By Rachel Bowden with Juliette Myers and Anise Waljee.
I spent most of last week in a hipster co-working space in Berlin, designing a training course with a team of Syrian development professionals. Next week, the team will lead the training from Berlin, over the internet, in Arabic. Facilitators in Syria will help to guide participants through activities and take the lead through the inevitable internet black-outs.
I drafted the course using the terms of reference, background research with staff and the pool of resources available through EENET. In Berlin, we worked through it together: day by day, session by session, activity by activity. We took it in turns to lead, talked a lot, and made endless notes and changes. At the end of the week the course was transformed – activities, sessions, days restructured in a way that somehow made sense to us all. During the course participants will take a similar role: trying out and adapting activities to use with children, caregivers and formal education staff in North East Syria.
So what? You might ask.
Well, this way of working – using remote platforms to develop and deliver content collaboratively using a blend of face-to-face and online training and facilitation methodologies – may quickly become the norm. In addition to delivering powerful benefits around collaboration and capacity building, such approaches have cost benefits too. The cost of a week’s consultancy, including flights, accommodation, hotel expenses, time spent on a scoping visit, involving many stakeholders and participatory activities, followed by report writing compares unfavourably with a model which allows those same stakeholders to work together to evolve course content over 3-4 days, a process from which partnerships are strengthened and everyone learns and builds their capacity to deliver the content in the next phase.
Last week at EENET’s annual general meeting we had a lively discussion around our environment policy, which brought home the necessity of rethinking our ways of working in light of the global climate emergency. We agreed that flying around the world to ‘do consultancies’ cannot be the default way of working. We committed to exploring alternative and innovative approaches to support education stakeholders, partners and clients as they develop more inclusive education systems and approaches.
In my current project, the conflict in Syria leaves little choice than to work remotely. It ‘forces’ us to work in a way that is, in many ways, more desirable than ‘business as usual’. Humanitarian and development work is too often planned like a factory assembly line following the programme cycle, with ‘technical’ expertise brought in as an ‘input’ at isolated stages. Managers become administrators, removed from the expertise of practitioners or researchers in their area of work. As technical consultants we might rail against these established practices but it is hard to change them.
But now, around the world, people are rethinking their ways of working: whether due to the increasingly incandescent disaster that is human-driven climate change or the more recent outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). This is an opportunity to develop and implement better ways of working and deliver greater, more sustainable impact that decolonises existing power relations. For instance, consultants with technical expertise that is lacking at country level can work closely in a coaching relationship with partners to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate projects so that everyone is more engaged and expertise is developed, shared and capacity is steadily built.
EENET has considerable experience with social networks, video-based training courses, websites, WhatsApp groups, webinars and newsletters, and has long been committed to building education stakeholder capacity. There are emerging examples of global good practice of remote working, particularly in humanitarian contexts. Teachers working in Kakuma Refugee Camp, for example, are able to access mentoring and real-time support from global experts on the challenges they face in teaching day to day. We are keen to document more experiences like these and explore innovative approaches for working remotely.
If you have approaches to share, please get in touch. We would love to help other organisations to access more evidence-based information about alternatives to ‘business as usual’, to help improve project impact and redress north-south imbalances.
Like climate change, Coronavirus reminds us of the need for local and global action. Individuals must take personal responsibility for their actions, community and governments must guide and lead. International exchange – of science, of practice – remains vital. Now, more than ever, we need to define transnational communities and ways of communicating.