Reaching Out and Checking In: Listening to 70 Partners in a Time of Crisis

Global Integrity
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By Jorge Florez and Nada Zohdy

Earlier last month, we outlined an initial process to explore how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Global Integrity’s work and that of our partners and allies and shared  our new strategy. Alongside this, we have continued to systematically review the implications of COVID-19 across our projects, our priorities, and our finances. To get a better picture of the effect of COVID in our work and that of our partners, we launched a comprehensive outreach process, to make sure the needs of our partners and allies across the world were front and center in shaping our own adaptations to COVID-19. Our ability to implement our strategy effectively, in the context of COVID-19, is inextricably tied to how well our partners and allies are able to continue their work, particularly under challenging circumstances, and how they find innovative ways to use transparency, participation, accountability, and anti-corruption to improve the lives of people in the countries and communities where they work.

What We Did

 

 

 

In April, we invested time and energy to check in with and carefully listen to partners across our network. We asked them how they are being impacted by the crisis, how they are responding, and what support they need during this time. We spoke to a total of 20 global partners, in addition to 47 of the Open Gov Hub’s 50 member organizations. In these conversations we used the very useful framework laid out by Dave Algoso, aiming to understand the COVID-19 implications for our partners ⁠—in relation to their operations, programs, and strategies (see graph above). We think our general findings from this process can be helpful for the wider community working on anti-corruption, open government, and public service delivery.

 

What We Heard

 

Operations: Overall we were glad to hear that so far, most of our partners have not been heavily affected at the operational level by COVID-19 situation. Most operational changes relate to delays in the timelines of existing projects, and a relatively smooth overall transition moving from in-person to online work. Nevertheless, this situation is not quite the same for organizations doing local work – such as some of our partners at the subnational level in Mexico and Colombia, which have seen a greater COVID impact especially on their prospects of funding and sustainability. Partners that work with organizations at the grassroots community level in countries with poor connectivity and internet access are facing greater challenges shifting to online work, as their collaborators on the ground not only have challenges in communicating with them generally but also in using the internet and other means to keep up their service delivery and local outreach work.

 

Programs: In terms of programs, our partners and allies have been grappling with how to balance effectively delivering on pre-existing projects while also now making useful contributions to addressing the COVID situation based on their areas of expertise. We were encouraged to also find that a number of partners are interested in building new alliances and coalitions to further their work, and we will continue to attempt to support these through our strategic focus on network building.

Strategy: At the strategic level, we heard similar things from members of Open Gov Hub alongside other partners of Global Integrity. Most of them are having internal conversations to understand the implications of COVID for their medium to longer-term strategies and decide on how best to invest their resources to contribute to addressing the pandemic. Top priorities include: 

  • following the money in regard to investments in tackling COVID-19 and the results those resources are (or are not) delivering; 
  • testing innovative ways to communicate verified news and information to citizens, 
  • exploring how to actively listen to communities’ feedback and bring the concerns to the public agenda; 
  • providing advice to others on how to use open government approaches for open response, recovery and resiliency during the pandemic, and 
  • protecting civic space and democratic practices during times of crisis. 

Needs: Some of the main challenges we heard from our partners include: 

  • developing strategies for action and communications that balance the need for oversight and anti-corruption without slowing down rapid response (figuring out what exactly to demand from governments and how best to do so);
  • tracking the effectiveness of the actions they have set out to do in response to the pandemic in a rapidly changing environment;
  • being able to effectively transition in-person to online activities, 
  • and building new alliances – and/or identifying and working with existing partners in new ways – that can increase the impact of their work.

 

Key findings from Global Integrity’s global partners
  • The biggest operational impact of COVID-19 has been changes to project timelines
  • The biggest programmatic challenge has been balancing between continuing pre-COVID work with adding new lines of work or pivots around COVID response
  • Various strategic needs and opportunities exist and will continue to evolve as the pandemic plays out, but a top challenge is implementing COVID oversight mechanisms without slowing rapid response, and a top opportunity to seize is the palpable interest in forging new alliances to increase the impact of timely open government efforts  
Key findings from Open Gov Hub member organizations
  • Operationally, most Hub members have made a smooth transition to everyday teleworking. In fact, many members have offered their expertise to others on maintaining a well-connected, globally dispersed remote team. And virtual Hub social gatherings are valued for helping maintain human connections in this time.
  • Yet the #1 most common programmatic challenge for Hub members is changing their in-person workshops/trainings/convenings/events, which are the bread and butter for many organizations, to an online format.
  • Strategically, there are many new joint work opportunities to consider, especially on oversight of COVID response, and on protecting democracy and civic space in these times. 

How We’re Responding 

Our response to this feedback from partners has been two-fold; supporting partners to adjust and adapt their pre-existing work, and helping partners to navigate strategic questions and partnerships around new COVID response work – both at the policy and grassroots levels. In all this, we will stay focused on Global Integrity’s four core approaches: research, strategy/implementation support, network building, and advocacy (see section 6 of our strategy). 

Here are a few ways we are now responding: 

  • Facilitating a dialogue among multiple African organizations to track COVID funds (stay tuned for more on this!)
  • Exploring ways to build on our Africa Integrity Indicators work and networks to carry out relevant research and/or new case studies around pandemic response
  • Collating and analyzing a wide variety of resources from peers about COVID and governance challenges
  • Open Gov Hub’s team has always supported professional “matchmaking” between organizations across the network, but now we’re doubling down on this focus and creating a new, more formalized system to meet members’ needs, and match needs and offers to each other (check out our internal Needs & Offers Dashboard to get a taste)
  • Launching a new “On-Screen Gatherings” blog series from Open Gov Hub, plus starting to develop an internal resource to help Hub members design and deliver their own effective virtual workshops/trainings/events 

The work of adapting ourselves and our work to a new reality is ongoing. Nevertheless, we are encouraged by the rich insights and direction that this April Outreach Process uncovered. We will stay committed to listening carefully to our partners’ needs, collaborating with and supporting them, and exploring more ways to strengthen our collective work.  

We are encouraged to see some others in our field also increase their focus on listening to partners in these times. We are eager to hear about how you are adapting to this new reality. Leave a comment below, or share your insights with us on twitter @GlobalIntegrity.

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

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