As the world continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and begin recovery, we have the opportunity to decide what society we want to rebuild. COVID-19 has added to existing inequalities and created new ones, hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest. So, what will the ‘new normal’ look like?
The UNDP Egypt Innovation for Development Lab (I4D) took on the challenge of rationalizing the new normal through an internal foresight exercise for the office. Our objective was to understand better how the work environment inside and outside the office will change as we slowly begin returning to the office.
We wanted to gather insights and anticipate the new norm of UNDP Egypt post-COVID-19. We looked into issues such as: how to respond to new global and national priorities emerging from COVID-19, how UNDP Egypt should integrate the digital transformation, and how to improve the overall working environment at UNDP Egypt.
As a first step, we had an all-staff sensemaking workshop to map the status quo, the challenges we faced, and continue to face as a result of COVID-19 work modalities, coping techniques with the new norm, and potential best practices that can be adopted.
UNDP Egypt colleagues agreed that the Novel Coronavirus brought with it both threats and opportunities (see Figure 1). They observed that communities globally and locally had shown resilience. For example, service providers are switching to digital transactions, which can be more comfortable for some but marginalizing for others.
We mustn’t sit back and let this avalanche of change happen. We can’t let devastation settle on people already struggling with poverty, unemployment, the effects of climate change, and other problems. We must ensure that the virus does not reverse the progress the country has achieved as a result of the recent reforms nor the achievements of our programme. Instead, we need to advocate for a national dialogue about the future we want post-pandemic and how we can work together to secure it.
The information gathered in the exercise was categorized into challenges and opportunities in: a) Programming and Resource Mobilization; b) Digitalization; c) Field Work; d) Workflow.
As a result, we could identify opportunities that are worth developing. New funding windows emerged, giving room for innovation and reorientation of existing and new projects. The project managers identified a need for including innovation in the design of every new and existing project. Digital transformation and new digital tools appeared necessary for businesses to continue operating and exploring new markets. Subsequently, strengthening internal communication also meant increased productivity and interagency collaboration promised more comprehensive approaches for addressing emerging challenges.
The foresight anticipated that some changes would ease once the virus is controlled, such as wearing a mask at all times and physical distancing, while other changes will last longer and maybe even forever. For example, many businesses, including ours, might shift to telecommuting as the new normal and thus impact social dynamics within the office and with clients.
To make sense of the information gathered during the sensemaking workshop, a follow-up futures wheel workshop will start building the scenarios and understand their direct and indirect implications on the UNDP Egypt office and its partners.