The global pandemic caused by the spread of COVID-19 has led to millions of infections and over a million deaths so far. This pandemic has dramatically affected the lives, health, and economy of our communities and peers. At the IDB, we have gone from visiting projects and having in-person interactions with clients and stakeholders, to having to manage everything remotely.
This has created considerable challenges when it comes to holding meaningful consultations with stakeholders during the preparation and implementation of our projects.
A meaningful consultation is a two-way dialogue rather than a one-way dissemination of information; it is a process rather than standalone events, and it involves people in affected communities and other relevant stakeholders. Traditionally, consultations are held face to face in the community where the program will be held. Under current circumstances, however, large gatherings may not be feasible. Countries will continue to develop projects, and these projects will require consultations and stakeholder engagement with the affected people.
So how do we hold successful virtual consultations? How can we engage meaningfully without meeting face to face? By following these steps!
1. Identify priority issues and conduct a stakeholder analysis. During the environmental and social impact assessment process a specific analysis should be carried out to identify stakeholders who could participate in a virtual consultation.
Some key aspects to consider when conducting the stakeholder analysis include:
- Identification of the categories and subcategories of the different stakeholders
- Whether stakeholders perceive they will be positively or negatively impacted by the project
- Key characteristics (i.e. social and economic situation, cultural factors, location, size, organizational capacity and degree of influence, vulnerability, or social exclusion).
- How the project will relate to each of the different groups (i.e. how it will provide meaningful background information, whether it will use virtual meetings of key informants, focus groups, structured interviews, as instances or formats for networking, etc.).
- Computer and internet accessibility and literacy of stakeholders
- What virtual platforms are available now and have been used before
- Vulnerability of exposure to COVID-19
- Current COVID-19 regulations, such as restrictions on social gatherings
|Program Example – Honduras L-1203 – Renovation of the Francisco Morazán Hydropower Plant to Facilitate the Integration of Renewable Energy|
During the start of preparation, it was decided that the consultation process should carried out in person. However, due to restrictions caused by COVID-19, the executing agency decided to hold virtual consultation meetings. The information gathered during the assessment included access to communication methods available to beneficiaries, which allowed the executing agency to quickly adapt to circumstances and prepare a successful, tailor-made virtual consultation.
2. Prepare a consultation plan. When preparing a virtual consultation plan, the availability of beneficiaries and affected people must be the top priority. In a face-to-face consultation process, one considers accessibility to the site where the consultation will be held, and the time of the consultation to ensure maximum participation. The equivalent must be considered for a virtual consultation.
As part of this plan, the following questions should be considered: Which virtual platforms would be most accessible to all stakeholders? For instance, internet platforms (i.e. Zoom, Teams, Facebook Live), television, radio, or a mix? What format would give stakeholders the best opportunity to ask questions and interact? Should there be one event or multiple events? Are stakeholders at risk? How can anonymity be protected if needed?
|Program Example: Panama L-1160 Social Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities|
A joint effort between the IDB and the executing agency SENADIS made it possible to work with key stakeholders to identify the dates and communication channels that would be most appropriate for each of the provinces in which the program would be implemented. Being aware of these elements ensured they had adequate participation and fruitful consultations.
3. Ensure prior information dissemination. To promote participation in a consultation, stakeholders must understand how they will be impacted by the program. Informing stakeholders on the program’s possible environmental and social impacts is part of starting a meaningful dialogue. How do you disseminate information when some stakeholders may not have access to a computer and when the information provided in documents —such as environmental and social assessments— may not be easy to understand?
Project leaflets with key information on environmental and social impacts can be distributed without personal contact. WhatsApp and/or SMS messages with a link explaining the environmental and social impacts can ensure that a greater number of stakeholders are informed. A television or radio broadcast can also be considered.
|Program Example: BR-L1551 Education for the Future of the State of Paraná|
The consultation dissemination actions included the creation of a program website with videos explaining project impacts. Content was also disseminated through radio, TV, and newspapers. In addition, they used social networks and WhatsApp to reach a wider audience.
4. Incorporate feedback and share results. At the time of the consultation, program details should be quite exhaustive but should not be fully designed. The dialogue will allow stakeholders to voice their concerns, ask questions and make suggestions to improve the program. The consultation should always be followed by an activity that summarizes the results of the process, provides answers to pending questions and explains how the feedback collected will influence program design. In the case of virtual consultations, the same channels that were used for the initial dissemination efforts may be used to share the summary. The final version of the environmental and social assessment must also be made accessible.
|Program Example: BR-L1551 Education for the Future of the State of Paraná|
The program held its feedback session through a YouTube Live event. Representatives from the executing agency and technical staff provided answers to questions raised through the consultation process.
5. Maintain continuous stakeholder engagement and easy access to a grievance mechanism. The key to a successful program is not only to keep stakeholders informed but also to keep them engaged.Platforms created for program disclosure and consultation should be used throughout the project cycle (i.e. preconstruction activities, construction, and operation). If WhatsApp or SMS were used to disseminate the consultation dates, these channels should remain accessible to stakeholders throughout the life of the project. Information gathered for the consultation (i.e. languages, availability of stakeholders, virtual platforms) must also be considered in the development of a grievance mechanism that is easily accessible. Finally, one should make sure the stakeholder engagement plan is adaptable to post COVID-19 times.
A new reality has forced us to change our methods and approaches to the consultation process and stakeholder engagement. This provides us with an opportunity to be creative and use conventional and unconventional means to ensure that stakeholders’ opinions, ideas and concerns remain at the heart of program design and implementation. For more guidelines and tips on virtual consultations in the context of COVID-19, check out our technical note on the topic.