How does this lab differ from what first comes to mind when we hear that word?
Draško: Our experiments are social experiments, but the Accelerator Lab has many similarities with scientific labs. You need to use your ideas and creative spirit to dig through data, form a testable hypothesis and design an experiment that will prove that the hypothesis is true or false.It’s impossible to predict the future. But it’s possible to predict general areas where new opportunities and unexploited possibilities are more likely to lie. The recipe for that is simple: start trying out new approaches in order to get the breakthroughs.
Slobodan: This involves analysing and mapping out the forces that influence a particular area, often by using new technologies and new sources of information, identifying the actors and their complex interactions, establishing partnerships with new organisations, informal groups and exceptional individuals, finding the best way to connect various points in the system and pull levers at different levels, which, all working together, will initiate some systemic change. The Lab is one of the ways in which UNDP is adapting to the needs of the 21st century, motivating partners to adopt these new approaches themselves, so that we can jointly exert a positive influence on the living and working conditions in Serbia and throughout the world.
Kristina: Essentially, what motivates us is curiosity, re-examining the status quo and boundless drive to experment, working as a team, using various approaches in our work, to provide answers to big, complex questions. We are aware that the world is changing very fast, and that the innovations in areas such as tech, communications, migrations, urbanisation are significantly changing the way we live and work. Accelerator Labs, as a global initiative, were created in response to the fact that the world around us is changing at an exponential rate, while the development lags behind, failing to keep up with the pace of change. There is a gap that needs to be closed if we want to keep up with all the changes and innovations.
Irena: All the major themes of today, which will determine the future of mankind– from climate change to the technological revolution – are entirely new, and we have no responses to them in either comparative practice or historical analyses. On the other hand, all these changes initiate well-known negative phenomena – such as extremism and violence, vulnerability, endangering human rights – so it is of additional importance that development-related innovations are dealt with precisely by the organisations that represent a kind of value-based foothold for mankind, such as a UN agency. It is of utmost importance to bear the human perspective in mind all the time, and to monitor the effects of each solution, while also continually testing and developing new solutions – including those that may appear very drastic or improbable at the moment.
What made you worry, and what turned out to be easier than you originally expected? What did you find surprising?
Kristina: Speaking as someone coming from the private sector, it was a very pleasant surprise to find great and inspirational individuals within the UNDP office, whom we found easy to connect and “click” with. Those are our colleagues with whom we were able to find topics of common interest very quickly, that we can explore together, or with whom we can pursue specific activities. On the other hand, we had to contend with the expectations that a team made up of three or four individuals could profoundly change the pre-existing manner of work, tackle the most relevant, complex issues of today and offer solutions that would unfailingly, like a magic wand, resolve all the problems that we are burdened with.
Irena: I am always afraid of silence – a situation in which it would turn out that no one cares very much about what you are working on. For example, when we decided to gather a group of fathers to talk to them for several hours about parenthood in Serbia, without offering any compensation or stimulation, what could have happened was that there were none willing to show up, or if they did, that they had nothing to talk about. What actually happened was precisely the opposite.
Internally, no matter how much the diversity of a given team is supposed to contribute to the quality of ideas, I thought that we would find it rather difficult to find a common language and agree on the first moves that we should make. As it turned out, in our case the diversity of experiences and worldviews truly proved complementary and contributed to new insights.
Draško: I was surprised when, during our research on depopulation trends, we discovered some positive deviance. We found out that in 2019 Serbia was a country attractive to digital nomads and with a high number of digital workers and gig workers per capita. For now, gig economy still cannot compensate for Serbia’s brain drain problem and the country needs to do more to retain and better use the existing workforce, to strengthen its education system to provide skills that are in demand globally.
Slobodan: I was pleasantly surprised when we managed to sign agreements of understanding with all three mobile phone operators in Serbia, which shows that the private sector is becoming increasingly aware of the value of data, and, more importantly, that it is ready to put those resources to use to help overcome development challenges in our country.
We are striving to get as close to real time data as possible, which is why we have decided to ask our mobile phone operators to allow us access to anonymised and aggregated data on the usage of their networks. The kind of data could be used for various purposes – from monitoring the spread of viruses, through preparations for and responses to natural catastrophes such as earthquakes or floods, to monitoring economic trends and depopulation.