Tips for staying in contact with remote staff in developing countries / conflict zones
| So many, many factors stand in
the way of trying to stay in contact with field
staff at projects in rural or conflicted areas in developing
Working in developing countries, places in conflict, post-mass disaster sites, etc., you will have to re-imagine how you communicate with remote staff every time you arrive in an office - and often, from year to year. Circumstances will always be different from country to country: what worked in Afghanistan won't work in Ukraine, what didn't work in Egypt turns out to be perfect for Ghana. And circumstances will change; a friendly local official might be replaced by a corrupt one who has an interest in your field staff not communicating complete information.
The two things I determine first when I'm charged with communicating with remote staff is: what information do I need, absolutely, and how often do I need it? There's information that's good to have, and there's information that is absolutely VITAL to have, and I have to figure out the difference, quickly. I try to boil my communications needs down to the absolutely most critical, specific things. Then I determine how often I need that most-critical information. Knowing the answers to these two things helps me determine my course of action.
That said, keep this in mind: your information needs will change. Just when you get in the groove, your own HQ back in London or New York or wherever will decide there's a new piece of critical info they need. Or everyone in your field office may be replaced. Be ready to be nimble and adjust quickly!
Also, remember that the majority of field staff are not trained communicators; they are water and sanitation experts, school administrators, mid wife trainers, clinic supervisors, construction chiefs, farming experts, etc. Written communications are very difficult for even native English speakers.
Other things I have to determine once I start in a job where I will work with field staff regarding information-gathering- and it requires asking a LOT of staff a lot of questions to get answers:
Your answers to those questions will determine your plan of action - if you are going to have weekly, monthly or quarterly telephone meetings one-on-one with staff, if you are going to create a reporting template, if you need to train staff regularly visiting field staff to gather information, etc. And be prepared to adjust your approach; circumstances will change, communications will change, some tactics won't work, and on and on.
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