On Wednesday the 9th of September, the Dynamic Accountability Community of Practice convened a session titled ‘A Digital Dilemma: How to Ensure Accountability and Inclusion in times of COVID-19’. Over 50 participants attended the session, and included speakers from Innovation4Change, UN Women, Fundacion Karisma, Integrity Action, and TechSoup.
During the session, the panel posed questions for participants. While these are questions that we all might have been wondering ourselves, having the space to openly discuss these issues enabled participants to further reflect and share. The questions include:
- Deepta Naha, Innovation4Change: How do we ensure that the community owns the project we’re engaging with them on?
- Lucia Martelotte, UN Women: How can we include and make a more open internet and develop activities to engage communities with more transparency in the future?
- Carolina Botero, Fundacion Karisma: How can we create tech solutions to be used in places where there is tech but access is the issue? How do we make it reliable and sustainable?
- Isabelle Kermeen, Integrity Action: Do you think that digital tools can ever be fully inclusive unless we combine them with offline efforts? Should we do digital at all if it cannot be done in an inclusive way?
- Chris Worman, TechSoup: How can we learn and take advantage of what we know?
Notes were taken during the discussion, and you can find them here. The conversations offered interesting takeaways – so, to explore “what’s next?” – we collated the thoughts, recommendations, best practices and suggestions from our participants. Below are some highlights from our conversation!
Staying in touch has been more difficult – but there are ways!
Physical distancing compounded with unreliable internet connections, vulnerable groups feeling unsafe in digital spaces, lack of access (skills, physical access, gender barriers, etc) to technological tools and many other obstacles have all posed as challenges for meaningful stakeholder engagement. However, CSOs are finding reasonable workarounds to continue meaningful communications with the people that they work for.
For example GEYC, an organisation that works on enabling the environment to increase digital literacy among young people and youth workers as one of their areas of focus, have made sure that their digital tools are easy to use, mobile-friendly, simple and standardized, and avoids complex tools that will potentially exclude people in practice. When digital is not possible, offline mechanisms are available as well, such as paper surveys. GEYC also provides devices and other ways to engage with people, guaranteeing that everybody can participate.
Another example comes from EDUCO where they are continuing communications with the people that they work for, and establishing different mechanisms to collect information suitable to each location’s context, such as suggestion boxes, emails. They are also identifying focal points in the field to complement areas where digital tools are not available, so communications with communities can remain flowing and meaningful.
Other organisations are also leveraging the resources available to them. In programmes where funders have not been able to accommodate the changes necessary to maintain engagement with program participants, organisations have been crowdsourcing supplies and resources or working with community members to volunteer their time, using words of mouth to engage the most vulnerable within the community.
Community-Driven Solutions are Key!
One of the potential solutions presented by another breakout group was to deepen community ownership when it comes to programmes, and how the digital space can be used to support and enhance community ownership. The group recognised that these efforts can be very contextual and dependent on the community and project. Jumping immediately onto a technological solution might be alluring, but as organisations we need to listen properly.
Initiatives and solutions should always be led by the communities to enable stakeholders to carry it on with the resources they have available . Technological solutions should be tailored to communities’ needs, accessibilities, and context rather than be built centrally and applied as a one-size-fit-all. Furthermore, organisations who seek to implement digital solutions need to continuously enable people who they work with and for to be able to choose the technology and engagement types that they need, provide spaces for participants to be acquainted with technology, and perhaps even provide technological equipment (mobile phones, softwares, etc) whenever possible.
Moreover, organisations need to think about sustainability and impact of programmes after it ends when using tech like a mobile phone monitor or implement a project. Organisations should support communities to access data or harness this technology, produce data that can be shared with the community, and actually share back the data, research and results of projects. Closing the feedback loop when communities are producing data is important – and so too is the community’s right to the use of their data. Furthermore, in a world where data insights are rapidly equating to power, communities should be the owner of their own data.
The Internet is Not Immune to Shrinking Civic Space
Many participants also pointed out the digital solutions are not magic wands. Besides the multitude of barriers that exist for communities and stakeholders to access digital solutions, the digital space itself is shrinking. Many governments monitor online activities of civil society organisations, put up firewalls to limit access, and have the ability to remove unwanted data from their online spheres. While advocacy for an open and free internet is part and parcel of many CSOs’ work, when it comes to engagement – we cannot solely rely on digital means, but we must complement it with offline engagement to fully be accountable and dynamic.
Overall, some great examples of best practices and recommendations have emerged, but the dilemma in ensuring accountability with limited accessibility cannot be solved over a 90 minute conversation. As dynamic accountability practitioners, we are always on the lookout for more interesting thoughts and positive experience for how organisations can better their practices when engaging all stakeholders and put people at the core of decision-making processes. If you or your organization have spearheaded good/successful practices – please do not forget to share it with us in our Dynamic Accountability Community of Practice Google Group!