The Uruguayan Accelerator Lab's willingness to remind people of the emotion that comes from receiving a letter inspired them to run their first set of experiments. Photo: UNDP Accelerator Lab.

It was 23:59 on December 31st, 2020. One minute before starting a New Year, 85 years old Susana holds a facemask as a relic on her Christmas tree, next to a letter sent by Susana from the future. “This letter brought me joy,” she expressed.

When was the last time you received a personalized letter? Don't you remember? The Uruguayan Accelerator Lab's willingness to remind people of the emotion that comes from receiving a letter inspired them to run their first set of experiments.

A message coming from the future slipped in through 200 random Uruguayan households to influence their perceptions and behaviors in their New Year’s celebration regarding COVID-19. A concise and clear message in a personalized letter accompanied with a facemask could change the story of many other Susana's around the city.

Learning cycle

How did we hold the process? We put into practice the UNDP’s Accelerator Labs learning cycle methodology, presented in the Bootcamp, a few days before the experiment's launch.

Sense

We tried to understand which were the main challenges that Uruguay was facing regarding COVID-19. How do people feel, what do they talk about, how do they behave? We involved the Country Office (CO) through a collective intelligence exercise to express their views through a virtual mural.

Explore

We begin to look for solutions to the identified challenges by examining how people are tackling them. We organized all the ideas that emerged in two axes (complexity of implementation and possible impact). We selected the six ideas with the greatest potential for impact and least complexity of implementation to be analyzed.

Then, we explored existing solutions in our country and abroad; we talked with experts, colleagues from different labs, and the Country Office (CO). We evaluated costs, possible alliances, and time requirements. Besides, we also explored different actions that our CO is working on, like the "Usina de Percepción Ciudadana."

Test

We designed the experiments in a few weeks with all these inputs, using behavioral studies tools and less than 100 dollars.

Experiment 1 – “The letter brought me joy.”

200 letters were randomly sent to Montevideo households thanks to a partnership that the AccLab brought to the CO: The Uruguayan Post. We prepared, printed, enveloped, and stamped the 200 letters on the 29th of December. Between the 30th and 31st of December, all letters were delivered.

 

Experiment 2 – Guilt or heroism?

What works better for you? Feeling guilty because you attend a clandestine party during the pandemic, and then you spread the virus to your grandmother? Or feeling a hero because you stayed at home when you were asked for?

To find out how young people react to different messages, we carried out the second experiment in the portfolio, sending videos that went viral during the pandemic and analyzing their impact. 50 young people saw a translated video from Germany, and the other 50 a video from Spain, and a third control group did not see any video.

We will present the results and analysis of these experiments in-depth in our next blog, but both experiments have shown that the timing of the message is key. It is not enough to be clear in a message; it must also be disseminated at the right time.

The report it also published on the website of the Behavioral Sciences group of the United Nations innovation network https://www.uninnovation.network/behavioural-sciences-group-home

Learning by doing

Weeks after entering the Laboratory, the first wave of COVID-19 arrived in Uruguay, with increased infections and cases without traceability, accompanied by uncertainty and fear of what could happen.

•             "We must do something to raise awareness about this situation!" reflected the Solutions Mapper.

•             "When I was studying in the UK, and a lockdown was established, I received a letter from the Prime Minister to raise awareness; it was quite impressive!" The experimenter said.

•             Why do we not send a letter to Uruguayan citizens written by their "future selves"? the Explorer asked.

•             "Let's do it!" Shouted the “Solutions Explorimentators.”

And that's how we started embarking on this challenge and running the first portfolio of experiments. We were sure that we would learn quickly as a team and get inputs to design our first action plan. And it actually worked; our action plan includes the last stage of the learning cycle: SCALE!

We were sure that we would learn fast as a team and bring inputs to design our first action plan. And it actually worked; our action plan includes the last stage of the learning cycle: SCALE! As our solution mapper said, "Think big, start small, but most of all...START".

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