World Learning’s Meghan Simpson, Senior Program Officer, and Sarah Schauber, Program Associate, share their experience and tips for implementing low-bandwidth projects.
Interview with Meghan Simpson, Senior Program Officer, and Sarah Schauber, Program Associate, World Learning
The pivot to virtual required IVLP programmers to rethink everything, particularly how to reach and create engaging programs for IVLP participants in parts of the world with limited access to Internet and cellular data.
Meghan Simpson and Sarah Schauber at World Learning, a National Program Agency (NPA), shared their challenges and lessons learned through implementing a regional French/English project with participants in Africa on youth and civic engagement. They found that participants often struggled with clear audio, and would regularly use the chat function to post questions or post their comments and turn videos off to improve the quality of their audio.Without video it was a challenge to “read the room,” and gauge interest and assess reactions; though, participants did regularly use reaction functions – such as by “clapping” their hands.
Additionally, many participants accessed Zoom meetings using their phones as they did not have access to
a computer with stable Internet – or even in electricity, in some cases. At times, that meant that participants were calling from cafes, or while outside – places with noise and other distractions. Using phones also made interacting with external apps sometimes used in sessions to promote engagement – for instance, if a link to a Jamboard was put in the chat box during a meeting, participants were unlikely to follow it.
To mitigate these challenges, Meghan and Sara offered these tips:
- Communicate clearly and regularly (WhatsApp groups and administrative interpreters are key!)
- Keep programs simple (interactive presentations and breakout rooms aren’t always accessible when there are connectivity issues)
- Provide participants with multiple avenues for engagement
- Use headsets so that simultaneous interpreters can get clear audio
- In a pinch, administrative interpreters can hold their phone up to the computer while participants listen over WhatsApp
- Keep in mind that participants might need data top up for asynchronous work as well, not just for live meetings
Meghan offered an important caveat to the above list. “I think we should use the phrase ‘best practices’ with caution. [We] have learned a lot as this project has gone on, and we’ve learned a lot from colleagues, too.”
One of those colleagues, Alison Grausam, a senior program specialist at fellow NPA Graduate School USA, shared her success using Recharge to top up participant data following a suggestion from the Africa Branch Chief at the Office of International Visitors. By inputting a participant’s information, Recharge communicates directly with the phone company to add minutes or data to their plan. Participants can then use these minutes or data to access IVLP Zoom calls in real-time. Data can also be used to access asynchronous materials, as needed.
While Meghan reminds us there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, programmers can focus on keeping participants engaged despite connectivity issues that might prevent free-flowing conversation with a bit more preparation, patience, and active facilitation than normal.