Empty chairs: training in a pandemic

Covid-19 has presented challenges, but it has also provided a unique opportunity to innovate and try something new.

Running interactive workshops has always been at the heart of Radar’s community reporter training over the years. In Sierra Leone, bringing our reporters together from all over the country to spend time together – and eat plenty of delicious cassava leaf and groundnut stew – has been key to building up confidence, skills and knowledge. As well as creating some life long friendships and surfacing incredibly powerful stories along the way.

With Covid-19 reaching Sierra Leone in March and inter-district travel restrictions in place across the country, it quickly became apparent that our planned series of refresher training workshops throughout the spring and summer were no longer going to be possible. While this presented a significant challenge, it also provided a unique opportunity to innovate and try something new.

We designed a remote training course, using some new tools including learn.ink – a brilliant platform that enables you to create bespoke, fun and interactive digital courses that can be accessed via smartphone. For our offline reporters with basic mobile phones, we repurposed a tech solution that we had deployed as part of the Queens Young Leaders project which was delivered in the local language (krio) via SMS and automated phone calls.

The Learn.Ink platform

The training included six refresher training modules, including ‘how to identify fake news’ which was especially relevant in the context of Covid-19 misinformation spread via chat apps. The Beyond the Bite mentoring model meant that each reporter was given one-to-one support, encouragement and guidance from their mentors. Time and time again we have found that it is this mentoring and coaching that is the key to building the confidence and conviction of reporters and increasing engagement. Every technical solution needs to be supported in this way.

“The training was interactive and educational. I learnt that accuracy, independence, trust and objectivity are core key principles of a good report… For me, this training is timely and it has helped to build up my skills on how to report solid facts in my community without bias or favour.” – Community reporter

From those living in remote farming communities in Tonkolili, young advocates in Kailahun, community health workers in Bombali and the disability community in Bo – it has been amazing to be able to test and deliver a training solution that can be rolled out remotely across Sierra Leone, with the only barrier to entry being some phone credit (which was provided).

We were able to test reporters on their existing knowledge before and after completing the modules, with a clear marked improvement from baseline to endline which showed an increase in knowledge. It was also great to see the reporters Whatsapp group evolve, from troubleshooting issues to a place of collective celebration and joy, with reporters engaging with each other and posting screenshots of the digital certificates they all were issued on completion of the training. 

The results have been incredibly positive with more reporters re-engaging due to the refresher training, and we’ve had some great new stories and inspiration for more in the future.

In a time of ongoing global uncertainty – with no guarantee when we will all be able to meet up in person again – the ability to deliver a completely remote training in a country with severe connectivity and network challenges is a testament to the different tools we have used and our brilliant team of mentors in Sierra Leone. 

We are now looking forward to rolling out this approach to some of our other projects in Kenya, Yemen, Bangladesh and South Sudan – watch this space!