Solutions mapping in a crisis context


The COVID-19 pandemic confronts us with the need to innovate in the middle of the crisis: how do we do so under so much pressure? In this new installment from #AccLabPY, we continue our series on learning for development, explaining how the first stage of our methodology: “Sensing,” and describing the Solutions Mapping tools we use with examples drawn from the collective response to the COVID crisis.


Inspired by ethnographic research methods, Solutions Mapping helps to identify needs, problems, and opportunities by observing the solutions developed by people who personally face a development challenge their lives. Many communities are facing the impact of COVID-19 with courage and creativity, and we believe that the concepts we share here could be useful for innovating in the middle of the crisis.  


The three key concepts of Solution Mapping

The first key concept in solutions mapping is grassroots innovation. It is a type of innovation undertaken by the people directly affected by a problem who invent solutions based on their experience and deep knowledge of the problem Grassroots innovation signals the existence and the nature of an unmet need. Typically, it is a need that has gone unrecognized by governments and private companies, and the solution reflects a type of knowledge about the problem that is generally absent in these institutions.

An example of this type of innovation in the COVID-19 crisis is the community support groups that emerged in several countries, and which led to initiatives such as and The unmet need here is for a coordinated care system at-risk groups that lack support in their homes.

Grassroots innovation is frequently driven by lead participants (or users): groups or individuals that are the first to generate or adopt solutions to a problem, discovering new uses for old technologies or creative adaptations to improve the functionality of imperfectly designed processes or technologies. The motivation of the lead participants generally lies in solving a specific problem in their community rather than the profit it could generate. An example of a lead participant is Jayde Powell, the Nevada college student who created the free delivery service, Shopping Angels, to serve high-risk individuals, along with a crowdfuding campaign.

The third key concept is positive deviation, which is the study of exceptional cases of successful resolution of persistent problems. Identifying and explaining “positive deviations” allows us to draw lessons about successful practices and to promote the diffusion of new habits and successful behaviors that deviate from the norm. In the first wave of COVID-19 epidemics, countries such as South Korea (which has managed to flatten the curve of new cases), Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong (which have kept their number of cases low), represent cases of positive deviation that have much to teach us through mapping your solutions.


Solutions Mapping in Practice

Prior to the crisis caused by COVID-19, we carried out a first Solution Mapping exercise through a workshop with community organizations, government officials, representatives of civil society, and academics. We explored (1) the everyday problems we face, which could represent shared challenges; and (2) the successful solutions that exist, which might deviate from traditional, failed approaches.


The problems outlined from the participants’ everyday experience and the solutions they shared built a rich observation log, with 109 unique contributions from the approximately 50 participants who participated in the exercise. Among the problems identified, three themes were the most frequent: (1) quality of life, (2) public spaces, and (3) public health. Long before COVID-19 hit, local communities already understood that one of our main challenges, at the local level, was to further strengthen and expand our public health system, which today represents our main battlefront against this crisis.

When we look at the interventions deemed as successes, they emerged in contexts related to (1) citizen participation, (2) education, and (3) waste management.  Suggesting that, in general, fostering participatory governance and the responsible exercise of citizenship, in combination with education, may be key to ensuring that distancing and mitigation measures are widely adopted by all. 


Each of these themes points us to a potential “frontier challenge” for our learning cycles. Their relationship with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicate potential actions to accelerate our achievement of these goals by 2030. The three that stood out as most important are also key in context of  this crisis: the development of sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), the establishment of alliances to achieve the objectives (SDG 17) and the development of health and well-being (SDG 3).

Image Caption: Solution mapping is a starting point for establishing alliances and collaborations. These are some initiatives that we are excited about and to which we hope to contribute.


The details of each exercise carried out in this workshop are part of this Methodological Guide, which we hope will inspire readers who want to facilitate collaborative processes to map innovation from below and positive deviation in this context of crisis by COVID-19.  


Mapping Solutions in the COVID-19 Crisis

Although COVID-19 keeps us away from field work, solutions mapping in the UNDP Acceleration Laboratory network has not stopped. Through collaborative murals and other means, the entire network continually exchanges examples of grassroots innovation and positive deviation.

In Paraguay, we have reorganized our priorities to focus on the inevitable socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, with a focus on the most vulnerable actors, such as informal workers who depend on their daily income to survive and who today are unprotected. To explore intervention possibilities for the short, medium and long term, we document mitigation initiatives by governments around the world through this collaborative mural and this online survey, classifying action initiatives against the epidemic, from the different countries, and specifically, from network laboratories. Soon we will be sharing news about how we hope to contribute with our learning methodology to the generation of appropriate solutions to mitigate the costs imposed on informal workers and highly vulnerability sectors by the pandemic and necessary quarentine policies.

Until then, we invite you to test the concepts of solutions mapping on your own, discovering and sharing the grassroots innovations and the positive deviations you find in this shared fight against COVID-19.


Lea este blog en español aquí.


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