Citizens in public housing complexes in the south-western Armenian city of Yerevan suffer from some of the most common challenges as seen elsewhere around the world; social decline, lack of quality of life and a feeling of marginalization by being housed in dreary facilities. UNDP Country Office Armenia seeks to address such challenges by re-imagining citizen engagement in public spaces, driving forward a green agenda and inspiring a renewed community spirit, optimism and feeling of inclusion and togetherness to solve social problems through a bottom-up perspective. To do so, they seek to trigger a whole ecosystem of stakeholders including first and foremost inhabitants in the city’s public housing areas, but also local businesses, local government, and property owners and managers.How platform-way-of-working will tackle the issue/challenge?
By focusing on what motivates this diverse range of stakeholders, including non-conventional actors, to engage, and having used the interaction mapping tools in the toolkit to figure out what each actor is seeking (and can extract from the process), UNDP Armenia has substantiated the relevance of launching a digital platform, but also a learning process for all stakeholders to have them understand platform-way-of-working, which inspires contributions and exchange on a peer-to-peer basis. Basically setting the scene, physically and mentally, for connecting actors who would otherwise not have a dialogue, to create mutual value exchange to support the mission.
The idea is to use a horizontal platform approach to include all stakeholders and source new solutions for the design of urban spaces in public housing areas, based on shared ideas, shared co-design processes, shared co-funding efforts, and the alignment of otherwise conflicting (or at least obscure) agendas across whole ecosystem. Enabling this dialogue not only produces concrete new ideas for realization, but also gives a voice to the previously voiceless. The platform seeks to solicit input from all stakeholders and ensure long-term relationship building between UNDP and each group of stakeholder, as well as among the stakeholders themselves (in a peer-to-peer structure rather than centralized around UNDP). By sourcing such ideas UNDP seeks to initiate a series of pilot efforts (ie. prototype to solicit input from kids in daycare centers).
The team has already tested a prototype concept through workshops in actual courtyards of a public housing complexes, where they invited a combination of familiar stakeholders (architects, property managers, utility providers etc.) but also unusual stakeholders, like families and kids who live in the complex, to discuss how to develop the courtyard and surrounding areas in the future. Rather than steering these conversations, UNDP let them talk to each other directly through during the events and observed how they became instantly engaged, especially the unusual stakeholders. These interactions manifested a proof of concept that such dialog brings about new knowledge - and new types of ownership and engagement.Difference between project based approach and platform approach applied?
Lots of valuable discoveries have been made. Most importantly, UNDP realized that the issues they thought to be the most important, were less important to the users. Usually, the UNDP would conduct thorough analysis and develop a ready-made solution, which in this case for instance would include facilitating the collection of inputs and consolidate it into a consensual solution.
With this new approach they instead focused on bridging different partners working with unusual stakeholders, and being more strategic in prioritization and bridging resources.
As a result, ideas for new solutions already started to emerge in talks among the stakeholders in the early prototype workshops; ideas which UNDP can pick up and help boost to instill a sense of progress and newness among the stakeholders. The way of working creates new kinds of empathy in all stakeholders, and that motivates them to put resources into shared initiatives to develop public spaces in their environment. Something they would likely not do before. All of a sudden it made sense for them to care; not only about the environment itself, but about the other stakeholders as well.
The private sector is already starting to see the business potential of being much closer to endusers and thus expanding a new market of new solutions. The courtyard prototypes can be seen as microcosms that reflect all of society; so if UNDP can make quick radical changes in engagement in a courtyard - and let UNDP be the facilitator/platform - that can scale to any other courtyard, as well as to higher level entities.
It quickly became clear that it requires a different mindset to take a point of departure in issues sourced directly among stakeholders instead of going through the conventional UNDP prioritization process. Moreover, making stakeholders understand the new role and increased responsibility as co-problem solvers and idea-producers was tricky at first. But once the courtyard prototypes started to work, it became much more of a snowball effect which moved forward by its own accord.
Lastly, the process also showed the need for redefining the value proposition for working with the private sector, which - as described below - has gotten renewed momentum internally.
Status and next steps
UNDP is now planning scaling steps with the Yerevan municipality for this specific policy issue, in order to go from current pilot stage into making substantial impact and repositioning UNDP in the ecosystem. Moreover, it is being discussed internally how using platform-way-of-working could work in other policy areas and how they could possibly combine projects, campaigns and general efforts through this approach. Lastly, the new approach has renewed their work on fine-tuning the development of the UNDP value proposition for working with the private sector to go from being based mainly on having private contractors act as third party suppliers, to becoming more mutually rewarding partners that share many goals and visions - and contribute to the ecosystem to reach them.