Another 3.4 billion can’t use their legal identities in the digital realm. Lives that are ‘invisible’ to legal, political and economic systems stop people from getting housing, education, health and welfare. They can’t vote, open bank accounts, or get jobs.

UNDP has a wealth of experience in biometric voter registrations in many countries, work that has recently expanded into supporting foundational national identity registers. But to date, these have not been connected.

This project’s aim is to support countries in providing secure digital legal identity from birth to death.

One of the Digital Sprints teams discussing their project, The Other Way.

The Other Way

What is the true cost of the cup of coffee you had this morning? Are producers getting their fair share?

The market is driving producers to adopt unsustainable practices, creating a series of economic, social and environmental problems. Sustainable practices like sourcing from producers that don’t use harmful chemicals, paying fair wages and prices make production more expensive. But a growing market demand forces mass production, so in order to stay competitive, farmers avoid sustainable practices.

While several certification initiatives already exist, they often only address specific aspects of the production cost. Besides that, there are thousands of small farmers who cannot afford to get certified.

Inspired by The Other Bar, The Other Way is a global initiative that will match supply and demand, improving transparency and traceability in value chains. It will create an incentive for sustainable practices, improve producer’s income and welfare, offer brands an opportunity to be sustainable, and give consumers proof that they are.

The Other Bar, the world’s first blockchain shared value chocolate bar, was inspiration for The Other Way. Photo: UNDP Ecuador/Diego Malakias

Enhanced-data Solution for People, Planet and Prosperity

Together with partners, UNDP generates a large volume of data needed to inform policies, surveys, environmental indicators, historical records. This data is significantly underutilized and sometimes lost.

The Enhanced-data Solution for People, Planet and Prosperity project will enable more efficient use of UNDP’s “goldmine” of data by creating a user-friendly system that generate new insights for evidence-based policies.

Besides that, there were three projects which were designed to improve the way we work internally:

Programmatic Performance & Learning Platform, a collaborative workspace, tailored to each person’s roles and experience, so that colleagues across the organization can find relevant information and connections within minutes.

Customer-Centric Service Platform, a one-stop-shop to provide staff with outstanding service around internal operational processes such as HR and procurement, making back office tasks more efficient and enjoyable.

Presence Anywhere Anytime, a platform for remote collaboration and co-presence that will enable UNDP to be more productive in the remote work environment we currently find ourselves in. Improved tools and processes will also enable UNDP to work faster, in more places, while reducing cost and environmental impact.

As the week ended, it was time to reflect on the experience. Our main conclusions were that it makes a big difference when teams are taken out of their usual surroundings and routines, and the facilitators and mentors, with their diverse backgrounds and experience of being part of similar events in other organizations, were key to ensure that teams stayed on track and achieved what they set out to do at the beginning of the week.

Our main conclusions were that it makes a big difference when teams are taken out of their usual surroundings and routines.

But there are things we’d do differently next time. Some logistically, others — conceptually. Just like teams have been iteratively improving their projects, so have we been learning about better exercises to spark creativity, useful and not-so-useful facilitation processes, and other elements of enabling a creative and agile environment.

We are excited about the energy and drive that our colleagues brought to the digital sprints week, and we are looking forward to hosting more sprints later this year.

Photos by UNDP unless noted.

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