Building awareness to changing behaviour: A paradigm shift with digital technology

Use of online training has not only helped rural and urban residents and government in Maharashtra to become more aware, but also empowered them to take collective action to tackle the pandemic.
Rural training at the doorstep (Image Source: UNICEF)
Rural training at the doorstep (Image Source: UNICEF)

Urban India, in the grip of the pandemic

While the Covid -19 pandemic has spread its tentacles both in urban and rural areas in India, it has been found to be most active in urban areas with the cases rising at precarious levels in all the major metropolitan cities in the country. The situation has been particularly difficult for the poor and marginalised who have suffered tremendously because of the lack of basic facilities such as water and sanitation, overcrowded living, lack of access to food and medical care besides facing grave livelihood issues due to the lockdown that was announced in the cities.

The pandemic while presenting multiple challenges has highlighted the crucial role of awareness and knowledge and community participation in changing behaviour to deal with the situation. However, the challenge has been in how to reach people, especially the large number of poor, vulnerable and marginalised residing in the slums, in the middle of lockdowns and limitations on movement that the pandemic has brought about.

Digital technologies to the rescue

While lockdowns have happened, this has however not deterred some people from accessing information on Covid-19 and its prevention. This has been due to the unique effort made by organisations to use digital technology to reach and help people in times of Covid-19.

Digital technologies have been found to have a tremendous potential to support populations in the times of Covid-19 through enhancing public health education and communication on issues such as recognising early symptoms, importance of hand and respiratory hygiene and augmenting and enhancing these public health strategies. The technologies have also brought in help from all directions while increasing connectivity among people, organisations, and policy makers.

Organisations such as UNICEF have been at the forefront of creating awareness and helping urban areas cope with the pandemic. The recent effort by UNICEF Maharashtra with different government line departments and development partners has been in using digital media to spread awareness on the pandemic by conducting training programmes on various subjects ranging from menstrual hygiene management to WASH in schools and urban slums, spreading awareness on personal safety and protection against Covid -19 infections and ensuring  water safety in urban areas of Maharashtra.

These online training programmes are directed at o?cials and workers of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), school teachers in urban areas and engineers, community based organisations and caretakers managing community toilets, sewerage and wastes management, toilet operators, cleaners, etc. This has been with the aim of acquainting people who are involved in provision of these services to appropriate measures for self-protection, infection prevention and control, while also spreading information on the risks and prevention at the community level.

For this, UNICEF has collaborated with Urban Development Department, All India Institute of Local Self Government (AIILSG) Mumbai, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Education department in Maharashtra and with Delhi Urban Slum Improvement Board and Habitat for Humanity, India.

Technology aids online training in urban areas

Virtual Training of Trainers (ToT) was conducted on Risk Communications and Community engagement on Infection Prevention, Control on Environmental Sanitation and Waste Management for officials, teachers and engineers of ULBs, in Maharashtra and Delhi. Target groups for urban trainings included:

  • ULB o?cials such as commissioners, chief o?cers, engineers, sanitary Inspectors & operators of public toilets, STPs, FSTPs & ETPs who are involved in management of Covid-19 for infection prevention and control and sanitation and waste management and who can further disseminate this information to their front-line workers
  • Teachers working in Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM)
  • For Delhi Urban Slum Improvement Board, target group was engineers involved in management of community toilets in Delhi
  • Community based organisation representatives and caretakers of public toilets from M-East, G-North and H-East ward of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai

The training programme was designed for 90 to 120 minutes including questions from the participants. Some of the trainings overshot the time duration due to practical difficulties due to the current pandemic situation and the interactive way in which trainers tried to conduct sessions with participants.

The details of the trainings are included in the table below:

Of the total participants, 14882  were from all over Maharashtra and 60 engineers were from urban areas of Delhi. The sessions were conducted by sector experts from WHO, BMC, MPCB, AIILSG, MCGM and supported by UNICEF Maharashtra. The trained participants were expected to share the information gained during the trainings with their front-line workers in urban local bodies who are involved in IPC of Covid-19 centers and services and directly deal with the community. Community Radio stations were expected to convey messages on WASH and MHM via their radio stations to reach out to their listeners from around 60 km area.

Modules and topics for the trainings

The training modules were developed by sector experts and were finalised after review and continuous back and forth discussions with field experts. Care was taken to see that all the relevant information shared during training was helpful and practically applicable for the front-line workers to deal with every infection prevention and control aspect in the field. The table shared below shows the session details for these trainings.

Dattaram Pisal, one of the teachers who attended the trainings says “I got to know about such critical and useful information today. I will definitely convey this knowledge not only to my students but to the community as well”

Rural India, struggling with Covid-19

In contrast to urban areas, the situation has been very different in rural areas of Maharashtra where Covid-19 cases had been very less in the initial stages, but gradually started to increase with the mass return of migrants to their respective villages from urban areas. The crisis now continues to affect and grow in a large section of the population in rural areas as well.

Online trainings conducted for rural areas

UNICEF Maharashtra along with government departments and partner organisations, organised a series of capacity building trainings for different kind of stakeholders working with rural communities. The initiative was planned on the basis of overall understanding regarding the felt needs and requests from Government Departments (Water Supply and Sanitation, Education, Health, SDMA, Rural Development, ZP etc.). Swachhagrahis, Jalsurakshaks, teachers, Kendra Pramukhs, Head Masters, FLWs of different Government programmes and volunteers associated with partner organisations were among the stakeholders trained.

All the 34 rural districts of the state were covered and 159714 stakeholders were trained through 164 training batches and equipped to work with the local communities and institutions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The module wise participants trained are as follows:

The training focused on taking care of self and others by adopting precautionary measures like maintaining social distance up to 6 ft., wearing face masks, washing hands regularly with soap,  etc and was appreciated by the participants.

Priyadarshini More, Dy. CEO, SBM, Zila Parishad, Kolhapur says, “The quality of this training is very appreciable and systematic, every detail has been delivered very carefully. We hope RedR India and UNICEF will bring such advanced and important steps every time, to create developed communities”.

Advantages and limitations faced while undertaking the trainings

The online trainings have served as a boon during the Covid-19 lockdown period and later when physical connectivity has been challenged. The training efforts have made a great difference in terms of accessibility of people located at different places in urban areas and in terms of the lack of need to travel over long distances in rural areas, saved time, have been cost effective, have needed less logistic arrangements, improved accountability and transparency and helped in improving the dialogue and connectivity among people at the ground level to governmental officials.

The effort has thus demonstrated the important role that technology can play in empowering people with information, making connections between people and policy makers, programme implementers and holds the potential for a decentralised approach in dealing with public health problems.Participants viewing online training in their fields (Image Source: UNICEF)At the same time, lack of face to face interactions, problems with connectivity and use of technology, lack of control on the conditions while undertaking the trainings, problems encountered in getting feedback, difficulties in evaluating if people have understood what was discussed and their comfort level with technology have been felt as some of the barriers that need redressal in the future training programmes.

While online sessions provide immense benefits, pre training sessions to orient participants on process to get desired outcomes, efforts to synchronise efforts of facilitators, better presentation of information in terms of clarity, colors, designs, font types, size, use of pictures etc are needed to make the experience better for facilitators as well as participants. .

Learnings from the effort undertaken

It has been realised that there is a need to design training content based on needs and circumstances of stakeholders like Rapid Training Need Assessment, messaging and using a phased approach while considering the IT glitches and absorption capacity of the trainees; Using innovation to make the content interactive through online polls, menti meter and priotising the content keeping in mind the suitable time of the day; Answering queries by using Q/A boxes, whatsapp groups, refresher trainings, etc; maintaining attention spans by keeping each presentation not more than 10-15 minutes with option for dialogue to reduce monologue; Using more than one trainer to bring diversity; Ensuring followup with IVR based Rapid Pro calling mechanism every week to reinforce the message and also to get data points on action based on the training.

The efforts have also been successful in motivating people to spread the information they learnt from the trainings in their day to day work. For example, Swachchagrahis have used the knowledge they got from these trainings for community awareness and changing the sanitation situation in their villages. Teachers conducted awareness sessions in their residential areas using sound system available in the villages for spreading the knowledge they got through trainings. The programme has gone beyond the orginal cohort of trainers to a much larger scale. For example, WASH in School and MHM trainings have covered more than 35,000 teachers.

Opportunities for scaling up

These experiences from Maharashtra demonstrate the tremendous potential that technology can have not only in spreading awareness among people, but also providing them with the necessary information and confidence to take action via seeking help and making connections by using the technology platform.

A woman viewing online training in her farm (Image Source: UNICEF)

Use of digital technology for online training and awareness building in water, sanitation and hygiene, public health and environmental sanitation issues can have a great potential at different locations in the country because of its capacity to connect with people living at different locations, helping in reducing the costs and the burden of travel and helping people to connect with each other and empowering them with information. However scaling up would require development of training material in different languages for different locations and adapting it to different sociocultural contexts along with more efforts at upgradation and improvement in the available technology at the policy level.

The use of digital technology can have many advantages in disaster situations for monitoring the situation and sending alerts to people and officials to prevent deaths and destruction, but it would vary by the type of the disaster, local circumstances, connectivity and availability and access to technology in the area.

In spite of the many setbacks that the Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed world over and in India, it has also opened up opportunities for better management of pandemics in the future. Making the most of this digital future is the need of the hour!

Please view all the details of the training modules below:


Please view our flickr album on capacity building initiatives here

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