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Engaging with Stakeholders the Virtual Way - the New Normal

Among various other lessons, the last couple of months have taught many of us new ways of working. The whole world is grappling with the challenges and difficulties emanating from the COVID – 19 pandemic. The global pandemic has disrupted planned stakeholder and community engagement programmes. Engaging with stakeholders is crucial for the success of any organisation, development project or other interventions

We are almost nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and in-person meetings of any kind are still few and far between. As entire offices have shifted to remote working, there has been a collective realisation that meetings we assumed needed to be done in person are almost as good when done remotely – and the positives include significant time and money savings. We have had to find new ways to collaborate with colleagues and engage with clients and communities. In adjusting to a “new normal,” we have been leveraging technology to connect with stakeholders virtually.

But the truth remains that, ‘there isn’t a one size fits all’ solution to stakeholder engagement in an environment when many of the usual and trusted approaches are not safe or feasible. The current situation has in fact, accelerated the adoption of digital solutions. Digital technology has become increasingly relevant over the last few years and especially during these times.

In the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, we are witnessing three major incidences across the globe:

  • Wider acceptance of online collaborations;
  • Boosted connectivity among diverse stakeholder groups; and
  • A humongous requirement for internet services
 

In times of uncertainty, the ability to learn rapidly, connect widely and share knowledge efficiently becomes even more important. Over the last 25 years, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has gained extensive experience and a deeper understanding of Sector Networks and Communities of Practice. In order to keep sight of the big picture, GIZ has in place the Digital Transformation and IT Solutions (DIGITS).

Digitalisation Partner (DIPA)

Big challenges call for strong network support. More than 50 DIPAs in country offices worldwide are helping their colleagues on the ground to implement the digital change. They are the first port of call for advice on digital matters and solutions in the country offices and work closely with the project and DIGITS team.

Integrated Digital Application (IDA). All in IDA

IDA, GIZ’s internal communications and collaboration platform, continues to grow. This shared space for all employees worldwide is now also the place to find company news and organisational unit and topic pages.

Digital Business Solutions

We are able to implement the project more effectively, thanks to digitalised business processes. The change will optimise and digitalise administrative procedures and contribute to a tangible reduction in workload – for example, through the Common Portal, a digital signature process and a digital collaboration network (MS Teams).

Digital literacy

There is so much training on offer, covering topics like the effective use of digital tools in projects, virtual teamwork, digital leadership and tailored coaching for your country office.

The digitalisation processes undertaken at the GIZ level has enabled the projects to transfer the benefits to the partners and target groups as well. To be fit for the future, we needed to make better use of resources within and across projects. Especially if it comes to developments for and with partners and target groups. The shift to the digital tools was done with the aim to develop, select, support and scale up disruptive solutions using digital tools and innovation methodologies for alleviating the negative impacts of the pandemic.

Under Sustainable and Environment-friendly Industrial Production Project (SEIP II) project, the effort to engage with stakeholders have been manifold. Much before the lockdown or even the possibility of a lockdown came in being, SEIP II project had in place a framework to effectively engage with the stakeholders virtually. A series of webinars focussing on topics related to industrial wastewater and wastewater management was held. There was an overwhelming response in terms of participation of stakeholders from various fields.

The SEIP II project conducted Stakeholder Consultations for each of the ongoing project activities during this pandemic period. Several virtual meetings on the topics of Skills Enhancement, Recycle, Reuse and Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD), Environmental Infrastructure in Industrial Areas, National Environmental Law Porta, Self-Assessment Portal for Environmental Compliance and Industrial Wastewater Technology Platform have been held in the past months. Moving the stakeholder consultations onto a digital platform, in our case it was on the Microsoft Teams, had been a successful journey.

  • Compared to the traditional methods of face-to-face workshops or meetings, a virtual meet up has been easy and fast with lesser efforts. In the traditional workshops and meetings, arrangements had to be made for a suitable venue and supporting logistics. Moreover, participants had to travel to the venue which was time consuming and costly. Virtual meetings offered an easy solution. Virtual meetings offered cost savings and time efficiencies.
  • The virtual platform allowed for bringing stakeholders together on a more frequent basis, which helped in contributing to productive discussions and shaping he solutions better.
  • Traditional methods of face-to-face workshops or meetings usually carries an upper limit of invitees per event. With meetings going virtual, we were able to expand our stakeholder base extensively to include a wider audience.

Once marginally used, webinars platforms, video conferencing or messaging apps are now central to our rapidly evolving ways of working. This approach has proven both efficient and effective and has become a key in our project. 

As the adage goes, strong cooperation is a prerequisite for progress. While the way back to the old normal seems still far off, colleagues in SEIP II team are making the best of the ‘new normal’.  Although, it was always believed that the visual cues and presence that comes with face-to-face interaction are so important in building trust, we are happy that the stakeholders too have started adapting to this new way of working on virtual platforms. Ultimately, in a post-COVID world, it appears these approaches will complement each other and be integral to a comprehensive outreach strategy.