Creating Mission Briefs: Explanation and template for online community builders

The calls to action on the Spot the Future website and social media will translate key issues highlighted by participants in the Post2015 consultations translate them into research questions. Some may be grouped into broader themes - and will paint a picture based on critically questioning the status quo/ available survey data and articles etc.

Switching perspectives: The Mission Brief (download template here)

Each research question is then framed as a creative call for participation around the topic, what we call a “Mission Brief”. In Mission Briefs we present the audience with the apparent, objective data…then switch the perspective towards that of inspiring citizen initiatives and propose open questions which participants can answer by simply telling us their personal experience. By framing each issue as (an) open question(s) to participants in the Spot the Future project we set out expectations as to the kind of input that would be most informative for everyone involved: personal stories, accounts of how small solutions are working already, unique ways in which participants identify or not with the issue at hand.

Following the format in this template, please help produce one Mission Briefs for each topic in the country you know most about:

Armenia focus areas: Employability; Environmental issues, in particular the environmental consequences of economic growth.

Egypt focus areas:  Unemployment and macro-economic deceleration | Poverty Environmental degradation 

Georgia focus areas: Participation in decision making | Responsive Government | 

When you are done, just post them in the Spot The Future group in both English as well as the local language. Don’t worry about images, or making the text perfect the first time around. Just post a first attempt and more people will help fleshing them out. Whenever you have posted a Mission Brief, please leave a comment below with a link to it!

POST 2015 - Topics for Armenia

3153 participants have been consulted online and in physical workshops, facilitated by private sector and institutional teams (ICHD, UNDP, UNICEF). The Town Hall Meeting format: 4 scenarios debated for each of five (many times overlapping) topics: Growth and employment, Inequalities, Health, Food Security, Environment. (source)

While the report presents key challenges as they are identified by citizens consulted and outlines broad recommendations at the policy level, it does not include concrete ways to address the challenges; nor does it present citizen solutions to them – for example through case studies examining what is proving to work at the grassroots level.

1) Access to wealth due to monopolistic economy

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have a hard time competing for resources with the big players, and are thrown off by lack of fair competition or shady legal regulations (eg tax policy, monopolistic access to state finances).

The issue in the report is framed as access to wealth in monopolistic markets, and reflects points of view from citizens engaged in commercial activities. One angle which could be promising for Spot the Future is making a case about entrepreneurship in Armenia, beyond business as usual, so as to include innovation.

Research Questions : What are the risks experienced by Armenian entrepreneurs? what are some of the tested successful paths beyond the discouraging/ disadvantageous government deal?

2) Unemployment, underemployment or poor working conditions: most vulnerable are women and youth; incompatibility between employers’ requirements and the way the education system prepares young professionals. There is a need to provide better access to vocational education for young people. Social inequality: address vulnerability among disadvantaged groups through activation and empowerment (psychological primers), as opposed to security benefits. Changing public perception is deemed as a priority. Increasing labour migration, coupled with lack of legal protection of migrants are other mentioned issues

Edgeryders approach: We can propose the broader topic of Making a Living and include questions to help us dig further into the various facets (inequality, migration)– especially to de-construct the “unemployed youth”, “migrants”, “vulnerable groups”, “the disabled” labeling.

Research Questions: What do Armenian citizens, especially the young ones, aspire to when it comes to fulfilling professional lives? What safety nets are there to support them, aside from (scarce) government aid? For full framing of this see Example of mission hrer (link coming soon).

3) Awareness and prevention of environmental damages is a developmental priority “despite theoretical indifference of citizens”.

Edgeryders approach: Through Spot the Future we can challenge the so-called indifference: we see grassroots initiatives that are organizing on Facebook groups, under indicative names such as: “We are the owners of this city”.

Research Questions: How are Armenians organising to protect the green spaces and environment around their city? How did they get started? What has been the best way to mobilize action around the initiatives so far? Which channels have been most successful?

POST 2015 - Topics for Egypt

In this section, we collected insights from the UNDP Egypt Post-2015 National Consultation that are most relevant for the Spot the Future audience. In “Translation”, we explain how this affects the Spot the Future audience, and how the approach of consulting them has to be adapted to the unique features of this demographic group. Then in “Research questions”, we come up with adequate questions that can guide what we do in the Spot the Future research project.

Instructions for online community builders

Please select (or add) those challenges and research questions that you want us to dig into with the Spot the Future Egypt project (we simply can’t do all of them properly, so we ask for your priorities; 2-4 items from the list will do, ordered by priority). Note, both challenges and research questions are only proposals. You are more than welcome to add to them or propose different ones, according to your priorities. We recommend to frame research questions so that they focus on hands-on activities, initiatives and experiences – metal-level talk is disengaging for, well, all of us :slight_smile:

(1) Unemployment and macro-economic deceleration

Egypt’s current difficult macroeconomic situation is largely attributed to the difficulties of adjusting to the post-Revolution situation. The wave of increasing violence that followed caused tourism and foreign business activity to decline and makes investors reluctant to start business activity in Egypt.

In effect, the unemployment rate increased from 8.9% (2010) to 13.4% (2013). Unemployment disproportionately affects youth: 3 out of 4 unemployed persons are youth (18-29), a group with a total share of 1 of 4 of the population. And within youth, esp. women: 21% of young men, but 50% of young women are unemployed.

With unemployment comes labor migration: 39% of the unemployed intend to migrate abroad [1, p.7+4]. Also, high corruption was cited as something that causes the costs of doing business to be often prohibitively high. Employers complain about the quality of technical professional education, and the work ethic of the young (“They all want a desk job and a high salary”) [1, p.12+4]


Edgeryders approach: The employment statistics of the formal economy usually do not fully acknowledge the existence of the underground economy (“System D”), which comes with its own set of challenges and solutions. Since unemployment affects the young disproportionately, it could be worth a look what unorthodox solutions to economic exclusion they try and find.

Research questions: How do entrepreneurial careers of young people look when they have to start from economic exclusion? How do they find support and a market for their work, products or services, and what role does the informal economy play in that? What support (also esp. by government policies) is needed by these persons with self-managed, informal careers?

(2) Poverty

Poverty is seen as damaging the human security of affected households, but also (in the form of regional inequalities) as a threat to Egypt’s development path itself. More than 75% of the young (up to 29 years old) reside in rural and frontier regions, so youth is disproportionately affected by poverty.

Edgeryders approach: Poverty is often gauged by monetary household income, which is convenient for statistics. However there are other, only partially overlapping approaches: subjective poverty (self-designation as “poor”) and poverty qualitatively defined by access to different tools, services and infrastructure. In the latter approach, more money is not the only way to meet ones needs and emerge from poverty. It seems promising to track the ways how the young try to access the resources of a non-poor life (apart from the usual but often defeated attempt to find a well-paying job).

Research question: What non-monetary means have young Egyptians found to meet personal needs? How does this inform questions about Egypt’s development potential and its strategies for food and water security? Special focus should be on the tech community: hackers and makers, esp. in areas like agriculture, urban farming, sharing economy, renewable energy, alternative dwelling.

(3) Environmental degradation

This is seen as a problem inter alia because it makes food and water security hard to achieve and sustain for Egypt’s growing population. Lack of political commitment and poor natural resource management are seen as the main reasons of environmental degradation. Energy scarcity is an issue that is expected to exacerbate in coming years, since energy consumption of Egypt is extrapolated to triple by 2030 [1, p.21+4].

Edgeryders approach: Again, the research should probably start by discovering direct action by individuals and groups (because that is what is left to people when they are removed, or disenfranchised, from large-scale political discourse and decision making). Not stopping at this, we can then inquire for their ideas for a nation-wide solution to environmental problems. This could inform solutions that work in spite of lacking political commitment.

Research questions: How do young Egyptians take up and express their concern for their natural environment? How do they see a large-scale solution for pollution, littering and environmental degradation? What initiatives are experimenting with small-scale solutions?

POST 2015 - Topics for Georgia

The post2015 consultations report presents findings resulted from the application of a mixed methodology: web and household survey data and facilitated group consultations. Over 10000 people were engaged in the process, out of which 725 in physical group discussions.

Overall, Georgians’ priorities do not differ much from the citizens’ at global level: good education (prioritized among urban youth), better healthcare, better job opportunities + support for people who cannot work, honest and responsive government. Georgians also rank high protection against crime, affordable & nutritious food, physical and social security (among elderly), access to clean water and sanitation.

Observation: Survey data makes it unclear whether these are the things Georgians care most about or the areas they think need most urgent intervention/improvement. The information on the detailed perceptions of citizens, outside formal ranking of pre-designed options, is a good food for thought for Spot the Future, because it offers a plethora of opportunities to challenge it. Could it be that a less determined choice of alternatives and especially different framing of “priorities” yields different results in terms of how citizens identify with issues?

From challenges to research questions

The following topics are priorities as perceived by the UNDP Georgia team. Please prepare one mission brief per topic in English and Georgian. Perhaps you feel something is missing? If so add another mission brief (s) for the new topics.

(1) Participation in decision making

Civic engagement: “according to respondents such involvement required a secure and empowering environment,  the ability and possibility to speak and to be heard, an agreed vision of  where to go and how, and  having at least medium living standards. An honest and responsive government was perceived as a precondition for creating such an enabling environment. Participants also named other necessary conditions for their engagement - responsible citizens and well developed civil society as well as institutionalized channels for participation.” (source: Georgian preliminary Post2015 consultations report). The UNDP country team suggests further research on the real degree to which people participate, beyond social networks and off to real social activity

Edgeryders approach: It used to be that youth policy around participation was focused on bringing youth into the institutional forms of participation. In Edgeryders we are seeing how youth are active in creating their own initiatives and spaces that work with different kinds of procedures and practices than institutional politics. And civil/ political participation is not some activity or engagement separated from the rest of their lives - youth become political as thoughtful consumers or boycotters, as adopters of alternative currencies (sharing as opposed to buy-sell practices), as users of particular digital tools (eg the free software movement) etc. We make choices that are in themselves political and lie outside formalized, institutional spaces. That is also civic participation (source)

Research Questions: What initiatives are individuals involved in, practically, to influence decision making or get a political point of view across? What are the spaces and channels they deem most trustworthy? What kind of projects have succeeded in building empowerment and re-building legitimacy among citizenry?

(2) Responsive government

This seems an encompassing issue, the general feeling being that without government things cannot change: “government bred passivity in people, as a result people had little trust in it”, ”An honest and responsive government was perceived by all the participants of the consultation as the central issue necessary for solving problems in any other sphere” (source: Georgian preliminary Post2015 consultations report). The rather singular point of view different was of a returned labour migrant: “The government helps you, but you also should try yourself. It’s not like the government is apart and we are apart, we are all together.“

Edgeryders approach: Citizens distrust in their governments is a generalized issue that is common to European citizens everywhere, and beyond. Nothing new here. What if we turn it upside down and invite local government people to share their experience? A sort of “Government with a human face” mission to break the silos between what people perceive as the big black box of government and the (sometimes) well intended public servants? This could also contribute to a valuable perspective on the issue of building trust in government, which was mentioned by participants as a step forward.

Research Questions: Are there civil servants who are innovating from the inside? What are their own challenges and constraints?                 

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Feedback on mission topics from UNDP Armenia

I’ve spoken to anyone that will listen to me in UNDP over the past few days for feedback on the STF topics.  A few priorities emerged:

  • Employability - how are youth navigating the transition from education (secondary, higher and vocational education) to the labour market?  Where are the gaps in their learning and how are they filling them?  What other factors influence success/failure in finding work?
  • Long term environemtal impacts of economic activity - who has adpoted more sustainable approaches to agriculture? who has adopted more sustainable approaches to water management? What citizen-led approaches have emerged to combat land degredation and soil pollution?
  • Business culture and entrepreneurship
  • Civic engagement, access to information and public service delivery
  • Women's empowerment