It was March 2020 when COVID-19 began to turn the world upside down. I came home early from Bangladesh, when we had an on-going research project that was stopped immediately. This was followed by a mandatory 21 days of self-quarantine all alone in my apartment. It was a difficult situation for everyone.
While I was stuck in quarantine, surprisingly my ‘dad’ from one of our previous immersion studies in West Sumatra texted me, “Hey Riz, how are you? I saw the news about the COVID situation in Jakarta and we worry about you...” I did not realise that a text can be very powerful during those stressful times. I called him back. That day we spent hours talking about the condition both in Jakarta and in his village, and we wished for each other's safety.
When Empatika then decided that we wanted researchers to try and check-in with families from previous studies, I was more than happy to keep in touch with this family in Pasaman along with contacting some of my other previous study families. Through these initial conversations Empatika then had an opportunity to continue these check-ins through a full longitudinal study. Along with over 10 other Empatika researchers, we would each stay in touch with families from all over Indonesia throughout the first year of the pandemic. This post is a sample of some of the insights and a taste of the connections we developed.
(Empatika senior researcher Rizqan, who interacted with three families in three different provinces as part of this study)
Keeping in Touch with People's Experiences of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Our longitudinal remote insights gathering study finished its last round, focused on livelihoods and social assistance, in February 2021. From the insights gained over the nine month study period we produced three in-depth briefs and a summary brief, in addition to an initial brief from the early listening stage of the study and are hoping to be able to share these reports soon! This study aims to bring faces, stories, and highlight local perspectives into how families and other people across Indonesia have been dealing with changes and uncertainty during the pandemic, in both urban and rural contexts. The pandemic situation also gave us an opportunity for us to experiment with remote approaches and tools to qualitative research. Utilising the pre-existing relationships that Empatika researchers have with a variety of families across Indonesia, the study included a total of 45 families in 23 districts of Indonesia*. Over the study period families have shared their ongoing stories.
Built on trust, experimenting with remote tools
Our researchers knew the study participant families from previous immersion and other qualitative studies conducted between 2015 to 2020 when we had the opportunity to spend time with families in their own homes and their communities. This meant good existing rapport and relationships between researchers and families which provided a basis for open and trusted interactions. It also meant that researchers were familiar with the different contexts of these communities.
During the study, researchers made regular phone calls, texts, and had other remote interactions with families over the study period. Based on families' main concerns from the listening phase of the study, over the following three rounds of data collection we conversed about livelihoods and social assistance; education (including learning and social lives of children); and health. We complemented phone conversations and text messaging with other data gathering tools—our first experience using remote tools—including photo, audio and video sharing; group chats and discussions; and visual and story prompts. For example, texting with families through Whatsapp, we shared photos related to COVID-19 including from our own lives to ignite conversations and asked them to send back photos to us about the situation in their communities. With university students from different study locations, a few researchers formed a WhatsApp group to discuss together their multiple experiences and the challenges that they are facing during this pandemic. Some families recorded their own voice notes or videos from the prompt questions we provided. These tools were guided by thematic areas of conversations which were tailored and updated to each in-depth topic focus for each round of the study.
To situate the study insights, for the final summary brief we also prepared a timeline (shown below) which shows the context and influence of some of the policy responses of the Government of Indonesia alongside people’s concerns and changes that were happening in the study communities over the study period. These government responses included mobility and travel restrictions or suspensions, the closure of public services such as schools, village-level health facilities and posyandu sessions, along with the disbursement of emergency social assistance. Perceptions about these policies were also discussed with families throughout the study.
The following are some of the key insights from the study across the three primary topics:
Livelihoods and Social Assistance
Empatika kicked off 2021 with a study about malaria programs in Eastern Indonesia, focusing on the social factors that influence how people access malaria prevention and treatment services. Even though malaria programs have been delivered nationwide since 1959, with a more recent target to achieve malaria-free status by 2030, malaria cases remain high especially in the eastern part of Indonesia. This study aims to provide deeper insights and a better understanding of community experience in order to strengthen existing malaria interventions, particularly communication strategies that can encourage positive behaviour in using malaria prevention-related services.
For this study, the Empatika team visited four districts including Southwest Sumba, NTT; Mimika and Jayapura, Papua; and Manokwari, West Papua. Within each district, our team spent time in two different communities.
The study was carried out in two stages including adapted immersions along with follow-up People Driven Design (PDD) workshops. The first stage using adapted immersions was done in mid-January—the method was adjusted from Empatika’s typical immersion approach to mitigate COVID-19 risks to both participants and researchers. For these adapted immersions, researchers visited communities from morning until evening over a period of days but spent nights at a guesthouse close to the community rather than staying with families. During this stage, we focused on understanding the local context and people’s behaviour in relation to malaria prevention and treatment.
The second stage included People Driven Design (PDD) workshops in communities that took place in early March. PDD is an approach based on the principles of human-centred design with an emphasis on directly engaging people in identifying their own behaviour challenges, setting goals, and developing their own ideas to encourage positive behaviour change. For these workshops we focused on one community each across the four districts. Building on the rapport built throughout the adapted immersions, Empatika researchers held interactive discussions with a group of community members and health providers over a period of five days. We discussed insights from the adapted immersions including people’s thoughts about their priorities, facilitated them to brainstorm, develop and try out local solutions that could encourage positive behaviour change related to accessing malaria treatment and prevention.
Through the PDD process, we were very encouraged by community members and health providers’ enthusiasm to promote positive behaviours in their communities. Currently, the behaviour change solutions that they co-designed continue to be trialed, promoted and refined by the community members and health providers. We hope this study as well as the groups’ local solutions can give valuable feedback to improving malaria programs in the future.
We hope to be able to share some of the study's outputs in the next few months.
One of the key topics highlighted in our Longitudinal Remote Insights Gathering study on Children and Their Families’ Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic was the challenges for children’s learning and education. This included the many struggles faced by students, teachers, and parents in shifting to different types of ‘distance learning’ and the education system’s overall lack of preparedness for implementing distance or digital learning on a larger or long-term scale.
Empatika was excited to be able to explore some of the gaps of the digital learning situation in more detail in a new study working once again as the local partner in Indonesia with Quicksand Design Studio (our second recent collaboration). This situational analysis study aims to provide insights on the digital learning landscape in Indonesia, using an equity lens to highlight key disparities that exist among different regions and socio-economic backgrounds. We combined secondary research, expert interviews with people from the Ministry of Education and Culture and EduTech Companies (such as Zenius and Sekolahmu), as well as virtual interviews with teachers, students, and parents from Papua, East Java, West Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, and West Java. The report provides an overview of the access to and quality of digital learning along with insights on internet connectivity and affordability; the availability of digital learning devices; the relevance and content of digital platforms; and the digital skills of students and teachers.
Some of the insights from the study include:
Check out the full report here.