Digital participation gives communities a voice in Yangon
The latest in a series of community workshops in Myanmar, was carried out in late 2020 after the project team redesigned the participatory engagement to allow it to be hosted online. The workshop was part of the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund’s (UCCRTF) RETA 9329 Promoting Urban Climate Change Resilience in Selected Asian Cities - Development of Pilot Activities and Project Development Support (Subproject 3) project which is designing and implementing a series of community-led urban resilience projects in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar.
The community-led projects are developed and identified through a series of participatory processes with local stakeholders, who work with the project team to collectively formulate a plan and prioritize interventions to address risks to climate change. The workshops have been designed and implemented by Oxfam GB working with local partners in the target cities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a huge challenge to the implementation of the projects, which rely on close coordination with local communities and city-level stakeholders, conducting in-depth consultation sessions. The ongoing health crisis forced the team to find innovative solutions to community engagement.
The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), the local partner in Yangon, Myanmar, was preparing to initiate community-level activities following the City-level Kick-off Workshop held on 23 July 2020, when further restrictions from COVID-19 delayed the project. In response, the follow up meetings were moved online.
As a first step, a ward selection meeting facilitated by ADPC was conducted online on 16 October 2020. The city stakeholders who attended the online meeting chose Ant Gyi (West) Ward as the most vulnerable community.. The subsequent meetings connected with the project were scheduled to be multi-day, participatory workshops following a detailed Community Assessment and Resilience Planning (CARP) process, that required high levels of stakeholder engagement and interaction.
This article was written before the recent military coup in Myanmar.
Screenshot of the Yangon online CARP Facebook Private Group facilitated in Burmese and English.
Moving the CARP process online
Oxfam GB adapted the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology in the CARP process to be carried out online. This process entails people from poor and vulnerable groups to work together with other stakeholders from government and the private sector to collect and analyze data about how hazards impact vulnerable groups and livelihoods, and design and agree on resilience solutions.
Given the quarantine restrictions, the workshop used an online exchange platform that used Facebook private groups as an interaction tool. Facebook was the preferred platform by the community as most residents were familiar with its functionalities and already had accounts.
The online CARP workshop — which included both synchronous and asynchronous activities — ran from 9-12 November 2020 was attended by 32 participants composed of community members and representatives from different sectors, including the local government unit.
Facebook ‘live sessions’ were used as an orientation to all participants to set the agenda and ensure everyone understood the process and how to use the technology. Polls and lectures were posted with sets of questions for participants who could respond during their own time, but with a 19:00 deadline each day. ADPC was then able to process the inputs and prepare discussions for the next day. All details of the expected inputs from the participants were clarified during follow up Facebook live sessions. To ensure rich participation, all posts were written in both Burmese and English. The online workshop captured the Ant Gyi West community voices leading to the planning and implementation of the community-led project (CLP).
“ We are not familiar with the technology. But when we attended the CARP Workshop, we learned how to participate by using the technology, the new normal style. We all are happy to learn about this. We faced disasters like (Cyclone) Nargis, and even COVID-19. If we can build the emergency center for our ward, that is a preparation not just for cyclones, it can be used as a quarantine center during the pandemic. ”
- U Soe Win
Local resident of Ant Gyi (West) Ward
Towards a resilient Ant Gyi (West) Ward
The first two days of the CARP workshop focused on introducing the project, and exploring the definition of urban resilience. On the third day, the online participants were able to identify specific hazards or stresses that they commonly face that undermined their resilience. House fires, poverty, unemployment, and cyclones were identified as priority factors and the poor and homeless, children, and the elderly as the most vulnerable groups in Ant Gyi (West). An online impact chain activity was done to link how these priority hazards affect the identified vulnerable groups in the community.
The participants were given time to reflect on the discussions, answer a set of questions, and co-create a resilience vision statement for the community. The agreed statement was:
“ We envision Ant Gyi (West) Ward to become a community which is ready to respond to disasters, where the people use the natural resources effectively and know how to make an ecologically balanced and waste clean zone; with job opportunities for the people in the community through the development of livelihoods opportunities, better education services for the children and youth and a participatory governance system prioritizing safety and security”
Towards a resilient Ant Gyi (West) Ward
The community then contributed to developing the Community Resilience Plan (CRP) and selected the priority CLP which include:
Construction of Multi-Purpose Emergency Shelter,
Community actions for risk reduction from housefires and cyclones, and
Community-based solid waste management system.
The community chose the Multi-Purpose Emergency Shelter as the top CLP idea aligned with their vision for the Ant Gyi (West) Ward after an online casting of votes.
“ We all attended for four days on the CARP Online Workshop. All the participants from Ant Gyi (West) Ward gained awareness on community resilience for our ward.
I think that the participation in the workshop is a good advantage because all the volunteer group leaders and other community members are very interested in this Community-Led Project.”
- U Hla Myint
Ward Administrator, Ant Gyi (West) Ward
The 4-day online CARP provided an avenue for community participation in the CLP planning despite the pandemic. The community voices collected will form part of community’s CRP and will also guide the preparation of the CLP Feasibility Study in Ant Gyi (West) Ward. The exceptional circumstances surrounding the pandemic, necessitated creative solutions for community engagement. While this project has shown that social media can even provide efficient ways to connect with communities online, the project team noted that when implementing such strategies, the familiarity, interest, and capacity of communities to access and engage with such processes should always be prioritized.