18 June 2020
By Dr Isabel Richter, University of Plymouth

In 2020, Project 12 activities have been intensely (and unsurprisingly) affected by COVID19. Here we explain how we tried to make the best out of a situation in which one activity after the other had to be adapted, postponed or cancelled.

I remember a phone call at the beginning of February, the time when a few countries were starting to close their borders, in which my colleague Dr Elizabeth Gabe-Thomas and I were wondering if the plans to visit our partners in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam in March would potentially be interrupted half way through due to the new virus outbreak.

Just one week later, it became clear that we would not be able to travel at all and that all the planned workshops, data collections and field visits would have to be called off or be held remotely. After the first moments of disappointment and frustration - mainly because we were forced to remain in a very cold and rainy Plymouth instead of embracing the warm Southeast Asian climate with our lovely colleagues - we knew it was time to get creative.

Remote Capacity Building

Together we redesigned the workshop, which was planned to be held in person with many of our partners in Java, so that it could take place remotely. The main challenge that struck us was how to realize capacity building, a concept that thrives from direct interaction, co-creation and learning-by-doing, in a remote setting.

Capacity building is defined as “building abilities, relationships and values that will enable organisations, groups and individuals to improve their performance and achieve their development objectives” (UNEP, 2002, p. 11). For the benefits of capacity building to reach all participants co-creation and mutual learning is key. Capacity building and co-creation typically involve a high degree of skill-based and practical learning and sharing, requiring a high degree of interactivity, which traditionally takes place face-to-face.

Remote capacity building workshop

The aspired outcomes of the workshop were the establishment of standardized techniques to build future scenarios with stakeholders from our case study sites and subsequently, translate them into coherent narratives about the future. These narratives can be used as tools to support the communication about sustainable development within the local scope of our focus regions.

To realize the outcomes we expected from a face-to-face workshop, we had to consider behavioural, structural and technical challenges and adaptations, for example, appropriate time management, supporting materials, interactive breaks and special equipment.

Despite the downsides of connecting via Zoom, such as unreliable bandwidth, we were able to identify several advantages of remote capacity building. Having to rearrange this meeting into a new format under the time pressure helped us to grow together as a group; extending it over three days instead of one helped us to deepen the learning outcome. Also coping with problems during the meeting made us flexible and adaptive.

Because we thought that it would be wonderful for other people to read about what we learned, we decided to write about it as a group and our joint paper on remote capacity building is currently under review.

Webinar on Behaviour Change

An additional activity P12 was involved in was a webinar on intervention planning for behaviour change for the WWF in Malaysia. During the 2019 field visit in Sabah, a close relationship evolved between Blue Communities and the WWF as a key stakeholder in the area, which led to the request for some input from psychology research. The aim of the webinar was to support the WWF with some general scientific insights on intervention planning and environmental communication as well as some specific advice on ongoing and planned campaigns.

It was a great success and more people joined than expected with over 70 lines dialling in at peak time. I learned a lot about the great job the WWF is doing in Sabah and we are looking forward to hear more about their campaigns tacking shark fin consumption, illegal wildlife trade and plastic pollution.

Project 12 introduction

WWF webinar

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