Kolba Lab

What we do

We are a network of thinkers, dreamers and doers, united around the first innovation hub of UNDP Armenia, called Kolba Lab. Founded in 2011, as an incubator for citizen-led social innovation, our goal has been to source human-centered solutions from within our local community, because we believe that the right kind of change comes from the bottom up. Since then, Kolba Lab has generated citizen-led projects in local governance, human rights, the green economy, smart city solutions and many other spheres. We have experimented and carried out interventions in foresightbig and open data, behavioral insights, alternative financing and design thinking. Most significantly, we have initiated a deep engagement in public sector innovation, building relationships across the Office of the Prime Minister and key Ministries, and incubating the ideas of reform-minded public servants.

In an era of overwhelming environmental, social, and political challenges, self-satisfaction is not an option; the stakes are too high for us to just wait and see what happens. We realized that through actions taken every single day, we must be active citizens and build the future that we want to see in Armenia and beyond. In 2019 we started mobilizing the talent within our network to reimagine what our country can be today—as well as thirty years down the road.

Future research and collaborative scenario building are now on the cornerstones of our approach. Kolba Lab has shifted its gaze forward, in order to ask critical questions about governance innovation and social change in an evolving world. Bringing together government players with thoughtful individuals, we spark creativity, generate new ideas, and explore what kinds of intelligence a positive and more equitable future will need.

Currently Kolba Lab is implementing a pilot project “Future Skills and Jobs for Armenia’s Rural Youth” which is funded by the Russian Federation.

The project seeks to imagine possible scenarios of development in the regions of Armenia and to enhance opportunities of employability and entrepreneurship amongst youth. The target regions are Lori, Shirak, Tavush and Gegharkunik. Kolba Lab will look into future possibilities of labor market development, by applying the Skolkovo-tested labor foresight methodology in the targeted regions. The mapping will help to identify emerging and obsolete jobs, new trends and “black swans” in the labor market of each region in a 5-10-year timespan. The strategic academic partner for this is Skolkovo School of Management.

Based on the results of the future needs assessment and identification of job opportunities, further investment and interventions will be designed. This will include agile skill building among large groups of young people, development of educational curricula among VET institutions and nudging start-up citizen-driven projects addressing future demand. The project results include not only positive dynamics in formal employment, but also increase in self-employment and freelance opportunities, preventing urban migration and internal brain drain inside the country.

Starting from 2020, Kolba will kick off another project “Future Today: Empowering women, youth and children for deepening democracy in Armenia,” funded by the European Union

Through user-engagement and co-design process UNDP/Kolba Lab will design and put into use crowdsourcing tools for collecting and analysing citizen feedback on public services at national and local level. This will be done for services that are provided to citizens digitally. To bridge the citizen engagement with state sector, Kolba Lab will also provide technical support to national government to analyse the received citizen feedback. Based on the received data and analytics, targeted/thematic open grant competitions will be announced for CSOs and active groups to address the revealed challenges. This will also contribute to Armenia’s commitment within the framework of monitoring OGP Action Plan implementation.
The above-mentioned track will be re-active in terms of addressing current period’s challenges.
To ensure pro-active approach the Lab will also use the accumulated knowledge in foresight methodology (future modelling and scenario development) to collect youth-driven scenarios of positives futures. This will be done by organizing open challenges to collect citizen- driven innovative ideas in the regions of Armenia. The collected and shortlisted ideas will enter Kolba Lab’s incubator, and the finalists will be supported through small grant competition scheme.

Some results so far

One of the biggest project implemented by the Lab is “Inno4Dev: Innovation for development,” which was the initiative of UNDP in Armenia and was funded by the European Union. This EU-UNDP partnership created more opportunities and mechanisms for citizen engagement and introduced tools and systems for more effective and open governance. The project mainstreamed innovation in Armenia by:

1.    Empowering regular citizens/users to provide their insights and solutions to social challenges in their community, incubating them into viable projects;

2.    Providing support to the growth of a culture of innovation within government, through conduction of Pop-up labs and internal innovation challenges in state institutions. This component is implemented in partnership with UK-based public sector innovation specialists from FutureGov;

3.    Nurturing a more inclusive relationship between state and society, through greater civic engagement and state responsiveness.

·       Since 2011, Kolba has organized more than 7 crowdsourced idea competitions, mobilizing the knowledge and skillset of diverse range of actors including students, government officials, data scientists, designers and creative thinkers. As a result, 700 ideas were received, 40 start-ups incubated, 14 of which have generated a social impact within government, the civic sector, or the market in Armenia. Examples include “Smart City,” a local governance e- management system introduced in Yerevan, “Matcheli,” an online mapping platform that provides user-generated information on Armenia’s disabled access spaces, and “Noomee,” an app that supports the learning process of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

·       Kolba has supported the government with various cutting-edge approaches under the banner of public sector innovation. This has included a series of “firsts” in Armenia: holding innovation challenges within the key government offices, organizing a pop-up innovation lab in the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education and Science, and supporting the Office of the Prime Minister to crowdsource ideas from active citizens as part of Armenia’s Open Government Partnership processes.

·       Over 100 ideas were received from public servants, 6 proposals received incubation and financial support from the European Union through the Lab’s incubator.

·        Over 30 Kolba Cafes (public events) have taken place, aimed at training and idea sharing in innovative approaches, on topics ranging from behavioral insights to start-up marketing to human-centered design.

·        In spring of 2016, the Lab has organised a crowdsourced idea competition for Armenia’s Open Governance Partnership (OGP) process – the first time any Armenian government has used crowdsourcing as a methodology to increase the quality of one of its services or platforms, or applied citizen engagement so comprehensively, the Office of the Prime Minster was the main Government partner.

·        Open Data in Judiciary: In partnership with Union of IT Enterprises (UITE) UNDP has designed an artificial intelligence tool for the Government to analyse the bulk of information in the DataLex case law system. The suggested algorithm can analyse huge bulk of information, to identify repeating patterns and to suggest predictive analysis for similar cases in the criminal law. Additionally the project has added a data visualisation tool to enable a more user-friendly data resource.

Innovation: Kolba Lab has initiated the mapping of all state data resources, open to the public, with a final report package released in Spring 2017. The team also organised and held the country’s first Open Data Hackathon – a two-day event which saw Armenia’s growing array of IT specialists focus their energies on creating useful services and products out of government-owned data. In 2017, Kolba also initiated the first Smart City Hackathon in partnership with Yerevan Municipality, generating startups in data analysis towards smarter Yerevan management.

Status:

Ongoing

Project start date:

February 2019

Estimated end date:

December 2021

Focus area:

  • eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions
  • Project office:

    UNDP in Armenia

    Implementing partner:

    Ministry of Territorial Admini

    Funding Support by

    Donor name

  • Government Of Russian Federation
  • Amount contributed

    $1,035,900

    Delivery in previous fiscal year

    2021 $225,117

    2020 $246,964

    2019 $323,340

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