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Lessons in capacity building for climate action – in a pandemic-affected world

Nathan Cogswell of WRI and Michelle du Toit of CDKN round up an event from the Paris Committee on Capacity Building in October 2020, which took stock of capacity building efforts for climate action, in a pandemic era.

In October 2020, the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB) Network hosted a webinar organised by the Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), German international development agency (GIZ), and the World Resources Institute (WRI) to explore the different ways in which capacity-building work is adapting in light of the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PCCB’s mission is to build momentum for climate action and especially for the capacity building needed to make it happen.  The PCCB has more than 200 member organisations, and provides platforms where they and others can share knowledge and experiences.

The discussion centered around three questions:

  • How has the approach to capacity building activities implemented prior to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the continued implementation of these and related activities during and (likely) post the pandemic?
  • Especially during the COVID-19 context, what innovative tools and methods are you using to engage stakeholders and support capacity-building efforts?
  • What can we learn from the COVID-19 disruption in terms of delivering better capacity development?

A changing approach

The pandemic has forced a change in thinking about social outreach and engagement, including capacity-building for climate action.

One of the obvious consequences is the transition from in-person activities to online activities. Relationship building is central to successful capacity-building efforts, and the shift to online activities may pose particular challenges if relationships are not well established. Discussion participants noted success in blending the offline and the online (i.e., “online consultations with offline preparatory work”) and that “having met partners before the pandemic allows for more effective virtual engagement.”

But the shift to digital approaches is not always inclusive. Time zones present challenges. Stable and reliable Internet connections are not always available. These digital challenges may disrupt some modus operandi but also reinforce the value of investing in existing networks and supporting local engagement.

One participant noted their efforts to capitalise on “existing networks via WhatsApp groups, which reach deep into communities.” And even analog tools can still be extremely effective, as one partner is using a green courier service to deliver “hard-copy” newsletters.

Learning to be innovative

For some, the shift to online tools brought on by the pandemic’s health threats represents efforts to utilise and try different means and methods for delivering capacity-building activities. In particular, the discussion highlighted the novel experiences with different digital tools—including meeting platforms (i.e., Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx), online collaborative tools (i.e., sli.do, Mentimeter, Padlet), and social media (i.e., livestreaming on Facebook or Instagram).

For others, the travel restrictions imposed by COVD-19 together with challenges in accessing the internet resulted in a shift to using expertise within the country for technical assistance interventions. This was in contrast to prior to the pandemic where there had been substantial reliance on expertise outside of the country.

But even before the pandemic, there were reasons to rethink the traditional mode of delivery of capacity building and to try new and different methods. These included a call to engage in capacity building activities from the bottom up, through supporting existing community capacity building measures and from the top down; building the capacity of parliamentarians to create enabling conditions for community members to be able to implement adaptive measures. This approach will increase local ownership and strengthen resilience.

Parliamentarians have not received enough attention in capacity building efforts to date — said Yamide Dagnet of World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Partnership. Professor Mizan Khan of Pakistan agreed, saying: “Involving parliamentarians is of utmost importance –  most are not very concerned with climate change.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the NDC Partnership has also innovated by seconding economic advisors to national governments to assist with ‘greening’ plans for economic recovery from COVID-19, Ms. Dagnet said.

Delivering better in the future

In terms of learning from the pandemic in order to inform more effective delivery of capacity-building activities, the discussion reiterated the importance of building trust.

Virtual efforts are only so good at building trust and, in many cases, in-person interactions are still vital. Though, there is still value in virtual efforts, which may allow for efficiency gains as time spent in travel can be redirected to project outcomes and which have anecdotally allowed for greater participation from women.  Virtual efforts must also avoid the “talk shop” trap and need to be well organised – delivering concrete outputs and outcomes.

The complexity of the climate change problem and the pandemic have forced many to emphasise the value of addressing the interlinked challenges together. One discussion participant noted greater attention to the “interdisciplinary, holistic and multi-dimensional” elements of climate change and a renewed attention to the “interconnections and interplay between science and policy.”

Image: United nations flags, courtesy Mike Gifford

 

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