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In-country trainers hold the key to sustained national geospatial capacity

December 23, 2020

GRID3’s Trainer Support Programme approach facilitates in-country partners’ efforts to educate and train future generations of data experts.

Supporting the global community of geospatial data users is key to GRID3’s mission and vision. One important aspect of this assistance is ensuring that national stakeholders have the capacity to collect, produce, analyse, and maintain the best possible data. Ideally, by the end of a given partnership, GRID3 will have transferred all operations to the country.

For a self-sustaining knowledge base to flourish, it is necessary to not only identify and elevate today’s leading experts in the subject matter, but also to train tomorrow’s leaders to use geospatial data to solve critical development challenges. This principle fuels GRID3’s Trainer Support Programme (TSP) approach.

Making a difference in Zambia and Nigeria

To ensure the benefits of GRID3’s work  are sustainable over the long term, the programme places a heavy emphasis on capacity strengthening. This is achieved through close collaboration with in-country partners who work with GRID3 to identify gaps in geospatial knowledge and skills and then tailor training and other activities towards developing those skills. Using learning resources that link foundational knowledge to specific data applications, this approach has already proven successful in Zambia and Nigeria.

“To run successful analyses and shape effective interventions, participants in GRID3 workshops must not only understand the theory around the power of geospatial data, but also be able to apply the techniques to the real world,”

explains Graeme Hornby, GRID3 Capacity Strengthening Lead. 

During a GRID3 scoping mission in 2019, the University of Zambia (UNZA) expressed interest in securing GRID3’s help to improve both the quality and reach of geospatial data in the country. In response, GRID3 Zambia held its first TSP course in June 2019 at the university. The course provided students with a thorough grounding in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) principles and core functions, as well as in demographic applications. During this course, GRID3 collaborated with UNZA staff to review and adapt GRID3 materials to the local context and to certify participants as GRID3 trainers. The workshop equipped UNZA participants with materials and approaches that made it possible for them to deliver future GRID3 training themselves; UNZA successfully delivered its first GRID3 GIS workshop to 20 representatives from the Zambian government in September 2019, focusing on using GIS to conduct spatial analyses of demographic and socioeconomic data.

GRID3 is currently in talks with several government ministries to conduct further capacity strengthening around the application of GRID3 Zambia population estimates and its Zambia data hub. To that end, UNZA has proposed giving a group of trainers the designation of “teacher” on GRID3’s Learning Management System (LMS), thereby allowing them to organise and facilitate the requested trainings at the beginning of 2021.

“For sustainable impact, we have to ensure that regular training workshops are run across the country, independently or with GRID3’s direct support or involvement. It is key for participants to continuously use the acquired skills and produced GRID3 datasets to address challenges. Joining the TSP has allowed for GIS skills to be strengthened and sustained at national level, which might not have been possible without GRID3 support in the first place,”

explains Gillie Cheelo, Chief Cartographer, at UNZA.

The TSP approach is likewise making inroads in GRID3’s work in Nigeria. Since November 2018, GRID3 Nigeria has partnered with the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) to improve capacity around geospatial data. This partnership has led to in-depth training workshops that improved the capacity of NASRDA representatives. Thanks to these engagements and workshops, NASRDA representatives have become fluent enough in a method of training others that they will be delivering GRID3 GIS training courses to ministries, departments, and agencies across states, in addition to integrating, harmonising, and merging any government-hosted geospatial data into the GRID3 Nigeria data portal.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, disrupted plans for deploying the geospatial data capacity strengthening strategy from early 2020, which aimed then to start training GIS staff across various states. NASRDA is now liaising with the GRID3 Nigeria team to refresh their training skills using GRID3’s online learning management system, and plans to deliver GIS courses to the Federal Capital Territory and six other states in early 2021.

“The recent achievements between GRID3 Nigeria and NASRDA represent a key milestone for the development of geospatial data systems across Nigeria. We have the responsibility to support states in joining us on this journey and GRID3’s support in strengthening the skills of our trainers is something our staff is looking forward to,”

comments Dr. Matthew Adepoju, Deputy Director, Strategic Space Applications Department of NASRDA.

Going online: The programme adapts to COVID-19

Pre-COVID-19, the TSP approach relied heavily on in-person workshops that paired GRID3 experts with their in-country peers. The pandemic has made that in-format format nearly impossible, and yet the demand for training is as strong as ever.  

The programme has worked with its partners to not only successfully adapt to the new context, but has even expanded its training package by making some of its courses available via a digital Learning Management System (LMS). The LMS enables GRID3 to train data experts during a time when in-person workshops are still nearly impossible. Assuming a reliable internet connection, the LMS holds the promise of reaching far more learners than traditional in-person training, with greatly reduced administrative and logistical demands. 

GRID3 has begun using a blended learning approach that relies on both online and in person delivery methods. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), GRID3 has partnered with the University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN) to deliver a blended-learning TSP to the Congo Basin Water Resources Research Center (CRREBaC) at UNIKIN, the Census Bureau (Bureau Central de Recensement, BCR), and the National Agency for Clinical Information and Health Informatics (l’ Agence Nationale d’Ingénierie Clinique d’Information et d’Informatique de Santé, ANICiiS). 

To successfully develop participants’ training skills, the programme consists of four key stages: familiarisation with GRID3 training materials; customisation of materials for ongoing use; a mock training lecture and hands-on demo session; and the development of a training plan. Online courses were supported by three face-to-face sessions in Kinshasa that strictly adhered to COVID-19 prevention standards, focusing on enhancing skills in QGIS (an open-source desktop GIS software) for population and health studies in DRC. 

The GRID3 capacity strengthening strategy always aimed to combine face-to-face classes with online courses, with the LMS initially being used from 2019 for follow-up purposes post-workshops. When the pandemic hit, the existing work enabled a rapid and effective transition into e-learning during lockdown periods, followed by blended learning when appropriate.

Participants from the Trainer Support Programme at the University of Kinshasa, DRC.

Encouraging growth of data expertise

The work of empowering a community of GRID3 trainers does not stop in the physical or virtual classroom. In addition to classes, GRID3 uses the LMS to allow for regular training and the continued education of participants. Thanks to the platform, registered users can support and interact with each other, pose questions to GRID3 trainers, and access various resources to keep their knowledge up-to-date. Ensuring the skill development of the women and men who will proceed to build cohorts of data experts goes hand in hand with GRID3’s emphasis on  country ownership. 

While a large focus is drawn on GIS skill sets, based on countries’ needs and requests, GRID3 capacity strengthening activities cover a much wider range of topics. For more information about our training and technical assistance solutions, please get in touch through our Contact Us page.

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