The SDG challenges facing Armenia are complex and intertwined, and therefore call for new approaches, new methodologies and possibly new types of institutions to provide “out of the box” solutions.
The joint initiative of the Government of Armenia and the United Nations, supported by the UNDP in Armenia, Armenia National SDG Innovation Lab aims to further unlock Armenia’s development potential and accelerate the implementation of the Agenda 2030.
The SDG Innovation Lab previously implemented Innovative Solutions for SDG Implementation in Armenia project funded by the Russian Federation and implemented by Armenia National SDG Innovation Lab, in close partnership with the Government of Armenia during 2018-2021.
Currently, the SDG Lab is running
Yerevan 2.0: towards more inclusive and greener recovery
Digitalization of MoD services
Re-framing Road Safety in Armenia: connecting data, people and policies on Armenian roads projects implemented in close partnership with the Government of Armenia and UNDP in Armenia.
The Road So Far
Armenia National SDG Innovation Lab was launched in November 2017, in a room full of policy-makers and development practitioners in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. It was for the first time that the state in cooperation with the United Nations created an innovation platform to support the SDGs implementation at country level and test the SDGs country support platform model foreseen by UNDP’s new Strategic Plan 2018-2021 (see the SDG Lab website).
The objective of the project is to mainstream the culture of innovation and experimentation in policy making for sustainable development. At the heart of the Lab lie its innovation methods gleaned from a range of fields, including data science, behavioral insights, design-thinking, and systems-thinking. The project team brings rigorous academic research and evidence into policy-making and prototypes “ready to scale” sustainable development solutions. The team runs experiments to provide policy-relevant insights and craft policy.
The Innovative Solutions for SDG Implementation in Armenia project project budget was USD 1,372,748 out of which USD 1,250,000 was acquired from Russian Federation, USD 22,804 from the Government of Sweden, and USD 99,944 from the Government of Norway.
To instill the “culture of experimentation” in public services and build a sustainable development growth path for Armenia, the Lab integrates and applies the following service lines.
Digital technologies such as blockchain, satellite data and imagery, and social media are transforming our world. There is an ample reservoir of unexplored data in Armenia, which holds valuable insights for public policy.
Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing are widely used for the major projects undertaken at the Lab, including the projects that ameliorate citizen-government correspondence, improve maternal health, develop sustainable tourism, bridge education to the labor market, and so much more. We use predictive models for language classification, data mining, time series forecasting, etc, and continuously enhance the SDG Lab’s data team’s capabilities through independent research and mapping of existing open-source data repositories for relevant machine learning datasets and models.
One of the key services of the Armenia National SDG Lab integrates findings from psychology, sociology, law and neuroscience into economics to generate insights about the behavior of individuals and the choices they make. Behavioral science is about understanding what works for humans. In the field of development, we tend to assume, because we are experts of certain fields, that what we know/believe to work, will eventually generate impact. What we may overlook, is that whatever we do has to do with humans and their complex behaviors, which are not always rational and may need to be nudged towards certain directions to ensure the desired effect.
What behavioral science suggests is to put our ideas to real-life tests – to check the resonance of our interventions with the target population on a small scale combined with rigorous evaluation and only scale up the ideas that have proven to work in the given context among the target populations.
One of the underlying principles of the Lab is to make sure that all the products are created with the user in mind. The SDG Lab team came up with a strategic solution to build an in-house capacity of design thinkers who would always ensure the human factor in the solutions. As a result of this initiative, the design thinking team managed to make extensive research on design thinking methodologies and come up with its own set of principles and a design toolset fit for the local context.
Behaviorally informed policy interventions
Increasing the take up rate of cervical cancer screenings among women in Shirak Region
The experiment carried out by the Lab aimed at increasing the take up rate of free cervical cancer screenings for women of 30-60 years of age, focusing on 10 healthcare institutions in the Shirak region.
During the 3 months of the intervention, 20,800 women in the target age groups (30-60 years old) received behaviorally informed letters and reminders to encourage them to attend the check-ups. The data analyzed in August-September exposed 461% increase in take-up rate for cancer screenings for women receiving only letters and 667% increase for women receiving letters and reminders compared to the same period in 2018. Notably, the combination of letters and reminders were proven to be the most effective type of intervention.
Increasing Tax Compliance in the Republic of Armenia with the help of Behavioral Interventions
To aid the authorities in developing a dialogue with the citizens and change their perceptions on taxes, the Lab together with the State Revenue Committee (SRC) designed an intervention to nudge citizens to pay their taxes.
Reducing Plastic Consumption During Shopping at the Supermarket Through Behavioral Interventions
The behavioral experiment tested various monetary and non-monetary incentives to see what drives individual behavior to reduce plastic bag consumption during shopping at the supermarket. During the 6 months of the intervention targeting 5809 individuals, and according to the results, the most successful incentive composed of a free big tote bag and an invitation to take part in a competition of cutting down on plastic bag consumption with the promise to win a symbolic amount of money succeeded in decreasing plastic bag consumption at the supermarket by 40 % (against the control group). Even the “least successful incentive” of the experiment, a letter that reminds about environmental concerns of plastic consumption, succeeded in decreasing the consumption of the plastic bags by 11.5 % (against the control group). The results of the experiment were published in the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Department of Economics.
Data Science Projects
To help improve Armenia’s emerging tourism industry together with the travel ecosystem in Armenia, the Lab launched Travelinsights.ai - its first ever data analytics product. The online tool that operates on an AI algorithm to collect, analyze and categorize tourist sentiments about Armenia expressed on popular travel websites, such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com, fuses travel storytelling and machine learning. The platform visualizes the results of sentiment analysis of over 174,000 touristic reviews about Armenia, scraped from Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Facebook.com, with disaggregation of 25 detailed aspects per 4 categories (hotel, restaurant, museum, landmark).
AI for Mulberry
To improve citizen-Government correspondence and optimize the letter flow and resources in the official document management system-Mulberry, an algorithm was developed to automate the categorization of citizen letters in the Mulberry system and a centralized and sustainable model of collaboration between Mulberry users and the developers of the Mulberry system was introduced.
Through the combination of deep knowledge of Armenian linguistic structures with state-of-the-art statistical approaches, the Lab is testing its AI solutions on automation of routine internal operations and therefore improving Government’s operational efficiency. The Armenian NLP technology will be integrated into Government’s internal operations, service delivery and policy development initiatives that will require language processing and analysis such as analyzing public feedback, improving predictions to aid decision-making, enhancing policy analysis and improving regulatory compliance.
SDG Monitor is a user-friendly data visualization platform that will help monitor the SDGs’ progress, inform policy and decision-making, and measure the impact of policy interventions in the long run. The SDG Innovation Lab, in partnership with the “Rule of Law and SDGs in Armenia Reform Agenda” UNDP project, has been engaged in collecting, analyzing and visualizing data on SDG 16-as a pilot and then adding the rest in the process. The platform has advanced features, such as an interactive dashboard/progress wheel marking the progress of achieving SDG 16 targets as a whole and specific indicators separately with real-time data. Additionally, to measure self-reported levels of ‘external political efficacy’, that is, the extent to which people think that politicians and/or political institutions will listen to, and act on, the opinions of ordinary citizens an innovative alternative was offered to conventional surveys. The indicator was measured through the data collected from social media (i.e. Facebook) and the Government’s official website for the publication of draft legal acts (i.e. E-draft), using state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms. The platform is open for public use.
The platform approach that the SDG Lab team has adopted calls for strong and strategic partnerships both internationally and locally to drive the achievement of SDGs. We have already partnered with renowned organizations such as the Behavioural Insights team, Oslo Governance Centre, Global Data Barometer, DeepPavlov.ai team at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, and Apolitical.
On the local level, the SDG Lab team is working with AGBU, Ekeng, and Kolba Lab. They are working closely with UNDP’s ImpactAIM Venture Accelerator, serving as an implementation platform for the Lab and designing tailor made social enterprise incubation and acceleration programs based on the priority SDG challenges as identified by the Lab. The Lab in its turn provides a policy interface to address challenges in the Armenian impact investment ecosystem.
The team is closely collaborating with several academic institutions such as the University of Podova, Zhognan University of Economics and Law, American University of Armenia, Skolkovo School of Management and Higher School of Economics Moscow. Many new partnerships are now in the making.
More information is available on their official website.