How to get new ideas into UNDP

This blogpost was originally posted on the Mahallae blog, written by Nilgun Arif and me.

Here’s how it usually goes. A big donor gives UNDP funds to tackle a complex problem. UNDP knows that often the best ideas are with civil society actors. Civil society actors, with their ear to the ground, know that they have great ideas to tackle this complex problem. A call for proposals goes out. There have been others before, but we know this one will be different. Everyone agrees we won’t re-hash the same tired ideas that have been tried for countless years and numerous calls for proposals.

And yet somehow, we all get caught up in the red tape of our old ideas. We end up with the same solid, tested ideas we’ve tried before. Nothing wrong with that, there’s a lot of good in tested ideas. But why this trouble innovating?

We think it’s got something to do with what makes UNDP different: we work with the messy stuff. Don’t get us wrong, it’s very difficult to organize humanitarian aid distributions in a complex emergency or to ensure that all children have access to vaccines. But it’s also measurable and concrete. Surprisingly, that makes innovation easier, because you can measure its impact, see how it increases efficiency and continue to improve.

The impact of a peacebuilding initiative is almost impossible to trace. What is “more peace” anyway? The Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index (SCORE) can measure different aspects of a peaceful society, but it also makes it clear that everything affects everything else, that peace is a complex system. Tracing the effect of one initiative through a web of human relations, socio-economic conditions and perceptions is practically impossible.

So how do we give people an incentive to innovate? We think it’s about creating the community support and feedback for new ideas to emerge. And that’s where the Mahallae Challenges come in. Building on UNDP’s work in this area, we are venturing out of the buffer zone in Cyprus to solicit new ideas and to ask you to help decide which ideas get funded.

We will be posting challenges relating to issues facing our communities. These will be evidence-based challenges, informed by findings from the SCORE. Here’s a preview of how the challenges will work…

We want ideas for solutions, lots of them. Anyone can submit an idea – this is an online brainstorming party. You can submit as many ideas in response to each challenge as you want. You’ll just need a title, a short description and (if you want) an image. All ideas are shared on the Mahallae website.

The best ideas become concepts. Our judges will filter the ideas and select those that demonstrate the most potential to attract interest. If your idea is selected, you will be asked to come up with a concept. Concepts are more developed ideas with a team behind them.

We support our concept teams. During this process, Mahallae Mentors also organize meet-ups for concept teams to provide support offline and help strengthen their ideas.

Concepts are put out to the crowd. Each concept goes back on the Mahallae site. Anyone can leave comments, or show that they like the concept by endorsing it. Concept will also be requesting in kind resources (expertise, services, volunteers, etc). You can show your support for a concept by offering resources.

The best concepts win a challenge prize! Our judges pick the finalists, those ideas with the most community contributions, discussions and endorsements, and each one receives a cash grant prize. Equipped with the financial and technical resources necessary to succeed, the winning projects get the green light and can be put into operation!

Anyone can follow projects as they get into action. Once the winning projects begin to be implemented you can either become part of them through your contributions, or sit back and watch them develop on the Mahallae platform. All reporting and updates on project implementation happen via the platform, to keep all contributors and endorsers informed.

But wait – there’s more ! Those winning projects that can demonstrate replication outside of Cyprus can receive additional funding – so that the great ideas can spread even further.

What’s different about the Mahallae Challenges is that we are all committing to hearing all sorts of new ideas and paying attention to what others think about them. We’re creating a safe space to innovate in a field where success and failure are hard to measure. We’re making community feedback and enthusiasm the incentive to innovate and are asking you to tell us which projects to fund.

So will you help us get new ideas into UNDP?

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