In restricted mobility and interaction, understating the nature of the COVID-19 impacts is a precondition for responding effectively. Helvetas, a Swiss development organization, uses a range of tools and processes to keep track of what happens and what needs to be adapted. The monitoring and results measurement systems of projects have been at the heart of decisions for responding to the pandemic. Having good enough data is critical by prioritizing resources, measuring what matters, and converting data collection methods to remote or virtual ways.
Lockdowns…. Daily death rates…. Economic meltdown…. Solidarity…. Opportunities and innovations….
Conversations and news coverage around the COVID-19 pandemic can sometimes be sensational. The pandemic now commands everyone’s attention. Things move so fast. The exit isn’t clear, causing more fear and paranoia.
In such a situation, it’s difficult to realistically meet commitments or fulfill contracts. However, this also doesn’t mean that everything has to be kept on hold. Many people and organizations are adapting the way their resources, services, and assets are used.
A more fundamental question in such a situation is ‘how do we know what works and what doesn’t’? Even if we’re successful in responding to the needs of people and partners, our actions have consequences once the pandemic is contained. Thus, it’s also equally important to think about what we can learn now for longer-term and better results.
This is where a monitoring and results measurement system becomes important to stay on track, and possibly to improve the system.
The basics: understanding the impacts
The World Bank Group says monitoring and results measurement during the COVID-19 pandemic is like ‘bowling in the dark’! While a bit dramatic, its message is clear: we need to be creative in adapting monitoring and results measurement systems.
The pandemic is having profound effects, some of which are more visible and immediate (economic, health) while others are concealed (wellbeing, mental impact) but equally critical and long-term. Besides, the effects of this pandemic aren’t distributed equally, hitting the hardest those in disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.
‘The losses are huge because so far we have had no sales,’ says Erald Dervishi, General Manager at Off Limits, a Tour operator in Albania that partners with RisiAlbania implemented by Helvetas and Partners Albania. Erald didn’t rush to take drastic measures. He and his team agreed to keep everyone on the payroll.
This isn’t just a ‘wait-a-see strategy’. The company has a good reason: seeing people as an investment. ‘We invested a lot in people for many years. Experience and adventure tourism require a lot of passion. Beyond technical competences, soft skills and knowledge of foreign languages are critical’.
The extent of the impact depends on how long the pandemic and measures are taken to contain its spread continue. The longer it takes, the more damaging the impacts are. Some existing crisis plans and teams before the pandemic weren’t capable of handling and responding.
‘We were caught by surprise and there is very little for us to do for now. There are very few labor-intensive activities. We’re looking forward to restarting stronger after the crisis with a new and improved platform,’ acknowledges Ardit Krasniqi, from Portal Pune, a job matching service provider that partners with the EYE project implemented by Helvetas and MDA in Kosovo.
People and organizations are coming to terms with the realities of our interconnected world. This is true in many sectors that depend on the regional and international flow of resources, trade, and customers.
Adventure and Fun is a regional tour operator in Albania. It relies on tourists, both from abroad and domestic travelers. ‘We are in constant contact with our partners in Greece,’ says Vasil Garo from Adventure and Fun. ‘From the communications we have, this season seems to be compromised, because most of our tourists were expected to come from the countries most affected by the pandemic.’ Vasil remains optimistic and he hopes that business will rebound next season with the lifting of the lockdown.
We shouldn’t underestimate the resilience of people and organizations in the face of difficulties. They shift mindsets, navigate uncertainties, and invest in building trust. ‘I’m impressed with the resilience of our partners and our project’s responsiveness to them,’ argues Lea Shllaku, a Senior Intervention Manager in the EYE project. Lea also admits that it was challenging to continuously communicate with partners, ‘trying to understand their struggles and yet managing their expectations on the size and type of support they could receive.’
Others used the pandemic to reflect and improve, like Ani Kristafi, a tour guide, who also works at his family guest house business in Gjirokasta, Albania: ‘I used the lockdown to improve our products.’ Additionally, he engaged his community to improve the infrastructure.
The same applies to Labinot Bajgora of the European College in Kosovo. ‘Using our pool of experts, we’ll start offering social media management and digital transformation services to our partners and others to stay active on the market and as much as possible recover our loss,’ says Labinot.
From knowing to acting
Interventions are needed during the crisis more than ever. Some are immediate to cushion the impacts and bridge gaps, while others are mid- to long-term. The monitoring and results measurement systems have been at the heart of decisions for responding to the pandemic.
Two considerations that guided our adaptation of the systems were: (i) appropriateness (why we need the information?), and (ii) feasibility and usage (is it possible to get the information timely and what kind of information do we need to make decisions?)
‘Closer contacts with partners have enabled us to know what they needed for now as well as in the mid- to long-term: capacity building, product development, and promotion activities to get ready for post-COVID-19 tourism,’ states Mirtjon Mita, Tourism Intervention Manager of RisiAlbania.
The tools and processes used in the monitoring and results measurement are therefore prioritized in line with the support given to partners. Working remotely also requires assessing the continued appropriateness of some of the tools and processes. For Lea Shllaku from the EYE project, ‘getting this information was the fastest we could ever secure data before.’
Based on our experience since the start of the pandemic, three critical shifts have been taking place.
The first one is emphasizing more on timely getting relevant information and adjusting and integrating it to ongoing initiatives than reporting. The current pandemic has also generated a large amount of secondary data which we are closely following and using. This is critical for demonstrating the ‘additionality’ of projects.
The second is prioritizing what tools and processes to use for efficiency in the face of uncertainty. A rapid response was necessary, but this didn’t require going out of the initiatives that were designed and implemented before the pandemic hit.
Third, most projects have treated planning as iterative, as no single solution has been the best fit for changes required due to COVID-19. Learning has been documented and used for adapting initiatives that have great potentials for better results beyond the crisis.
The pandemic is unpredictable, putting people at risk at any time. Thus, as part of the ‘do no harm’ principle, we’ve taken seriously the consequences of communication and actions (commitments) and the importance of identifying options when things go badly.
What we have done so far has been based on our experiences before and during the pandemic. Thus, an adaptation of monitoring and results measurement systems means having good enough data about the level of impacts and what needs to be done. This calls for prioritizing resources, measuring what matters, and converting data collection methods to remote or virtual ways. Our decisions have been based on the best information available and collected by utilizing, as much as possible, multiple data collection, and analysis methods.
The aim is to provide useful information that is essential for projects to know for rapid decision-making. We recognize that data collected may not be reliable or comparable to that collected before the pandemic. We are constantly incorporating feedback from our partners (by optimizing the use of technology like WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, phone calls, etc.) to support the adaptation process and link this to building a better system beyond the pandemic.