The August FORCE webinar discussed remote coaching and mentoring and is application in technical assistance in the COVID-19 era and beyond. As donor aid shrinks and with limited domestic funding affecting health systems programs, Coaches should prioritize low cost and high impact activities such as virtual engagements to free up funds for other essential health program implementation areas.
As technical assistance is a core function of the FORCE, it is necessary to ensure coaches understand how to effectively conduct remote engagements to support stakeholders to achieve their health systems goals. To achieve this, Results for Development (R4D), in collaboration with African Collaborative for Health Financing Solutions (ACS) and Strategic Purchasing Africa Resource Center (SPARC), have developed a capacity building module on remote coaching. Remote coaching is an approach to providing technical support to a change process through virtual engagements. The module explains how coaches can identify when remote coaching is needed and facilitate successful remote coaching activities.
Our panelists for the August webinar included Amanda Folsom, Senior Program Director, R4D, Naomi Gaspard, Senior Program Associate, R4D, Agnes Munyua, Senior Program Associate, R4D, and Boniface Mbuthia, Technical Advisor, Public Financial Management, ThinkWell Kenya. Amanda and Naomi introduced the new remote coaching module while Boniface and Agnes provided real-world experiences on how to conduct remote engagements and coaching while highlighting skills and tips, they have deployed in past engagements to ensure success. The objectives of the session were to:
- Introduce the new remote coaching module
- Describe the importance of remote country engagements during the COVID-19 outbreak
Introduction to the coaching modules and remote coaching
The coaching approach centres on building country expertise during health systems strengthening efforts in low- and middle-income countries. It achieves this using three pillars: the e-learning series – to prepare experts interested in serving as coaches and mentors, the experts’ database – to elevate the profile of experts in countries requesting technical support, and the FORCE community – to facilitate joint learning among this community of coaches and mentors.
The e-learning series trains health systems experts on the coaching approach by providing them with the knowledge and skills required to provide technical assistance effectively. So far, three coaching modules have been developed. The first module introduces the coaching approach. The second outlines the skills and tools necessary for coaches to design and facilitate effective country engagement processes.
The third module, remote coaching, describes the use and importance of remote coaching. This module adapts the tools and skills such as inter-personal communication, understanding country contexts and active listening, in the first two modules to remote contexts. The remote coaching module also provides tips for remote coaching, including effective use of technology and shares examples and lessons from country experiences where remote coaching has been utilized.
Effects Of COVID-19 on Health Systems Strengthening Work
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted how health systems strengthening experts work in Africa and globally and made obvious the importance of remote engagements in continuing support to country health systems. Coaches Boniface and Agnes conducted extensive remote engagements with diverse stakeholders, including country governments and funders and shared their experiences with the remote coaching process.
Both panellists reported two essential traits, patience, and adaptability, as skills that coaches would require for remote coaching. Due to the abrupt changes in countries health priorities during the outbreak, coaches had to adapt work plans to include changes in country priority interventions and activities based on the evolving context.
In Kenya, for instance, ThinkWell supports sub-national governments on strategic health purchasing. Owing to the movement restrictions, the ThinkWell team had to adapt the in-person capacity building sessions planned with the sub-national government health financing teams to virtual meetings. These virtual engagements made it possible to continue engagement and discussions with all 47 counties and obtain their buy-in on strategic health purchasing plans.
Additionally, remote engagements during the COVID outbreak ensured that SPARCs country engagement work did not stop. However, while there was initially a peak in attendance and participation in these engagements, the interest slowly began to fade. The SPARC team had to be more strategic and intentional in the way remote engagements were structured. Coaches leveraged formal and informal platforms to continue to draw participation to reach stakeholders and improve attendance to remote engagements. Virtual engagements have also provided opportunities to sharpen skills. The Joint Learning Network (JLN) and SPARC provided workshops on virtual facilitation to sharpen skills and support staff on the transition from in-person coaching to virtual coaching.
Our panellists highlighted important skills and character traits that coaches should employ to conduct remote coaching effectively. These include:
- Inter-personal relationships to build trust – Remote coaching requires that coaches build personal relationships with stakeholders to increase trust between both parties. This will require a coach to be aware of the various contextual issues that exist in the country, identify the needs of stakeholders, and ensure that they apply this knowledge to meeting the needs of the stakeholders and achieving the country engagement goals.
- Availability – Coaches can offer multiple avenues through which they can be reached, thereby increasing their availability to stakeholders on any appropriate platforms.
- Knowledge on available technology: A coach needs to improve their skills on remote engagement, including identifying platforms available to conduct remote coaching and skills necessary to ensure successful engagements.
- Scheduling consideration – Coaches must be respectful and considerate about scheduling meetings and be punctual and time-sensitive in conducting meetings. The coach should give adequate (2 – 3 weeks) notice of meetings to participants prior to meeting date and listen to and address stakeholder challenges that may affect future virtual coaching sessions.
- Adequate documentation – Coaches should be intentional about program documentation to ensure program objectives are met.
- Duration of meetings – Remote fatigue is a genuine possibility with virtual engagements. It reduces the reflection time and focus of participants and thus reduces the effectiveness of virtual engagements. Coaches should ensure virtual meetings/sessions are not too long or short to allow participants to engage fully with the meetings.
- Contextual awareness – Coaches should also be aware of stakeholders’ technological limitations and consider this in the choice of platforms where engagements will be held.
In conclusion, remote coaching and engagement is here to stay. Coaches should therefore avail themselves of resources that can improve the outcomes of their remote engagements. Additionally, while remote coaching differs from in-person engagements, the skills used during in-person engagements are fundamentally the same skills used for remote engagements. Coaches should therefore adapt these skills to suit their context.
To view the recording of this webinar, click here.