22 March 2021

Taking fieldwork into a virtual classroom

Taking fieldwork into a virtual classroom

When people say they are working ‘in the field’ they often mean out of the office – with regional teams or with individuals outside of HQ. We do mean in a field, in a plantation, in a co-operative, where producers are growing oil palm, cocoa or rubber, for example. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic started everyone was challenged with moving their way of working online. But replicating workshops to train people how to assess High Conservation Values or how to conduct a field assessment? We didn’t think it was possible. 

We had to unlearn the way we delivered capacity building to companies and governments, that come with an expectation of classrooms, coffee and conversation between sessions. We then relearnt what was possible in a virtual environment, within limitations of bandwidth and breakouts. 

In November and December of 2020, Proforest Ghana reached almost three hundred participants in West and Central Africa with free courses, provided as part of a UK-government funded programme. The Production Landscape Programme (PLP), funded by the UK’s FGMC, seeks to work in collaboration with companies, national institutions and key stakeholders throughout the agro-commodity supply chain to support long-term engagement at the landscape and jurisdictional level towards sustainable production and sourcing. 

Some courses are more theoretical and discussion-based, such as gender concepts and terminologies; or Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). While these could be delivered online, it was essential to engage all participants, enable discussion and sharing and provide them with clear guidance on how to apply the knowledge in their specific work environments. 

We saw the highest attendance for our course on National Resource Conflict Management, equipping stakeholders with technical skills to manage conflict resolution and all of the issues involved. Multi-stakeholder platform facilitation was also popular, showing the need to establish and facilitate more platforms that read a wide stakeholder base across government, companies, NGOs and civil society. 

As well as the adjustments we had to make in course delivery, we were very aware of the need to support our participants in the transition to digital learning. We provided ‘How to’ guides on the technology platform being used to build confidence and comfort for participants ahead of any course. We made sure to make content mobile friendly, as many people were using a phone rather than a laptop. The process of dropping in to breakout rooms for discussions, enabling Q&A sessions, facilitating a virtual discussion, were all big considerations. 

Rather than a drop-off in participation, we saw a marked increase in demand for skills training with the move to online. This was partly due to the ease of attending virtually rather than the time and expense of travel. However, we see the growing demand for skills as a reflection of the growing awareness and investment by governments and companies to address deforestation and understand how to implement responsible production for a forest positive future. 

To encompass the need to share skills and build capacity, we collaborated with the African Palm Oil Initiative in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria to expand the reach of the PLP online training. 

We missed being in the field, but adopting technology and adapting to online learning has provided another approach to meet the need. The growing appetite for understanding the social and environmental issues in responsible production, the desire to acquire technical skills, and the awareness of governments and companies that they need to learn and work together, was incredibly encouraging, as we look to scale our work to deliver more impact for people and the planet. 

To register for Proforest Academy’s online courses visit proforestacademy.net 

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