Kara Reeve, RTI Urban Governance and Resilience Specialist, and Martin Phiri, RTI Governance Specialist, also contributed to this blog.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused global disruptions and changed the way we live and work. Many adjustments have been required and the importance of good governance and transparency is even more crucial now. RTI made swift adjustments to the training and capacity building activities under the Accountable Governance for Improved Service Delivery (AGIS) project in Zambia to comply with social distancing and other government restrictions.
AGIS—funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and led by Crown Agents—partners with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of General Education (MoGE) to increase transparency and accountability in the delivery of health and education services. As part of this program, RTI is working in close partnership with the MoH and MoGE to address capacity gaps in public financial management at the provincial and district levels, especially in the areas of internal controls, procurement, internal audit. AGIS works in Lusaka and Kafue districts in Lusaka Province, Chipata and Petauke districts in Eastern Province and Chinsali and Mafinga districts in Muchinga Province.
Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, the project team had designed and was delivering an in-person training series to build the capacity of government staff in procurement, internal controls, and internal audit. To comply with government regulations and social distancing requirements, the project quickly pivoted to a virtual training series using the Zoom platform. Our adaptations and learning are described in more details below.
Successful Virtual Trainings Have to Be Well Planned and Creatively Adapted
While there are concerns that moving trainings online would not have the same results as in-person training, our experience showed that, with careful and creative planning, they can be successful.
Our virtual training enabled a broader reach compared to in-person trainings and generated a high level of engagement. For the period of April to September 2020, over 600 people were trained in the three provinces, compared to 250 the project was targeting to train in person. There was also a high level of commitment from the facilitators drawn from the public and private sectors as well as support from top government officials such as Provincial Education Officers and District Education Board Secretaries in the MoGE and the Provincial Health Directors and District Directors of Health in the MoH.
We conducted a virtual pilot training in Lusaka with teachers (schools had been closed because of COVID-19) and MoGE administrative staff. The pilot training covered procurement, internal controls, and internal audit themes. The first session of the pilot was devoted to walking participants through how to use Zoom, answering questions, and troubleshooting with the aid of a Zoom Introduction Cheat Sheet that we developed. The feedback from participants during the pilot was used to inform future roll-out such as changing the length of the training to meet participant needs and understanding the right amount of data bundles that we needed to provide to participants to ensure optimal internet access during training.
We carefully considered how to enhance participants’ experience and how to effectively stimulate discussion as we adapted the training. Sessions were designed to be interactive, providing opportunities for questions and answers via chat. The breakout room feature in Zoom proved to be effective for small group discussions. We also developed online quizzes which were deployed at the end of the day’s training. Top performers in the quizzes were recognized and applauded the next day of training. The online quizzes helped stimulate and sustain engagement as well as reinforce learning.
Post-training Evaluation Results Show Promise of Moving Virtual
About 500 participants completed an evaluation at the end of the training. Our goal was to learn more about what worked well and where improvements could be made.
Infrastructure: About 52 percent of participants connected to the training with their smartphones while the rest connected with iPads, laptops, or desktop computers. We evaluated adequacy of power supply and sufficiency of data provided to participants using a scale ranging from poor, fair, good to very good. Sixty-nine percent of participants rated adequacy of power supply during trainings as good or very good, with 30 percent rating it as poor or fair. The relatively good ratings of power supply were not surprising given that participants connected to the training from their offices or schools where power is relatively more stable. The stability of Internet connectivity largely depends on the availability of power supply. About 48 percent of participants rated the quality of internet connection during training as fair while 46 percent rated it as good or very good. We learned that in addition to providing the right amount of data, it is important to also target quality by using the most reliable vendors for a particular area. (Figure 1).