Action 2030 Blog

Why Costa Rica is applying collective intelligence and data innovation strategies to engage people

The 2030 Agenda is clear. If we want to contribute to change, we must engage with people to build local solutions to the problems that affect them. Here at the UN in Costa Rica, we set out to partner with citizens, civil society organizations and institutions at the local level to address urgent issues differently.

For example, one of the most worrisome problems that we identified in Costa Rica is violence against women and girls, especially teen pregnancies and abusive relationships. Even though the country has a relatively low and declining teen pregnancy rate compared to the region (currently, 54 births per 1,000 girls between the age of 15-19), some regions are experiencing the opposite trend.

In Talamanca, a municipality located in the southern part of the country, the birth rate among teenage girls is on the rise. Many of these pregnancies happen in the context of violence, rape, abusive relationships or child marriage and according to local organizations, sexual violence has increased over the last 10 years. Girls and adolescents are increasingly finding themselves in vulnerable conditions, jeopardizing their full development and quality life expectancy.

Therefore, we at the UN in Costa Rica partnered up with local organizations to work with the young women of Talamanca to find solutions together. This work was possible within the framework of the Gender Thematic Group, with technical support from UNHCR, FAO, IOM, WHO, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOPS and UNFPA, who played an important role given their expertise.

Perceptions matter

First we wanted the local female community of Talamanca to feel safe in collaborative spaces in which they could experiment, analyse and design new solutions. This way we hoped to zoom in on the problems through a different lens.

For example, we noticed a lack of responses from local institutions when it comes to addressing violence against women and girls. To address this, we worked with the women and local organizations to understand the reasons behind these gaps. We carried out two productive workshops with the support of the Public Innovation Lab of the UCR (Innovaap) and invited representatives from local institutions and civil society organizations.

Our conversations centered around the realities experienced by girls and their perceptions on the poor quality of the services. These conversations helped spotlight why the services that institutions and organizations are providing are failing the women and teenage girls. One of main obstacles hindering institutions and organizations to work together is the lack of effective communication and coordination among them. To address this oversight, the participants of the sessions sketched a prototype to improve the response of attention to situations of violence against girls and adolescents, including sexual violence, seeking an effective and timely coordination. This included setting up a network of young women to promote the prevention of violence against women and girls

Building protection tools

We worked with a group of 15 young women between the ages of 13 and 17 to apply social innovation methods to find solutions that can help prevent and eliminate and all forms of violence against women and girls; and to strengthen personal protection tools.

The experiences and knowledge that the girls shared with us were key. The participants were able to co-create alternatives for the prevention of violence against women and girls. They were involved in the analysis of the problem and creation of solutions to tackle violence against women and girls from their visions and experiences.

The girls mapped out the risk zones in their communities, including institutions that they consider unsafe or dangerous, as well as the main gaps in precluding institutions to respond fast. With these insights, the girls came up with a platform for women in the community, to ensure their protection through a secure virtual app. They outlined the first prototype of a Community Women's Platform, making use of its basic technological tools.

Different teams scaled-up their idea by creating a portable device model connected by satellite technologies (IoT, Internet of Things) to an app. This in turn generates protection for women in violent situations. This device can be carried in many accessories (earrings, bracelets, watches, necklaces, etc.) and with a simple click, it generates an alert message to five key contacts when a woman is in danger.This app can also help women to identify danger areas in their community in real time. The first model of this prototype was built in the Female Hackathon of Satellite Technologies Limón in 2018.

Improving UN programming through collective intelligence

As we said before, in order to trigger a real transformation, we need to shake up the way we work. For us, this experience taught us the value of involving citizens and allow them to take an active part in the process of locally building solutions. Using social innovation tools also helped us to find substantive and precise information quickly!

The next challenge for our team is to assess the scalability and sustainability strategy of the projects. We want to make sure that we will be able to continue to adapt our processes and capacities to serve the needs of citizens. We will continue to find ways to make people the heart of our mission because our best shot at changing the world is to listen to what citizens have to say.