A New Face-to-Face: FCM’s international capacity-building projects travel online during COVID-19

Since 1987, Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) international programming has helped Canadian municipal elected officials and staff share knowledge and build relationships with their counterparts in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.

Funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada (GAC), FCM’s peer-to-peer approach enables its global partners learn how to foster lasting economic development, empower local governments and encourage civic participation.

COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Shortly afterwards, Canada closed its borders to non-Canadians and banned non-essential travel. FCM was faced with a major challenge: how could an organization, whose modus operandi had been built on in-person, peer-to-peer training, continue to deliver world-class programming safely, without face-to-face contact, in a variety of contexts around the world?

  • Learn how PMI-LED used Debut, VideoPad and YouTube to provide targeted human resources training to partners in Burkina Faso, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire.
  • Find out how the Inclusive Municipal Leadership Program in Tunisia used Zoom to organize a major webinar on women’s leadership in crisis management in three languages.
  • Discover how the Jordan Municipal Support Project used cell phones and We Transfer to make videos to offer support for innovative solid waste management training.
  • How did the Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance in Ukraine use Zoom to strengthen training and host a successful program steering committee meeting?
  • Explore how PMI-LED made use of WhatsApp and Zoom to support three local governments to implement the national government’s emergency response provisions.

This page will be updated regularly to reflect the latest develops in the local government response to COVID-19 from FCM’s international programs.

Last updated: August 25, 2020.

 

Bolivia

Programming in Bolivia is delivered through Partnerships for Municipal Innovation – Local Economic Development (PMI-LED), a five-year capacity development program that seeks to increase sustainable economic growth at the local level by strengthening the capacity of selected municipal governments.

Bolivia has been hard hit by COVID-19 and the three municipal partners, Vinto, Montero and Pailón, have been among the most severely affected: at the time of writing this article all three municipalities are in total lockdown and have been placed in a “bubble”, which means travel to and from municipalities is prohibited. Economically, this has had a significant impact, as many people work in the informal economy in the three communities.

In February 2020, just before the onset of the virus, Canadian partners undertook a mission to Bolivia to support their local partners in the implementation of their demonstration project. Once the pandemic hit and in-person training was no longer an option, all of the Canadian partners in the program, i.e. Timmins (ON), Truro (NS) and Drayton Valley (AB), expressed the wish to consolidate the training virtually, and to find ways to overcome the significant connectivity issues in Bolivia.

The partners decided to use Zoom to establish regular meetings and deliver the subsequent virtual training. Zoom allows for language interpretation and a greater number of participants. It is also easy to use and some of the Bolivian partners were already familiar with the platform. Efforts were also made to use MS Teams; however, the platform did not function well with systems in use in some areas.

Information within the Bolivian municipalities is often shared via WhatsApp. The ubiquity of cell phones means it provides a useful adjunct to Zoom, and meetings can now be held for up to eight people. During these WhatsApp meetings, the Bolivians decided to seek support for help with the safe reopening of the municipal offices and the local economy. Most important was the need to support municipal staff and provide them with the training they needed to stay safe and contribute to reopening the economy.

Given the poor Internet access within the communities and the scarcity of home computers, it will be important to find a safe location for this training such as a hotel or a municipal building. FCM and PMI-LED have developed a series of guidelines around the training, including distancing, handwashing, sanitization of computers before and after the training, and possible locations. The Zoom training can only take place once Bolivia has relaxed its lockdown. Initial activities have therefore focused on supporting the three local governments to implement the Bolivian national government’s emergency response provisions.

Both sets of partners have commented on how useful it has been to have this regular communication channel. It enables more consistent support and monitoring, and has allowed for consolidation of work done previously within the program.

Takeaway: “More virtual activities – as an addition to regular programming – would help reinforce training and further strengthen relationships between partners.”

Burkina Faso - Côte d'Ivoire - Mali

Programming in Burkina Faso, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire is delivered through Partnerships for Municipal Innovation – Local Economic Development (PMI-LED), a five-year capacity development program that seeks to increase sustainable economic growth at the local level by strengthening the capacity of selected municipal governments.

The ongoing security situation in Burkina Faso and Mali has meant that all common program activities have taken place in Côte d’Ivoire. A cross-border economic corridor called Espace SKBO links the program participants from the three countries, and common activities have enabled successful technical and training missions from Canadian partners.

In September 2019, a Canadian consultant delivered in-person training to the three local government associations (LGAs)—the Association des Municipalités du Mali (AMM), the Association des Municipalités du Burkina Faso (AMBF) and the Union des Villes et Communes de Côte d'Ivoire (UVICOCI)—to strengthen their respective capacity to provide services to their member municipalities. Additional training for the three LGAs took place in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) in February 2020, including work human resources management and financial procedures and practices.

The pandemic led to all three countries closing their borders by March 22, 2020, so planned in-person support missions could not take place. Following email or WhatsApp contact with the director general and the national project coordinator of each LGA, it was decided to continue training online in a single area of common interest in which gaps had previously been identified: human resources management. Each LGA provided the name of one person to act as a point person for the training. Since Internet connections are not stable or reliable in the region, the Canadian consultant then contacted each of them via WhatsApp or IMO.

The consultant first shared a Word document of exercises relating to the training by email. The training recipients worked on the exercises for a week, during which time they were expected to collect information internally or discuss the exercise with their team. During this time, the consultant prepared an accompanying video, using two separate tools. The first was Debut, which allowed her to record the video and sound; the second was VideoPad, which enabled her to edit the video and integrate PowerPoint slides and images.

Once this was completed, the video was loaded to a private YouTube channel and the link shared with the three contact people. This helped avoid the need to transfer massive files and was the preferred way to share videos with the LGAs in the three countries. Once the initial exercise has been completed with the video support, all three LGAs have access to the same baseline information. This can be applied to their own individual requirements, and discussed during a bi-weekly joint meeting on Zoom. Prior to the first training session, the consultant with the support of FCM staff delivered a short introductory session on the platform (all of the online video guides were in English). Zoom has worked very well and there have been no problems in its use. Attempts were made initially to use MS Teams, but the connectivity was not good. This caused sound and video lags, and prevented the shared screen function for presentations from working.

Parallel to the training, the partners have created a WhatsApp group as a supporting tool to provide opportunities for exchanging and discussing the training. Through this channel, the participants can ask questions of the consultant or seek clarification about the exercises they have to do; they can also discuss aspects of the training that will be useful for the whole group.

Takeaway: “Recording the Zoom sessions may inhibit less confident participants from speaking.”

Cambodia

In Cambodia, the COVID-19 response assessment revealed deeper impacts economically rather than on health and safety in the four communities in which FCM works (Battambang, Poipet, Mongkul Borie and Serei Saophoan). Municipal staff cannot work from home, due to lack of equipment and poor broadband infrastructure, meaning local governments have not been able to provide ongoing services. The Partnerships for Municipal Innovation - Local Economic Development (PMI-LED) program is working with their implementing partners, the National League of Communes (NLC), to provide assistance to the local governments through the COVID-19 Immediate Response Initiative funding mechanism, so they can deliver information to the public about the safety and disease prevention.

Haïti

Despite concluding its activities in late March, the Haiti-Canada Municipal Cooperation Program – Phase 2 (PCM2) allocated funds to help its municipal partners respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

In the Les Palmes region, the support provided by PCM2 was organized in such a way as to take into account both the World Health Organization’s communiqué calling for hand-washing with soap and the presidential communiqué declaring the wearing of masks mandatory in all public places starting May 11.

PCM2 facilitated the purchase of the equipment needed to install hand washing stations (soap and water) in local markets in the communes of Petit Goâve, Grand Goâve, Léogâne and Gressier. At the same time, a public awareness campaign will be launched on the importance of preventing the spread of the virus. The mayors of the Les Palmes region will work with their respective municipalities’ citizens’ committees and with women’s organization La Coordination des femmes de la région des Palmes (KOFAREP) to get the information out.

PCM2 support will also make it possible to provide commune staff with masks to be distributed by the Community of Les Palmes Region Municipalities and the Administrative and Technical Department of the Les Palmes Region’s Communes (CMRP-DATIP).

Support provided to Port-au-Prince City Hall is intended to help it fulfil its duties with respect to the eight public schools in its jurisdiction. These schools accommodate 5,000 schoolchildren, most from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In this time of crisis and tenuous food security, City Hall has kept school canteens open despite closing the schools themselves, to continue providing children with a hot meal, which for some is their only meal of the day. To facilitate access to food for the most vulnerable people and to foster compliance with containment measures, City Hall, with the help of PCM2, will distribute food baskets to families of disadvantaged pupils. These baskets include 5.7 kg of rice, 2.7 kg of peas, 2.7 kg of corn meal, one 500 ml can of oil, two packs of spaghetti and two cans of sardines. The food will be distributed by Port-au-Prince City Hall.

Jordan

The Jordan Municipal Support Project (JMSP) is a five-year initiative to help Jordan’s local governments deliver municipal services more effectively through improved local governance, municipal services and solid waste management. A common theme running through these objectives is the promotion of social cohesion through inclusive community engagement.

The solid waste management component of the project aims to help Jordan’s municipalities address the cause of their waste problem, not just the symptoms. It is not just about receiving money to purchase new compactors or bins; this initiative aims to understand why communities are producing so much waste and litter, and enables the municipal governments to address the most immediate needs.

In 2019, a Fostering Sustainable Behaviour (FSB) manual was developed for JMSP with Jordan’s Ministry of Local Administration. The manual was an important reference tool to help municipalities raise awareness of the need for responsible solid waste behaviours within their communities. Kym McCulley, a specialist in community-based social marketing and volunteer consultant worked on the project, and was in Jordan providing training on the manual when the pandemic reached the country.

McCulley and her colleagues in Amman recognized the need to maintain the training focus, even though she had had to return to Canada and could not deliver in person. During their bi-weekly conference calls, the team decided to record short, three-minute videos designed to lead the training recipients through the manual and keep them engaged in the project. McCulley recorded the videos on her cell phone and then sent them via WhatsApp to her colleagues in Jordan. This was when she noticed the first technical glitch.

Despite Jordan’s highly developed telecommunications infrastructure, the transfer of the videos had created a lag in the sound, causing the lip movements to be out of sync with the sound. As the videos were to be subtitled and not dubbed, the feedback from the Jordanian partners was that this lag was disconcerting. The issue was resolved by simply changing platform: when sent via WeTransfer, the sound lag disappeared.

Much of the training in Jordan had focused on finding ways to help communities change their behaviours around waste generation and littering. McCulley realized that Canadian governments were going through a similar process of education around COVID-19, trying to change behaviour around hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing. She took photos of the billboards and props used by Alberta’s provincial government to reinforce COVID-19 messaging and added them to the videos.

The videos have proved to be an excellent way of maintaining engagement in the project and have become an additional support to the manual. They are something which the partners in Jordan can keep and refer back to whenever needed.

The next step will be to deliver training sessions with staff from the 12 Jordanian municipalities involved in the project; McCulley will deliver these via Zoom or MS Teams.

Takeaway: “The videos provided an excellent way of maintaining focus on the training. However, they only worked as well as they did because of the strong personal connections developed throughout the project. The earlier connections were vital.”

South Africa

In partnership with South African Local Government Association (SALGA), the Building Inclusive Green Municipalities (BIGM) program works in six municipalities of Eastern Cape Province. South African municipal staff are receiving technical assistance from their Canadian partners to strengthen their ability to render better municipal services that target the reduction of poverty, support local economic growth, adopt sound asset management practices and respond to climate change issues.

Nationally, the municipalities of Eastern Cape are among the most impacted communities by COVID-19. Based on the results of the COVID-19 impact assessment, the BIGM municipal partners have devised an action plan focusing their response efforts on several key areas. As BIGM works in predominantly remote and rural municipalities, the lack of equipment coupled with weak broadband infrastructure have been identified as the main reason impeding staff’s ability to work from home. The BIGM project is working to procure necessary equipment and tools to ensure reliable internet connectivity for local municipal partners.

The high density of formal and informal settlements surrounding urban areas in Eastern Cape means that the timely dissemination of information is critical in preventing the virus spread. In partnership with SALGA, the BIGM project team is assisting local South African municipalities with the development and dissemination of social and online messages on COVID-19 prevention strategies. In addition, with project’s assistance, the municipalities will be able to procure necessary hygiene and sanitation products.

To ensure the project’s continuity and assist municipal partners in their economic recovery efforts in the post-COVID reality, BIGM is developing a roster of online training resources. As the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women, a special consideration will given to the development of gender-sensitive training materials.

Concurrently with these efforts, throughout the quarantine measures and the country-wide lockdown in South Africa, project partners have been sharing best practices in emergency communications, preparedness and response.

Tunisia

The goal of the Inclusive Municipal Leadership Program (PLMI) is to ensure that citizens and elected officials have more influence over the management of local affairs in eight Tunisian municipalities. With technical support from local experts and Canadian municipal specialists, these municipalities strengthen their capacity to integrate gender into day-to-day management practices. In partnership with civil society, the municipalities provide women and the most vulnerable with more inclusive and gender-specific services.

PLMI also provides support to various national institutions to foster an environment that promotes the political involvement of women in the management of local affairs. The program is jointly implemented with the Centre international de développement pour la gouvernance locale innovante (CILG-VNG International).

Tunisia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been well-managed. Lockdown was imposed early and the national government started easing restrictions in May. Program activities inside the country can go ahead provided health and safety guidelines are respected, but Canadian partners cannot travel to deliver training; it is anticipated there will be no travel until January 2021 at the earliest.

Throughout lockdown, FCM and CILG maintained regular contact through emails, WhatsApp and Skype; Tunisia’s excellent telecommunications system meant there was little trouble in communicating directly with program partners in the country. Small-scale virtual meetings using Skype and WhatsApp were already held before the pandemic. Once the COVID-19 restrictions were applied, Zoom quickly became a popular and trusted platform in Tunisia. The Tunisian partners are generally less familiar with MS Teams.

Most of the conversations during the main months of lockdown (from March to June) revolved around planning and adapting existing program activities.

PLMI partners in Tunisia organized several Zoom webinars during the pandemic, which enabled greater participation. For example, on June 3, 2020, the United Nations, the Fédération Nationale des Villes Tunisiennes (FNVT) and the Réseau des femmes élues, a network of women elected officials, jointly organized the “Women Elected Officials and the Gender Response to COVID-19 in Tunisia” webinar.

Then, on June 10, PLMI and the Centre de recherches, d’étude, de documentation et d’information sur la femme (CRÉDIF) organized “Local Governance and Women’s Leadership: Roles and Good Practice in Crisis Management,” also via Zoom. A City of Gatineau representative gave a presentation during the webinar and the Canadian ambassador was among the participants. The platform’s simultaneous interpretation channels enabled speakers of Arabic, French and English to participate fully in both webinars. FNVT has also offered other training and live events to its members via Facebook, including a session on communications during a crisis.

PLMI staff also used Zoom to participate in the United Cities and Local Governments’ Capacity and Institution Building Working Group virtual annual meeting. The program director presented on the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations in local communities, and used the program as an example case. The language interpretation channel was available, as was the breakout room function. The platform worked well and participants were transferred automatically to their choice of breakout session, having selected the appropriate option at the time of registration.

In the coming months, PLMI will be offering a series of training sessions for women leaders from civil society groups, as well as other training and support to municipal councils and commissions. Given the easing of lockdown restrictions in Tunisia, most sessions will be delivered in person by local consultants and the project team in Tunisia. However, Canadian municipal experts will contribute and participate virtually through Zoom and other platforms, including pre-recorded videos.

It is clear that virtual participation in meetings and learning sessions are very different. These training sessions will be carefully planned and have well-defined learning objectives. Partners will monitor the results of these training sessions to assess their effectiveness.

Takeaway: “While virtual meetings can be very effective and might even help some people express their opinions with fewer inhibitions, there is a danger of overusing it and of creating Zoom fatigue. Meeting objectives and content should be well-planned and understood in advance.”

Ukraine

Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance (PLEDDG) is a six-year technical assistance project aiming to strengthen Ukraine’s municipal sector by increasing capacities in 16 Ukrainian cities to advance local democracy and economic development. PLEDDG strengthens local democracy by implementing an open government model and ensuring transparent and effective decision making by local government. It creates enabling conditions to develop and grow small and medium-sized enterprises, and supports decentralization and integrated development planning.

Ukraine has been moderately affected by COVID-19 but Ivano-Frankivsk, one of the oblasts (regions) in which the program operates, was significantly affected. A national state of emergency was declared on March 18, 2020, and all borders were closed on March 28.

Prior to the pandemic, online training was already being delivered via Webex. This older platform is slightly cumbersome but does provide rooms for translation and enable parallel and break-out sessions. FCM provided additional training on the platform in March and April with the aim of expanding use of the platform among Ukrainian participants. However, initial partner engagement for this training was poor. This was primarily because the online training sessions had replicated in-person training, using the same methodology and requiring the same time commitment. The training has now significantly improved and partner engagement has consequently increased.

Despite initial reservations over Zoom use, primarily due to various security issues, this platform was used to host the program steering committee (PSC) meeting of June 11, 2020. The meeting brought together more than 60 people (40 in Ukraine), including the mayors of the 16 cities participating in the program, and representatives from Global Affairs Canada, the Association of Ukrainian Cities, and FCM’s board of directors.

This meeting, which reviews activities from the past year and discusses and approves the annual workplan for the coming 12 months, is usually an in-person requirement for the program. The cost of travel has previously precluded the participation of Canadian partners; however, this year’s use of Zoom as the virtual platform enabled them to take part and contribute to discussions.

The meeting was scheduled for 2.5 hours (but ran over) and entailed voting, decision making and presentations. A chat box was enabled within the platform to enable participants to ask questions and receive answers during the meeting. This required a dedicated program person (in Canada) to monitor the chat box and direct the questions to the appropriate partner or manager to answer. Two interpreters were working simultaneously to ensure accuracy and accessibility for all participants.

The meeting functioned perfectly and all aspects of the Zoom platform were appropriate. However, the format of the meeting might need to be changed if this were to be used in future. The current format is too structured and formalized; participants see their speeches as a sign of importance and so have a tendency to rehearse responses. A way needs to be found to enable more authentic discussions and answers to questions.

Takeaway: “Prepare, prepare, prepare. Virtual platforms are not forgiving, and with the potential for a wider audience to be involved, foresight and preparation are essential.”

Vietnam

Vietnam is poised to be the first FCM partner country to recover from the pandemic, with zero fatalities from COVID-19, and an extremely effective national response to the pandemic. This means the Partnerships for Municipal Innovation - Local Economic Development (PMI-LED) Vietnam office can focus on supporting economic recovery. Staff are currently working on various proposals to support economic recovery in partner municipalities.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam Municipal Solid Waste Management Project (VnSWM) continues to actively work with partner municipalities, Bac Giang and Hoi An. Hoi An, which depends heavily on international tourism as an economic generator, has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The lack of tourism does bring a unique benefit: considerably less waste is being generated. Hoi An’s landfills have recently been in crisis mode, unable to implement long-term waste management strategies because they had to respond to the immediate problems. VnSWM has a brief window of opportunity to try help mitigate the crisis in order to be able to focus again on project priorities and get the city’s solid waste management system back on line in time for economic recovery and the return of tourism. In Bac Giang, VnSWM is considering how to assist the city’s emergency communication about municipal services, such as solid waste management, with its resident during the pandemic.

© 2020 Federation of Canadian Municipalities