17 December 2020
By Dr. Nguyen Thu Ha, Hanoi National University of Education 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the world and the Blue Communities (BC) programme has certainly been impacted as well. While Coronavirus has brought many challenges to BC Vietnam, it has also created opportunities for research to improve moving forward.

In terms of challenge, the pandemic has kept Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE) researchers from fieldwork, delaying projects planned by weeks and months, in some cases. Fortunately, Vietnam has a good control of the virus and the delay did not last too long. In particular, Project 6 team members had conducted fieldwork to collect data, once local restrictions had lifted in May 2020, after 2 months of delay, Project 3 and the Early career researchers Network (ECRN) project had finished piloting fieldwork in November 2020, after several months of delay. These trips were approved by the HNUE ethics committee after considering the safety conditions. 

In terms of opportunities, the pandemic has brought a spirit of collaboration to researchers. For example, Project 2 and 6 shared BC's research approach and collaboration in a joint workshop for young scientists at the Hanoi National University of Education, which may inspire future interdisciplinary research and collaboration between young scientists of diverse fields of science within the institution.

Additionally, COVID-19 gave BC researchers a chance to reimagine what is possible moving forward and consider new ways of doing things that will be better for the BC programme. During the early times of COVID-19, instead of conducting an attractive capacity building workshop in Indonesia, the Project leaders and cross-country participants of Project 12 adapted to the outbreak by changing to a virtual workshop. Before COVID-19, shifting everything online would not have been easy and the pandemic has given us a chance to improve how we respond to challenges going forward. 

During the COVID-19, our stakeholders also faced opportunities and challenges. Before the pandemic, tourism has generated several job opportunities and raised local people's income in the study site Cu Lao Cham, Hoi An. During lockdown, there were no visitors to the island and their income decreased significantly. Therefore most people decided to return to their traditional jobs, such as fishing, net making or forest leaf collecting to provide local supplies, making them independent from the mainland. Although the local peoples' income decreased significantly, they started appreciating the value of nature and environmental conservation which might provide an opportunity for the rise of 'slow tourism' after the pandemic.  

This last year helped us to realize that developing community engagement is a key part of our project progress. Although capacity-building efforts among BC Vietnam teams are ongoing, there has been limited attention and participation from stakeholders. With support from the Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area, the BC research team needs to develop a more detailed stakeholder engagement plan. This includes: how to communicate with different groups; managing the contact details for relevant stakeholders; discussing the key perceptions, risks and challenges with communities, and developing options for solutions. 

During and after the pandemic, there will need to be changes in the way we interact with communities. Although Vietnam has had good control of the pandemic and we did not meet so many difficulties in conducting individual interviews and group discussions in the field, we need a plan for other virtual activities, such as online workshops or developing social media networks. We understand that local stakeholders are always the experts on their own lives and needs and will be better placed to advise on how to engage. The researchers need to work with them on what means of communication they prefer and with which available technologies they are comfortable.

To return to Blue Communities News December 2020, please click here.
  • Project 6 data collection (May 2020)
  • Project 3 and Early Career Researchers Network project fieldwork (October 2020)
  • Project 3 and Early Career Researchers Network project fieldwork (October 2020)
  • The peace of Cu Lao Cham after Covid 19 (July 2020)
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