Upside down map?

This chart of the week shows map of the World as seen from Australia, in Hobo-Dyer projection. Quite unfamiliar view, if you live in Europe—like I do—and are accustomed to Europe-centered, North on the top, Mercator projection maps.

Any map is a model of reality, imperfect representation of things, based on a set of assumptions and conventions. Mercator projection is very useful for certain purposes and it was invented for them. It is preserving angles, and thus local directions and shapes, making it indispensable for navigation. North on the top, South on the bottom is a useful convention. However, it comes with a cost—it inflates the size of objects away from the equator. Russia, Canada, and especially Greenland and Antarctica look much bigger than they are. XCKD jokingly proposed a Madagascator projection, which designed solely to exaggerate size of Madagascar through using unorthodox specifications of projection).

We keep similar mental maps for many things and navigate them so routinely, that we take assumptions and conventions for granted. Navigating complex issues requires comparing and aligning our mental maps. Such a comparison could help us to see the issue on various maps and find a joint way forward.

Maping ecosystem services contribution to SDGs for Small Island Developing States

Marine and coastal ecosystem services play cruicial role in the economy and well-being in Small Island Developing States. These services could contribute to common challenges in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Fact-based solutions, based on linking ESS and SDGs, are essential for nature conservation and sustainable development in SIDS. The recent study developed an approach to capture the contribution of ESS to the achievement of SDGs in Aruba.

The study quantitatively capture the contribution of three ESS to the achievement of priority SDG targets, as well as interlinkages between priority SDG targets. Lack of data for many of the ESS is an issue widely by local stakeholders in Aruba. A shortlist of indicators provided appropriate metrics of the socio-economic value of fisheries and socioeconomic data on nature-based tourism. This chart, a hotspots maps provides information on how Arubans perceive the importance of nature for cultural and recreational activities and their well-being.

#SIDS #ESS #ecosystemservices #SDGs #SDG14 #chartoftheweek #Aruba

Networks and diffusion of agricultural innovations

Dissemination of improved technologies could play crucial role in increasing productivity in agriculture. Extension services, provided by governments and other organizations, could address existing information barriers by providing recommendations for increasing agricultural productivity and yields. Trained farmers may disseminate knowledge further to their peers. Hence, social networks could play an important role in this process—thanks to credibility of contacts and knowledge of local conditions.

This chart of the week from the recent UNU-WIDER Working Paper shows different types of networks in one village in Guinea-Bissau. The research brings several important conclusions. It confirmed that that agricultural information diffuses along social network links from project participants to non-participants. Different types of networks play different role. While chatting network connects virtually all families in village, farmer’s financial support networks are most relevant for information diffusion. Weak social links appear to be as important as strong links in the dissemination of agricultural knowledge. Finally, project has impact on farmers’ communication network, which expanded because of training.

Rute Martins Caeiro. Diffusion of agricultural innovations in Guinea-Bissau. From learning to doing. WIDER Working Paper 7/2022

Skills for Green Jobs Transition

Every crisis is an opportunity. The Great Reshuffle and post-COVID recovery present an opportunity for the green transition and activating the jobs. However, LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report suggests that we face a number of challenges. This chart shows one of them. The current pace of transitions into green and greening is too slow. According to LinkedIn data, for every 10,000 workers leaving a Not Green job, only 1 moves into a Green job.

One possible accelerator of transition is skills formation. Recent publication by the European Training Foundation “The future of skills: A case study of the agri-food sector in Morocco” provides a glimpse into future of skills. Trends like automation, digitisation, global trade, competition, climate change, sustainable farming and changing consumer behaviour put a pressure on the agri-food sector, which has relied upon traditional technologies and skills.
No doubts, the forthcoming radical changes will affect jobs, by creating new ones or transforming existing ones. For instance, the boundaries between disciplines call for entirely new professions, like environmental economist or nutritionist engineer. In general, these changes imply introduction, use, and maintenance of new technologies, and more interactions with people from different disciplinary or professional backgrounds. From the skills point of view, this mean increase in demand for multi-disciplinary competences and the ability to cooperate and interact with people from different backgrounds.
This could be done by improving collaboration between education providers and companies, enhancing continuing training and reskilling and upskilling, and structuring learning courses around certain value chains.

Food Crisis and Role of Social Protection

The 2022 is going to be a very difficult year for the global food system, due to disruption of supplies and effects of sanctions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This chart from UNU-WIDER suggests that a food crisis was brewing even before the Ukraine war.

A combination of factors could make it much worse than hikes of 2008 and 2011-2012

1️⃣ This time it is compounded and still unfolding—we witness growing prices for cereals AND fuels AND fertilizers. Worst yet to come. Between 2019 and March 2022, cereal prices already has increased by 48%, fuel prices by 86% and fertiliser prices by 35%. Food, fuel and fertiliser prices could stay high for years if the war in Ukraine protracts and the isolation of Russia’s economy tightens

2️⃣ The poor are still recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, which had the most severe economic impact on the urban poor. Food price inflation is higher than CPI in many countries of the world, hurting the most vulnerable

3️⃣ Governments have little room to manoeuvre, due to shrinking tax base and growing dets debts for the unprecedented protection for households and businesses during the pandemic.

▶ What could be done?

Most impactful measures are increasing food supply and increasing fuel supplies to help bring down fuel and fertiliser (inter alia through resolving logistical bottlenecks and reducing shipping costs). However, it is not clear if countries are willing and ready to implement these measures.

Social protection could provide necessary support, via food or financial aid. These measures require concerted efforts of international institutions, governments, local actors, NGOs and the private sector. International community must help governments, facing tough post-pandemic fiscal circumstances, to mobilize resources for social protection. Combining universal programs with targeted programs could help to make the most of constrained fiscal space. World Bank real-time review of social protection and jobs responses to COVID-19 documented 3,856 social protection and labor measures planned or implemented by 223 economies Advanced big-data-driven technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, could help in better targeting. However, they should be complemented with thick data and human solidarity to ensure proper combination of empowerment and protection.

How COVID-19 caused a global learning crisis

COVID-19 can undermine life-long perspectives of young people. Students globally lost eight months of learning and the impact varies widely from staggering 12 months in South Asia and Latin America and Caribbean to modest 4 months in North America and Europe and Central Asia. Recent McKinsey study identifies three archetypes of countries:
🚩 Most affected countries with moderate levels of pre-COVID-19 learning and significant delays in education, where students may be nine to 15 months behind.
🚩 Prepandemic-challenged countries, with very low levels of pre-COVID-19 learning, where losses were daunting but not so dramatic in absolute terms, about three to eight months
🚩 Least affected are high-performing countries, with relatively high levels of pre-COVID-19 performance, where losses were limited to one to five months.

Lower levels of learning translate into lower future earnings potential for students and lower economic productivity for nations (📉 losing 1 percent of global GDP annually, according to McKinsey estimates). By using scenario modelling UNDP came to similar conclusions. The study shows how governments can make choices today that have the greatest potential to boost progress in the future. School systems can respond across multiple horizons to help students get back on track: ⭐Resilience, 🔁Reenrollment, 🔼Recovery, and 💡Reimagining.

Do we measure right inequalities

Can we consider any society developed if the people have a deep sense of unfairness and believe that the ‘system is rigged’? Recent chapter by Avidit Acharya and John E. Roemer in “The Great Upheaval” argues that fairness entails equalizing opportunities rather than equalizing something else.

However, do we measure what matters?

In the end, all inequalities are unequal, but some are more unequal than others. We still use only one indicator—the Gini coefficient of income inequality—to judge them all. This chart illustrates possible approach in measuring equality of opportunity. It shows distributions of income among people, grouped by the levels of education of their two parents. These curves summarize the income opportunities available to its members. Inequality of opportunity for income appears to be a good deal higher in Indonesia than in Germany around a similar time. Measuring right inequalities could help policymakers to shape right policies.

New-old human-machine interactions

Nowadays we store more than 99% of information in digital form, comparing to just 1% a couple of decades ago. Just 60% of Internet traffic is currently generated by human, the rest is coming from bots, good 15% and bad 25%. This is a new reality, which pose a lot of questions–how we, human, interact with algorithms? with each other using the technologies? what does this mean for human development and human security? This video illustrates new-old interactions–a grandma helping a small robot to cross a street, by holding cars.

The power of improvisation. Directed improvisation.

There is no shortage of ‘best practices’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions in a development economy. Free trade, democracy, institution building, you name it. The Washington Consensus has reigned in the decades since the 1990s. Now the Beijing consensus is emerging.

Yuen Yuen Ang dismisses such solutions and suggests that there is no universal prescription. Her one-sentence summary is “Poor and weak countries can escape the poverty trap by first building markets with weak institutions and, more fundamentally, by crafting environments that facilitate improvisation among the relevant players.” She explores this idea through studying how China managed to achieve and sustain economic development after Mao. The country employed this approach, which allowed the to achievement of economic growth in complex circumstances. Yuen Yuen Ang call this approach ‘directed improvisation’ where central reformers direct and local state agents improvise. It taps local knowledge and adapts to the local circumstances, while aiming at an overarching goal. The resulting transformative process has displayed three distinct patterns. It is broad, bringing systemic changes despite incremental reforms. It is bold, unusually entrepreneurial but also attracts corruption-prone bureaucrats. Finally, it is uneven, with wide regional disparities coexisting with national prosperity.

The Government nurtured what Yuen Yuen Ang calls ‘directed innovation’ through variation, selection and niche creation. To promote variation, central reformers allowed local agents to flexibly implement central mandates according to local conditions. This has been done through deliberate creation of grey zones, as too much leeway could create chaos. Hence, Central bodies clearly delineated these zones of local improvisation. They imposed red lines around local administration, denoting things which are prohibited and risk very severe punishments; and black lines for things which must be delivered, again at the risk of severe punishment in the case of non-performance. The rest was in a grey zone, open for innovation and adaptation to local conditions. Selection was promoted by clearly defining and rewarding success within bureaucracy, of the type in the black lines discussed above. Central reformers clearly communicated the criteria for success to lower levels and ranked localities, and closely looked for what has worked and what didn’t. Successful models and approaches then became central policy, scaled up and replicated throughout China. For instance, the famous Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs) were neither prescribed, nor anticipated by central reformers, as Deng Xiaoping himself admitted. They grew up out of local experimentation at that stage of the reforms, as best fit to local needs and conditions, to produce growth spurts, and centrally imposed restrictions for the of non-acceptability of private property. The diversity of China provided the raw material for innovation, resulting in niche creation for different localities. Regional diversity thus turned from liability into a collective advantage.

The methodology Yuen Yuen Ang used is a mapping of the ‘coevolutionary process’, with whole Chapter (1) and Annex (A) devoted to the description of the methodology. She does not engage into construction of sophisticated regression models, torturing data in the elusive quest for causality out of correlation. Neither does she stick to small N approach, looking through messy and overcomplicated set of variable for a single case (By the way, enquiring reader could find great discussion of cultural differences between small N versus big N approaches in “A Tale of Two Cultures: Qualitative and Quantitative Research in the Social Sciences” by Gary Goertz and James Mahoney). Hence, no oversimplification and no messy non-reductionist approach to complexity. Rather, a complex approach, which captures a non-linear, co-evolutionary process, in reduced form. She tracks changes in the related systems of economy and institutions, over the time. Throughout the book, she dives into examples of Forest Hill, Blessed County and Humble County in China, which are archetypes of various types of localities in China. In her methodological annex she extends this approach to two additional cases of tax-less finance in United States of America in the 1880s and raise of Nollywood in Nigeria.

The three ‘I’s haunting development economics, according to Esther Duflo, are a conceiving Ideology, often derived out of Ignorance, that is perpetuated as a result of Inertia (see also “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo). More and more we do recognize the complex nature of issues we face with, the inadequacy of opaque models pushing correlation for causality, and the lack of Silver Bullet solutions. However, we are yet to find the instruments for handling complexity in a meaningful way. The book by Yuen Yuen Ang is an excellent starting point for this intellectual inquiry.

Keep it simple: Complexity and the SDGs

As Einstein says, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Grey wolves in Lamar Valley. Photo: Yellowstone National Park

Grey wolves in Lamar Valley. Photo: Yellowstone National Park

Can wolves change a river flow? Hard to believe, but yes.

In 1995, grey wolf packs were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park, with remarkable consequences for the entire ecosystem. Elks, afraid of being eating by the wolves, began avoiding open regions such as open meadows and gorges. New plant growth increased, provoking subtle changes in the park’s waterways. An increased number of trees attracted various bird species. The beaver, previously extinct in the region, returned and their dams attracted otters, muskrats and reptiles. The rivers meandered less, reducing erosion and forming more pools. So ultimately, the wolves helped stabilize river banks and fix the rivers in their courses.

This story resonates strongly with my experience with the Sustainable Development Goals, especially as we at UNDP help countries to embrace and domesticate Agenda 2030. We are living in ecosystems, not hierarchies. Our relationships in the world are circular, not linear.

Linkages are more important than the elements of the system themselves.

For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina some 40 percent of companies have vacancies hard to fill due to applicants’ lack of skills. But at the same time, nearly 25 percent of its youth aren’t working or in school or training. People complain that not knowing the right people is a major obstacle in getting good job (56%), not just lack of jobs (35%) or inadequate or irrelevant education (14%). These relationships are clearly non-linear and cannot be solved by traditional approaches, assuming that a good education will find you a job.

In this instance, UNDP looked at Bosnia and Herzegovina’s local employment “ecosystem” and saw that one of the big issues is a disconnection between social assistance and job placement systems. UNDP supported establishing links between the two, so people who are receiving social assistance also have chances at job offers and are helped transition to jobs. And UNDP brokered partnerships with private companies to provide internships and apprenticeships to provide practical skills demanded by the labor market.

This is just one example of the broader SDG issue. We need tools to make this type of complexity manageable, and we are actively designing and testing them:

1) Tools to zoom out and zoom in

System Dynamic Map maps out all problems and interactions between them. For instance, youth employment is linked not only with enrollment to universities, but also with skills for employment, economic development policies, and accessibility of transport. The whole system map is a spaghetti of interactions. You can easily spot “economic”, “social” or “environmental” corners and dig in for more details, or you can zoom out and see the overall picture. Such maps are also a great tool for building partnerships. A similar map in Tajikistan revealed one village self-support group of migrant wives left behind organized a community kindergarten to free up time for business.

2) Better tools for Sense Making and Foresight

In a complex system, you cannot really categorize things into neat boxes and use “best practices”. Regular indicators only tell part of the story. You need triangulation, i.e. looking at the same issue from different perspectives, combining qualitative and quantitative data.  Micronarratives, which combines narrative with quantitative description, is one example of sense-making tools we are using. As testified by stories told by the Roma, the main reason to embark on an uncertain – and often unregulated – migration to the EU is the search for mere survival in terms of income and physical and emotional security. Those who returned from the EU feel rejected and alienated with limited support for reintegration. Mere data from our recent study could not tell us these nuances.

Equipped with these tools, we can better handle the enormous complexity of SDGs. We could go from unmanageable complexity—everything is related to everything—to well-informed Theories of Change.


Originally posted at UNDP Europe and Central Asia blog.