“Adapting CLD Processes to Covid 19 Brainstorm Session 3: Scenario Planning for Crisis Response”

Wednesday, June 17th at 10:30 am – 12:00 pm (EST)

Facilitators: Gunjan Veda (MCLD) and Nelly Mecklenburg (ISE) 

The Movement for Community-Led Development (MCLD) organized the third global call to continue the collective brainstorming around how to adapt programming to address the challenges posed by Covid-19 on June 17th, 2020. The focus of the session was conducting scenario exercises in order to problem solve potential challenges that organizations could face in the next three-six months. This call built on the reflections from the May 20th call, looking at programming adaptations for long-term implementation.

To learn more about scenario planning you can read this article.

Reflections from adapting to the medium and long-term

The second global call, on May 20th, looked specifically at programming adaptations for the next 6-10 weeks, as governments in some places began easing restrictions, as well as potential longer-term changes to strengthen CLD programming overall in light of emerging crises. Participants built on the four groups of barriers posed by Covid-19 to programming (introduced in the first call): limited access, inability to convene, disrupted procurement/service delivery, and shifting priorities/time obligations. Discussion focused on the importance of facilitating connections between communities, civil societies, local governments, and donors, and holding actors accountable during this time; continuing to support community leaders who have more direct, immediate sense of needs in their communities; potentially reprioritizing activities to deal with secondary effects of COVID-19; and what CLD can do to help communities be more self-sustaining during crisis. 

Pascal Djohossou, the West Africa coordinator for the Movement for Community-led Development, spoke of the need for social solidarity during this time of lockdowns and physical distancing and the need to work collaboratively. Pascal also spoke about the necessity of using a holistic approach for implementing programming in the future. This would require a “transformative change” that would build the resilience of communities and allow them to have truly sustainable development. 

Introduction to Scenario Planning

An important process in the strategic planning toolkit, scenario planning is based on the premise that we are better at preparing than at predicting the future. Therefore instead of predicting future events or crises, in scenario planning participants identify and plan for the multiple effects that potential events can trigger. In this meeting, a brief scenario planning exercise was carried out to encourage collaborative strategizing and solutions-finding. Based on the discussions from earlier sessions, best, medium, and worst-case scenarios were created for participants to consider, looking at COVID-19 impacts three-six months into the future. These scenarios considered a variety of external factors including the pace of economic recovery, physical distancing and shutdown restrictions, public anxiety, and the status of government services/infrastructure. The four breakout groups each represented a different imaginary CLD organization, of varying size, structure, and sectoral focus. These groups considered the implications/manifestations of the different scenarios on key drivers for their respective organization’s programming, operations, and funding functions; as well as began to brainstorm possible solutions. 

Breakout Groups

Looking at the best, medium, and worst case scenarios, each breakout group operated as a different organization, with different focuses, sizes and processes. To learn more, you can listen to the descriptions of these four organizations below and read the notes from each breakout group.

Group A: Borno Youth Collective

Organization Description: This is a small organization, based in Northern Nigeria, that works with youth to support and empower Internally Displaced People and educate them on their rights, as well as provide essential services.  

Discussion: This group outlined how the core functions of the program could work across the three scenarios. In a best case scenario,.trainings and rights education can happen in larger groups, with some precautions (e.g. trying to maintain space between participants), whereas in a medium or potentially even worst case scenario, convening would be much more limited, with people able to meet outside, in smaller groups, for short periods of time only. Collective action is still very possible in best and worst case scenarios. They would need to be creative about exact locations, numbers, and approaches, but communities could continue mobilizing and thinking about both the short and long-term. They would also need to face the anxiety and mental health impacts that would linger. In a worst case scenario, collective action would be much harder. Even if some very limited convening is possible, the focus would be all on immediate needs. This would impair thinking long term and about other community needs. This state of emergency and disruptions to procurement would also mean communities would be forced to rely a great deal on outside actors, and wait for support from them.  Some of the ways this could be mitigated are specific to the scenario, such as remote learning via radio. But many of the solutions would be useful across all scenarios including working through neighborhoods or clusters, forming committees to liaise between the program and communities on specific topics, strengthening linkages between other service organizations and community structures. 

Group A Notes

^ Breakout group 1: Borno Youth Collective

Group B: Tu Salud en Tus Manos

Organization Description: This organization, which focuses on health and gender education, operates in three Latin American countries and has a small headquarters in the U.S.  

Discussion: This group focused on two of the four key drivers – training volunteers by staff and availability of grants and donations from US philanthropy. For training, the scenarios and associated actions were similar to Program A, including fewer people in training, remote training, lack of needed funding and staff, and fear, meaning that less meaningful training would be possible. With regards to funding, in the best case scenario, more money and new additional creative sources of funding would be available as a result of COVID-19. The associated action would be to implement innovative new programming using the additional funding and ensure accountability and responsibility for all of the funds. In the medium case scenario, there would be more restrictions on funding and some would be dropped meaning there would be a bit of funding crunch. The action to address this would be to identify new sources of funding, including through ex-pat and diaspora communities, and to work creatively to save money and navigate funding criteria. The worst case would be serious funding cuts because donors are not providing it or because the organization is unable to fulfill funding obligations. In this case they may have to make due with skeleton funding and infrastructure, and/or consider alternate activities. One of the most important parts of this is to be open with volunteers and realistic with the community. 

Group B Notes

^ Breakout group 2: Tu Salud en Tus Manos

Group C: The Listening Collective

Organization Description: This organization, with 200 staff total, works in 15 countries globally, supporting communities to address poverty, hunger and governance issues.

Discussion: The best case scenario for this program is one in which volunteers  and community leaders have been trained/are prepared to act independently during this time; commodities are not experiencing inflated prices, there are reliable communication and information channels; and funding and other contracts are flexible. In a medium case scenario, training of leaders/volunteers is ongoing but conducted virtually, relying on communication that can be irregular or unstable. There might be some funding, although not enough to address all the needs that arise. The worst case scenario would see low levels or no training, an inability to communicate and no infrastructure to establish it, inflexible funding; and the risk of fraud. This would impair any kind of programming. Solutions identified involved preparing people at every level of the organization. This could entail strong communications and protocols for how to respond to emergencies, including adopting digital platforms and making them accessible at community level; being proactive with deeper training of volunteers/community leaders so that they can work even during a crisis and the community could be more resilient in the case of crisis communication blackout; promoting domestic resources for programming instead of being as dependent on foreign funding; and having stronger relationships to establish emergency structures in conjunction with governments. 

Group C Notes

^ Breakout group 3: the listening collaborative

Group D: ComCan Initiative

Organization Description: This organization, operatess in 45 countries across a wide range of contexts. It has a large portfolio of both humanitarian and development programs with a staff of 3,000 and a 400 million USD annual budget. 

Discussion: As a much bigger organization, this group focused on slightly different factors. Rather than looking at how specific aspects of programming and operations may play out (given the range of programming), it considered the challenges to maintaining trust, communication, and cooperation between local communities, local partners, and large-scale INGOs such as ComCan during the COVID crisis, noting the potential for long-term damage to its ability to continue operating. Needs, attitudes and expectations may have changed in the crisis and it is important to work out with the communities whether and how the programming should be resumed. Moreover, we tend to focus on planning for the worst case scenario, whereas easing back into moderate and best case scenarios also requires a similar effort and more informed decision-making. The group considered short- and medium- term solutions to combat the uncertainty inherent in suspension of activities that leave communities feeling abandoned. It is important to not assume that we know how the community is feeling or that we can resume where we left off. These potential solutions included boosting the frequency of communication with partners on the ground; assessing key stakeholders who can play leadership roles; and increasing support for community or locally-led efforts. Where procurement, M&E, and program activities are threatened, ComCan must realistically evaluate its ability to ensure continuous service delivery in all three areas, and be prepared to make drastic changes to its current alliances, methodologies, and project plans in order to ensure ongoing engagement with the community.

Group D Notes

^ Breakout group 4: ComCan Initiative

Working Group 

In the May call, 80% of participants expressed a desire to set up a working group to pursue the ideas that emerged from the global calls. In the interim, a smaller group of participants met to begin to consider what a Working Group could look like and brainstorm its focus. A draft skeleton Terms of Reference (TOR)  was discussed that suggested a few areas for the proposed Working Group to pursue to support the calls and systematize learning from them. This includes applying qualitative methods to transform anecdotes into evidence, building on select ideas and translating them into actionable solutions, and producing advocacy and cross-learning tools. This TOR is open for comments and inputs here. Those who decide to join the Working Group will refine the goals and activities. This is meant to be a short-term working group (3 months to start) with tangible outputs. Those interested can add their name in the TOR.