To implement community workshops safely, 1to1 – Agency of Engagement employs wipeable surfaces for mapping.

Courtesy of 1to1 – Agency of Engagement

1. Use established tools when going remote

Like most businesses continuing with work while ensuring safe conditions, development practitioners went online – using and testing online platforms to communicate and run workshops. Although “there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction”, stated Rahul Sriviasta of Urbz, as we discussed his work in Dharavi, India, there has been great success running participatory workshops remotely.

After the first weeks of widespread remote working proved that internal and external communications were still operating, each of the organisations we spoke to were energised by the possibility offered by the many digital platforms available. They tested online survey forms, social media outlets, video conferencing programmes, smartphone to GIS mapping tools, and more. However, there was some resistance to adoption of new tools by the communities, and they discovered the most effective engagement tools were the ones communities were already using.

“We have found that existing platforms are the only way that people communicate because nobody wants to download a new app on their phone just to talk to us. … If it doesn't already exist, it's not going to happen,” said Jacqueline Cuyler of 1to1 – Agency of Engagement.

While it was proven that social messaging app groups were the best way of communicating, organising and maintaining critical engagement with residents, the following questions arose: Who has access to smartphones and data in these vulnerable communities? Are we reaching a broad audience?

Where Kounkuey Design Initiative would have previously provided food or care items at their community planning workshops prior to the COVID pandemic, it now offers data bundles. It estimates that 50 percent of the residents in Kibera have a smartphone and if they don’t, the initiative helps coordinate smartphone sharing.

“If anyone who we've identified doesn’t have a smartphone, we try and get them to someone who has a phone and also provide them a data bundle to participate,” said Vera Bukachi of Kounkuey Design Initiative.

2. Don’t underestimate low-tech safe solutions

While much of the work has gone online, each of the organisations we spoke with has continued to run face-to-face community workshops while employing necessary safety measures. 1to1 – Agency of Engagement summarised its lessons learnt when implementing community workshops safely:

  • Follow the latest WHO and local guidelines and provide the necessary equipment: face masks, hand sanitiser, hand washing facilities, etc
  • Remind participants of good COVID prevention and safety practices though posters and notice boards
  • Use wipeable surfaces and laminate everything, e.g., Use clear tablecloths over drawings or print drawings on vinyl for people to draw on, then sanitise.