By Isabela Souza
As my grandmother used to say: ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. For the international development community, the need to work remotely due to the pandemic has challenged the core of our operational model. With my grandmother’s voice at the back of my mind, I have had to draw upon all the creativity and all the technology available in order to engage with stakeholders remotely. It was a steep learning curve. There was and there still is a lot of frustration, but also surprisingly good results. Working with colleagues in London via Zoom, reaching out to countries in Africa via WhatsApp and collaborating with video-editors and translators in Brazil via the cloud have all been a part of this process.
For a long time, I have been an advocate for more engaging methods to replace PowerPoint presentations. For the last decade, flip charts, post-its, colourful pens, creative picture cards and even a box with random objects have been an important part of my facilitator’s kit. So much so that, when traveling, I would dispatch a separate suitcase containing materials for workshops.
It should come as no surprise, then, that panic was my first reaction when COVID-19 arrived in the UK last year and I had to put aside my facilitator’s kit at the back of the cupboard. The tools I used simply don’t work in a virtual environment. The prospect of going back to using PowerPoint was so mortifying that it forced me to get out of my comfort zone and look for alternative solutions. There was no option but to adapt.
I revamped my office, exchanged my old laptop for a new computer with two monitor screens to make screen sharing is much easier. I even managed to get a white board to act as a flip chart and made a secondary camera with my mobile attached to the white board on a telescopic arm. This way I could at least still use my colourful pens for group facilitation and teaching. Last, but not least, as a true believer in Murphy’s law, I also got a super-duper internet broadband plan, with a second broadband plan as a back-up.
All that change made me wonder, what if I can find another way to capture data and communicate the results of monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) in a different way? The long reports that are common in this field are often just skimmed and get shelved without much action on the rich information that is hidden within their many pages. Luckily for me, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) was looking to innovate its MEL practices. Luckily for them, they could count on us at INTRAC as their semi-independent MEL support unit.
When the pandemic started, WFD was in the middle of their African Liberal Network Women’s Leadership Programme. As with all the training at the time, the face-to-face programme had to move into the online world. They had been collecting feedback from participants via standard surveys, but they wanted to probe participants’ experience of the transition more deeply and to have their input on the direction of the programme going forward. Our solution was to ask participants to film themselves in asynchronous velfies (video selfies) answering a set of questions we sent in advance. The end product is a 10 min video combining all participants’ answers.
Adele Poskitt, Head of Multi-Party Office, WFD
The idea of capturing the participants feedback via velfies was both an obvious thing to do, but also a big step into the unknown for us. I found Isabela’s willingness to “learn-by-trying” approach just what we needed to realise our ideas. In addition to a video which really captures the different personalities and reflections to the programme, Isabela provided an excellent Sense Learning analysis. We now have a feedback product that can have multiple uses and audiences, as well as some insightful learning from our Women’s Leadership Programme.
The advance of technology has given us the many tools we have today. Yet, despite having all this technology at our fingertips, it is easy to fall into the habit of using the same tools we have always used.
Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation, WFD
The feedback we gathered through reporting was often dry and difficult to put into context. Shifting to a visual format gave these women a voice to share their experience in their own words, resulting in much more compelling and useful stories.
The boxes below present some of the advantages and disadvantages we found in capturing participants’ feedback via asynchronous videos (instead via online surveys).
- Answers in video were richer and deeper compared with answers in previous written surveys.
- The video format brings stories to life and transmits emotions difficult to get across in written form.
- Artificial intelligence helps to speed up and keep translation and subtitles costs down
- Cloud environment (such as Dropbox) makes it possible to collaborate with video-editors in countries with lower exchange rate and helps keep the costs down.
- MEL feedback becomes a non-extractive activity, where participants also get something out of it.
- Participants received a velfies guide with tips about self-recording.
- The process of providing feedback was also an opportunity for participants to practice speaking to camera.
- Participants received feedback on their videos and how they could improve it in the future.
- Videos have multi-use and the material can be used beyond MEL, such as communications.
- Shorter videos (30 sec to 1 min) can be extracted and used in social media.
- People remember 22 times more with video than when data is given via a text.
- We believe that the messages in this feedback video are more memorable than in a report.
- Variable image and audio quality of different participants, because they did not always follow instructions.
- The costs and time involved in engaging with participants, video-editing, translation and subtitles are higher than in written surveys.
- MEL specialists often do not have video editing skills, and outsourcing costs might prove prohibitive.
- Resistance from those averse to change, as with any new practice.
Even though video has been used in evaluations and there is a vast literature base about participatory video evaluations (PVE), using video for more mundane and day-to-day tasks of MEL – such as collecting feedback – is not widely done. I hope that this feedback video inspires other practitioners and donors to explore new ways of carrying out MEL, making it more creative and useful to all involved.