Based on a request from the PIANZEA (Pacific Island, Australian and New Zealand Electoral Administrators’ Network) Advisory group, a DFAT funded, four-day, Virtual BRIDGE Strategic Planning Module was conducted for 6 members of the network. Participants from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Kiribati and Tonga attended.
The workshop was conducted for four hours each day on the 27th and 28th of May and the 3rd and 4th of June, 2021. The group was very lucky to have Antonio Spinelli of International IDEA – author of the IFES Guide Strategic Planning for Effective Electoral Management, a seminal text on Strategic Planning in elections and the primary document on which the Version 3 module is based – as a key expert throughout the workshop
The BRIDGE facilitation team was made up of Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) officers Sara Staino and Ross Attrill – both Accrediting Facilitators – and Darren McNair who was completing his workshop accreditation. Again, we were ably assisted by our AEC colleagues from the Community and International Engagement team who dealt with all the technical and administrative issues extremely well. It made the facilitation team’s job so much easier, particularly considering the virtual setting of the workshop.
All of the participants were senior members of their respective EMBs. Most of them already had strategic plans in place for their organisations but there was one that was about to embark on the process of developing a strategic plan for the first time. The module itself is now divided into “theoretical” and “practical” sections and it was decided, due to time constraints, to focus on the theoretical section to enable those new to the process to gain an understanding of all its elements and for those already in a strategic planning process to have the opportunity to assess where the process was in their particular context and realistically consider how to go about it.
This time around we opted for two half days in consecutive weeks as the last virtual module conducted for the network was conducted across one week and most found tiring working virtually for so many days in a row. All agreed that the format used in this module worked better. It also allowed those with connectivity problems a week to rectify them between the 2nd and 3rd days. All found the workshop to be of great use and very engaging, although the facilitators felt that we had not quite created the sought of “fun” space that face to face BRIDGE workshops offer.
Darren McNair did a wonderful job and both Sara and Ross agreed he should be given his “workshop” accreditation. The following is Darren’s description of that process.
“I’ve thought very highly of BRIDGE since attending my first BRIDGE course back in 2011. The engaging nature of the content and the way it is delivered really piqued my interest and I knew I wanted to be involved in BRIDGE in the future.
After completing my BRIDGE Train the Facilitator Workshop in early 2019, I was excited to be able to finally get the chance to take the next step to becoming an Accredited Workshop Facilitator.
And then Covid19 came. I thought that any chance I had of obtaining my Workshop Accreditation in the next few years were dashed. However, like many things in the Covid environment, BRIDGE has learnt to adapt, and has done so by moving to an online virtual delivery model.
While BRIDGE is designed to be delivered in person, our facilitation team adapted and created ways to keep the participants as engaged as possible in the virtual environment. We were lucky enough to have a world renowned expert on Strategic Management, Antonio Spinelli, deliver and support many of the technical aspects of the training, which allowed me to concentrate on creating and running the group activities to reinforce the participant’s learnings.
I was also expertly supported by my fellow facilitators, both very experienced BRIDGE facilitators, which made my job easier as I knew I was in good hands.
Participants were open and honest about strategic planning in their respective EMB’s, which allowed them to get the most out of the sessions. We also had the Fijian Elections Office provide an excellent presentation on their strategic planning process, which really helped participants solidify what they had learnt over the 4 days.
That’s not to say that we didn’t face any challenges over the four days. With our participants coming from various countries around the Pacific, internet connectivity for some participants was patchy at best, requiring us to think on our feet as to how we could ensure that all were able to participate. This included one participant only being able to communicate through the chat function, however it was clear from their interaction that they were still able to understand and follow the sessions.
While my first time facilitating a BRIDGE module wasn’t as I thought it would be when I completed my TtF, it was still an amazing experience to be part of a BRIDGE facilitation team and to meet some of our close neighbours from the Pacific.”
Darren has summed it up beautifully. While we are still learning how to use the virtual space effectively, this was a worthwhile experience for everyone involved and a great way to ensure that the PIANZEA secretariat keeps providing its member states with what they request.