Participatory Adaptations in the COVID-19 Era

Sloan, B., Radhakrishnan, B., and Sheely, R.
Publication language
Date published
31 Mar 2024
Research, reports and studies
Participation, COVID-19, Engaging with affected populations
Mercy Corps

Climate change, armed conflict, disease outbreaks, and natural disasters are all shocks and crises that can limit the ability of humanitarian and development organizations to engage with and access communities. The COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying policies and restrictions created such challenges, especially for practitioners implementing participatory programs that require face-toface interactions. To understand how programs can better adapt to shocks that limit community engagement, Mercy Corps conducted a qualitative study called Participatory Adaptations during the COVID-19 Era (PACE) that investigated how 15 global Mercy Corps programs across 10 countries adapted during the pandemic. Through interviews with program teams and systems mapping analysis, PACE provides actionable insights on how to adapt programming when faced with shocks that limit community engagement.

Specifically, PACE identified four main adaptations applied by program teams, as well as the unique enablers, barriers, benefits, unintended consequences, and lessons associated with each adaptation:

  • The first adaptation involved elevating committee representatives as liaisons to sustain program activities in the absence of direct implementation by program teams. 
  • The second adaptation centered on empowering local practitioners (including civil society organizations and field mobilizers) to co-design, implement, and adapt programs. 
  • The third adaptation focused on deploying technological solutions, including low-tech and hybrid solutions, such as radio broadcasts and blending virtual spaces with in-person engagement. 
  • The fourth adaptation involved addressing needs emerging from acute crises, which led many programs to adjust the focus of their activities.