By Lily Mackow-McGuire & Belen Giaquinta Restless Development, August 3, 2020
Mikanto, young person from Madagascar
Young people are not usually trusted to lead by those in power. They are trusted to bring energy and passion and be the faces of campaigns or projects, but not necessarily to lead, design or often even actively contribute to development programs. However, young people and their communities must be able to exercise power to actively contribute to and lead development.
The Development Alternative is a group of organisations trying to change what it means to “do development”, where young people, communities and civil society truly lead, and are not just benefited, by change. We believe that community engagement and feedback are important dimensions of shifting power to enable youth-led change.
The Model for Change is a youth-led, tech enabled, community engagement approach to check on commitments by development actors delivering livelihoods programs in the community. We assess the progress of the Model for Change through quarterly “Model Review workshops”. This is a key moment in the implementation of the Model to hear first-hand from young people about their experiences with the program (i.e. what has worked well, what needs to be improved and what change volunteers would like to see), and provide an opportunity for them to suggest solutions for any challenges they identify.
Beyond collecting feedback, the Model Review workshop is a crucial moment for young people to hold the Development Alternative to account and help improve the relevance and effectiveness of the activities delivered.
What do you like about the Model for Change?
‘The fact that young people can be responsible at the community level, that they know they have power to contribute to development, that they bring changes with the practice of the change model and that they can freely express themselves and give their opinions.’
Young volunteer from Madagascar
Adapting our accountability feedback mechanisms
Due to COVID-19 and the consequential government restrictions, our typical in-person workshop was redesigned to collect feedback purely online. This resulted in a week-long online feedback workshop hosted on an interactive website. Each session aimed to gather volunteers’ feedback through different activities on the key areas of the Model: personal development goals, project monitoring, volunteer training and support. Activities were completed through mobile phones following instructions sent by facilitators, and made use of audio, video, online surveys, quizzes, presentations and social media, like Facebook or Whatsapp. For example, volunteers were asked to discuss key questions via Facebook Messenger or participate in individual interviews over the phone.
However, setting up a dynamic online workshop comes with its own set of challenges! To ensure the positive experience of young people and allow them to give their honest opinions, the process had to be safe and work around variable internet connectivity and data restrictions. The team used Google Sites to create a website that allowed volunteers to access pre-loaded resources from one place: stream videos and audio, view presentations, read handouts and more without needing to download content.
Two additional considerations were guaranteeing inclusion and opportunities for participation in feedback activities, and safeguarding against online risks. In response, the team trained young people on how to navigate the internet safely and how to use the interactive website and activities to give feedback, ahead of the workshop.
What did we learn through this adaptation?
The consortium learned that switching to an online feedback mechanism through the workshop had positive implications on the data quality captured. This is possibly due to young people having more time to reflect individually on their experiences and through different mediums. It was also easier to generate findings and gain more coherent data, which allowed the team to identify data trends easily and validate the feedback with volunteers more quickly.
Over 90% of volunteers found giving feedback through online games and activities just as interactive and meaningful. It also widened the participation and leadership opportunities from different partners and across the Development Alternative consortium.
In COVID-19 times, where our means of engagement and communication with constituents has drastically changed, collecting feedback through a digitalised and interactive workshop has allowed the Model for Change to continue to be led by the experiences and the voices of young people.
As a crucial step to close the feedback loop, and to maintain the enthusiasm and engagement build up, the Development Alternative will conduct additional workshops and consultations with young people, to validate findings and jointly identify solutions to the challenges found.
In sum, the Model Review workshop is more than an accountability checkbox exercise – it is a unique opportunity to make sense of what has worked and what needs to be improved from the perspective of young people themselves, who will be driving change not only in this program but in their communities at large.