Published on October 19, 2021

Thinking outside the box Innovation Challenge "For more informality data"

How many young people have jobs in the informal economy? What is the kind of jobs they have? Where are these jobs located? Do these young people have children? These are the type of questions that should be answered to design public policies and services aimed at this population group. Informal youth work is a pressing issue, since 7 out of 10 young people in Ecuador, between 18 and 29 years old, are in this situation, which was aggravated by the pandemic. In order to find a digital solution, which allows to collect quality and periodic information on young people in a situation of informal employment, an innovation challenge was organized in a creative way and considering young people as its main user.


Perspectives to define the guidelines of the challenge

The first step taken in the implementation of the challenge was to hold a start-up workshop with young people, public institutions, civil society organizations and agencies of the United Nations system to co-design the guidelines for the challenge. A multiplicity of actors met to discuss three topics:

Identify the information needs from different actors

“Without data you cannot generate effective policies (…), and informality remains invisible as a social issue. We want to just work, and have an income, but if we dig deeper, it is relevant to understand what kind of work." Young partipant

Delimit the scope of solutions to collect data

 "One of the biggest problems in the case of data collection for vulnerable population is the lack of Internet connection. If a digital tool will be developed it should allow to collect data offline." Civil society organization

Gather the expectations and incentives to use the platform by the different users

“By its own characteristic, informality is not in any registry, and therefore, to be attractive for a young informal worker to get register there should be an incentive. (…) If registration could put my job and my income at risk, why report about it? Why would I want to do it? " Public institution

The value of this workshop lies in the fact that the basic guidelines of the challenge were defined along with various participants through a collaborative process, obtaining the following result: we are looking for a solution that has a sustainable management with interoperable data, that provides information to different user profiles with a user-friendly design and that protects the user's personal information.


Once the challenge guidelines were defined, each of the stages of the project were addressed. The first phase, called “Laboratory of Ideas,” used “design thinking, “ which focuses on the challenges faced by the user and on empathy. This method is key to ensuring that the user's needs are included in the design. In a two-day workshop, the enrolled teams learned about the problem, sketched the solution, and prioritized their ideas. On the first and second days, the teams were invited to think about their solutions “outside the box”:

  • Beyond surveys: the objective was to collect data from a digital solution; thus the design of this platform should recognize existing connectivity barriers, limited access to digital devices and digital illiteracy of users.      
  • Beyond an “extractivist” relationship: we wanted to ensure that the solution will be useful for young people and that they can have access to the available information about youth informality. The focus will be on young people as the main users and not only as the source of information.      
  • Beyond “restrictive” management models: to propose a management model supported by an ecosystem of actors that ensures that the data is a public good.      

In total, 39 solutions were collected from 80 interdisciplinary teams enrolled, mostly made up of young people.

In the next phase, called ' Prototyping my Idea' the three finalists were assisted in the process of developing their ideas through talks, tutorials, group review sessions and validation sessions by young people. The most important part of the mentorship process for the prototype’s design was to help the teams in creating the website navigation map or a preview version of the proposed website. Additionally, talks were held to address the following issues: licensing and open data, model and management of data and applications offline, architecture, software, and user experience UX.

The importance of open innovation processes, such as innovation challenges lies in recognizing that a better designed and thought-out solution can be obtained in a participatory manner, especially by including the actors directly involved in the challenge, such as young people. By openly sharing that we are working on developing a solution to collect data, we appeal to the benefits of collective intelligence, which allows to have a more comprehensive and targeted solution built on a diversity of opinions and participation.

We want to tell you about the results obtained from the challenge and our lessons learned, do not miss our second blog!    


A special thanks to the Datalat and OpenlabEC team: Susana Cadena, Francisco Silva, Julio López, Daniel Vizuete and Margarita Yépez for the inputs.

 All images in this post are taken from Canvas.

This effort is part of the interagency project " Expanding the social protection system for young women and men in the informal economy " executed by the International Labor Organization (ILO), UN Women and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), with funding from the Joint Fund for the SDGs .

The innovation methodology was organized together with Datalat and OpenLabEc .