The challenge of international cooperation in the context of travel restrictions is to assess the situation on the ground, to get an understanding of the context and current situation of partners without on-site presence.
In remote work, many sensory perceptions are missing. For example, it is impossible to observe and experience the partner organization with its status symbols, its physical building and surroundings, its atmosphere and staff, or to compare it to other organizations in the same city and country. Similarly, it is hardly possible to observe partners in their everyday environment and their interaction with colleagues or with outsiders, nor is it possible to experience the customs and culture in the partner country.
The lack of such immediate and direct observations can lead to (partially) wrong assumptions of the partner’s context, misinterpretations of situations and, ultimately, lower quality of results (e.g. pre-assessments, conceptualization of project activities, or project evaluations). It might even be the cause of unintended negative effects, as decisions are taken based on incomplete or inaccurate information.
How to adequately assess needs, evaluate and interpret information correctly, interact at the right level, and connect with the products and recommendations from a distance?
For initial orientation, good project documentation is more important than ever: in addition to meaningful past field visit reports, expert reports and meeting minutes, management documents such as actor analyses or capacity development strategies are essential.
Regular contact through the preferred channels of the partners – be it email, calls or video conferences – is crucial.
Depending on the context, additional multimedia information sources can be produced, such as:
- videos of a laboratory, made by partners following a pre-defined guide. These can, in turn, be used as a basis for evaluation interviews.
- a factory visit filmed by a local professional team with interviews of employees as input for a Calidena workshop.
It is even more helpful than in face-to-face cooperation to bring someone from the partner country into the team, be it a local staff member from the project or additional local experts / consultants. These individuals should be included early on in the conception of a measure, e.g. through a peer consultation to prepare an event or in the drafting process of an inception report of an evaluation.
Local employees can:
- report regularly on the current situation in the country;
- function as the “mouthpiece” for the project team on the spot;
- represent PTB in physical meetings;
- relay sensitive information which would not be shared via email.
In order for a local employee to be able to fulfill such expectations, trust is key. Thus, local employees need to be experienced, unbiased and well-qualified, if they are asked to support the project in a way which clearly goes beyond “just” administrative support.