The R4D Challenge – Remote workshop fostering international agricultural research
In the world of COVID-19, we all have had to adapt and shift how we interact with each other. For those working in agriculture and international development this has significantly altered our ability to travel and interact with smallholders. For Researchers in Agriculture for International Development (RAID Network), this meant that we were unable to undertake our research and leadership workshop in-person in Hanoi, Vietnam. Instead, we had to drastically adjust our method. We partnered with a team of researchers at the University of Melbourne who led the adaptation of a workshop to a remote learning environment. Our five-week online workshop was completed on the 20th of November.
To recap, this online project was a pilot for testing the remote learning environment with different Research for Development (R4D) partners. This included the RAID Network, the Vietnam National University of Agriculture (VNUA), The Australian Volunteers Program, the Crawford Fund and The University of Melbourne to organise, facilitate and engage in a five-week virtual workshop. By doing so, we selected five Vietnamese early-to-mid career researchers (EMCRs) and six Australian-based volunteers (identified through the Australian Volunteers Program) to participate in a research and leadership workshop. Supported by Crawford Fund funding, the University of Melbourne team with Dr David McGill, Jenny Hanks and Mia Dunphy along with VNUA collaborators Dr Nguyen Thi Duong Nga and Dr Ha Duong facilitated three sessions per week, with support from volunteer Anh Pham as a senior research coordinator, engaging in scenarios and problem-solving activities. Click here for a previous RAID blog outlining this volunteer program. The workshop content and materials were developed by the University of Melbourne team based on their experiences working throughout South and South-East Asia as well as touching on previous training courses in which they had been involved, including the Crawford Fund’s Master Classes in Agricultural Research Leadership and Management and the associated RAID workshops.
EMCRs from Vietnam included Do Thai My Hanh, Le Thi Huyen Trang, Nguyen Thi Phuong, Vang A Me, and Tran The Cuong.
Volunteers from Australia included Anh Pham, Jessica Fearnley, Megan Williams, John Otto, Camilla Humphries, and Sally Molero.
A significant element of the workshop was the partnering of Australian-based researchers and Vietnamese participants. Excluding Anh Pham who played a senior research support role, each Australian Volunteer was partnered with a Vietnamese EMCR who worked together throughout the whole five-week program. This proved to be extremely effective as it allowed partners to establish closer connections, professional networks and friends as the workshop progressed. The partners met online out of the sessions to work through workshop materials, problem-based scenario questions, and also to build on their own research, allowing cross-cultural and often cross disciplinary feedback to both participants. For the final workshop the partners created videos together to showcase the work they have done and to apply one or two of the scenarios to their research, click here to view the fabulous videos they made! which includes a video summary of the workshop, gratefully compiled and edited by Pascoe Dunphy.
Working in R4D, especially with rural smallholders in agriculture, it is essential to adapt your communication and platforms to local communities to ensure comfortability and accessibility of information and relationship. During the workshop we used four main platforms to communicate: Zoom, Email, Google Drive and Zalo. Zalo was a crucial aspect to the success of the workshop. Like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, Zalo is a platform commonly used in Vietnam to informally communicate with others. This was used to share resources, reminders or just to send a ‘good morning’ message to ensure everyone was comfortable and accessible as a whole group. The facilitators and Australian volunteers had never used Zalo previously, so it was a great opportunity to develop new skills and communicate effectively with the Vietnamese participants and facilitators.
During the five weeks, we explored four major themes, these included;
(1) research questions and leadership skills,
(2) designing surveys and tools for data collection,
(3) piloting surveys and community engagement, and
(4) data visualisation and interpretation.
Working concurrently to these presentations were scenarios that the partners worked on together to answer questions and apply to their own research.
The scenario-based content that the University of Melbourne team created walked through the research process with two fictional characters working in North-West Vietnam. These scenarios allowed the participants to put “theory into practice” through the research process with their partner and think about how they might respond to a range of challenges and questions during the research project.
In a COVID-19 world, adapting the online context, along with the rest of the world, meant that we learnt a lot as we progressed through the workshop. Due to this pilot being new to all facilitators and participants, it was crucial that we grew and improved as we progressed throughout the workshop. We conducted mid-workshop evaluation surveys and post-workshop interview feedback and we are currently working through these to work out how we might improve the workshop for future opportunities for EMCRs around the world.
Written by Mia Dunphy, for more information on the workshop, email: firstname.lastname@example.org