Food Security COVID-19 Learning Event

From June 21 - 24, 2021, IDEAL convened emergency and non-emergency food security practitioners during this collaborative, online learning event

photo of woman farming
Save the Children


Facilitated by IDEAL, the Food Security COVID-19 Learning Event convened implementers from June 21 - 24, 2021, and created an opportunity for emergency and non-emergency practitioners of USAID/Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance-funded activities to: 

  • Pause and reflect on the lessons learned so far from implementing emergency and non-emergency food security activities during the COVID-19 pandemic; 

  • Explore innovations and adaptations resulting from the response to a changing environment; 

  • Discuss the implications and applicability of lessons learned and adaptations across pandemic contexts to situations beyond COVID-19; and 

  • Network with colleagues to establish and strengthen relationships for peer-to-peer collaboration and learning.  

Download Agenda

Want to learn more about the Food Security COVID-19 Learning Event? Click on our summary video below to hear from USAID/BHA staff, IDEAL team members, and event participants.

Learn more in the COVID-19 Collection here.

Session Materials

Monday, June 21

Welcome, Opening & Keynote

Thematic Area 1 Panel: Did COVID-19 Accelerate Empowered and Informed Decision-Making in Food Security Activities?

Adaptations in the Face of Constant Change: Protecting Development Gains and Remote Post-Distribution Monitoring

Reflecting on a Year of Virtual Collaboration: What Practices to Stop, Start, or Continue?

Adjusting Monitoring Systems during COVID-19: What’s Working That We Can Take Forward?

Learning from Engaging Local Governments during COVID-19

Market and Supply Chain Monitoring Toolkit & Integrated Context Monitoring and Adaptive Scenario Planning Tool

Tuesday, June 22

Empowering Women and Girls through Digital Inclusion & Mobilizing Local Voices for Risk Communication and Response

Holistic Organizational Capacity Assessment Instrument & Caregiver Mental Health Knowledge Sharing Series & Resources

Thematic Area 2 Panel: What are our Challenges and Opportunities as a Food Security Community in this Virtual World?

Practical Tools for Adapting Activities in Complex Environments: Insights from the Sahel

Destigmatizing Remote Data Collection Quality

Thematic Area 3 Panel: Examining the Trajectory of Localization during COVID-19

Wednesday, June 23

Adapting Child Nutrition Screening & Adaptations to Strengthen Communities and Health Systems during COVID-19

Engaging Community Service Providers Towards Localization

Empowering Field Agents and Staff in the Face of Dynamic Change

Operationalizing Community Engagement for Humanitarian Response to Outbreaks 

Thematic Area 4 Panel: What are RCCE Key Principles and Best Practices during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Harnessing Local Solutions for Lasting Change in North-Central Burkina Faso (French)

Communication Skills for Remote Program Implementation (Spanish)

Thursday, June 24

Malawi RCCE Radio Show & Messaging During the Pandemic in Ethiopia

Women Respond Initiative & Social and Behavior Change Expertise for Nutrition in Emergencies

Going Digital in Complex Contexts

Enhancing Partnership Models Between International and Local Partners

Risk Communication and Community Engagement: Learning from Successes and Mistakes as We Move Through the Pandemic and Beyond

Taking the Learning Forward & Closing Remarks


Thematic Areas 

The Food Security COVID-19 Learning Event centered around four thematic areas informed by our consultations with implementing partners. Click on the names of the thematic areas below to learn more.

Thematic Area 1: Empowered and Informed Decision-Making

The COVID-19 pandemic required partners to find new ways to continue activity implementation in the face of constant change. Partners used adaptive management approaches, such as scenario planning, to navigate challenging decisions during uncertain times. Often, these decisions had to be made with limited data and information and, in other cases, decision-making devolved to field staff with better understanding of real situations on the ground. Many decisions were challenging. For example, many partners had to strike the delicate balance between continuing implementation and ensuring the safety of staff and participants.  

This thematic area explored the complex decisions the food security community faced during the pandemic, and what we’ve learned about how to ensure staff stay informed and empowered to make decisions in ways that will propel us forward in times of crises. Convening questions included: 

  • How can the use of adaptive management approaches support decision-making? What do these look like in emergency and non-emergency contexts? 
  • How have activity staff navigated decision-making in data- and information-scarce contexts? What decision-making principles are important when operating in constantly changing environments? 
  • What adaptations were made to address the shifting and increasing needs of activity participants, as a result of COVID-19? What challenges did partners face in making these adaptations and how were these challenges overcome? 
  • What has adaptive management in response to COVID-19 looked like across contexts affected by multiple shocks and stressors? What can we learn and take forward as a community? 
  • What have we learned about how to empower field agents and staff to make decisions in the face of dynamic change?
Thematic Area 2: Challenges and Opportunities in a Virtual World 

In the past year, activities and organizations have quickly adopted digital solutions to deliver interventions and technical assistance, as well as organize meetings and trainings remotely. Our focus group discussions revealed that while the virtual space may have removed some barriers to participation for staff, it also highlighted the divide between staff with home access to the internet and those without. For those with access, it increased expected participation in more meetings across more time zones, which led to coordination challenges and burn-out. In addition, virtual meetings do not allow for “side meetings” that historically have been a key driver to link critical stakeholder groups.  

Many activity participants can be reached with mobile services, but not all. When we use digital solutions, who are we leaving out? This thematic area explored this question and more:  

  • How is technology changing the way partners implement, monitor, evaluate, and learn? Which approaches should we normalize as a community? Which shouldn't be normalized?  
  • How do partners choose when to use technology versus when to keep it simple with analog techniques? How are cultural differences and inclusion principles upheld as partners make these decisions, to ensure groups of people are not left behind? 
  • How have organization and activity leadership fostered trust in a remote and virtual environment? What practices and lessons can we take forward, post-pandemic?  
  • What changes can we make to address fatigue from being “always on(line)?” 
Thematic Area 3:  Localization and Collaboration

With restrictions on staff mobility, partnerships with the local government, local private sector, and community actors became even more essential to activity implementation. Activities that had existing relationships with government, community-based organizations, and the health sector were able to rely on those relationships to continue programming at a more local level. More so, partners supported community members to take on expanded roles in activities such as nutrition screening, voucher distributions, and activity monitoring. While the food security implementing community has been on the path to localization in recent years, the pandemic has accelerated and expanded opportunities to empower local and community actors.   

This thematic area focused on how partner organizations have supported local actors to make decisions about what is best for them in light of changing local operational contexts. Convening questions included:  

  • When it comes to partnerships and localization, what working dynamics and approaches should we sustain?  
  • How might networks and partnerships be leveraged and strengthened to achieve shared goals? What can emergency and non-emergency practitioners learn from each other?  
  • In what ways can communities and local governments be supported to take on a larger role in future emergency responses?   
  • As we share responsibilities with local partners and community actors, how do we ensure duty of care is upheld? 
  • What elements of activity programming could be further localized beyond the pandemic? What promising practices are emerging? How can it be replicable across contexts?  
  • Have localization and partnerships in response to COVID-19 strengthened activities’ sustainability and exit strategies? How have sustainability and exit strategies informed activities’ localization and partnership efforts? What can we learn from these results?  
Thematic Area 4: Risk Communication and Community Engagement

Partners leveraged existing programming to integrate risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) activities addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. A wide variety of approaches were used, including disseminating messages at food distribution sites; through community-led nutrition and WASH networks; local government health structures; in-person messengers who patrolled with loudspeakers; radio broadcasting; rumor monitoring, and feedback loops with community members; and use of Interactive Voice Response technology. All these RCCE efforts were implemented alongside other longer-term social and behavior change work and with a backdrop of stigma and mis/disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.   

This thematic area explored how the food security community navigated this complexity. Convening questions included:

  • How have food security activities balanced the imperative to deliver emergency RCCE with maintaining momentum on longer-term social and behavior change goals?  
  • How did food security activities deliver risk communication and engage communities to address stigma, misinformation , and mistrust?  How were community structures involved?  
  • How were food security activities coordinated with national and regional level COVID-19 coordination mechanisms, including governments and other partners? 
  • What are the lessons learned and what strategies need to endure beyond the pandemic?


Session Formats

The Food Security COVID-19 Learning Event had a variety of session formats that allowed for storytelling, collective problem-solving, co-creating, and networking. IDEAL accepted submissions from implementing partners to become presenters or facilitators for the session formats below.

Lightning Talks

Patterned after “TED Talks” (here’s an example), Lightning Talks are 13-15 minutes in length and the ideal format to share innovations and adaptations to food security activities as a result of COVID-19. Submissions for this format catered to at least one of the learning event thematic areas and were live, with support from IDEAL. Two Lightning Talks on related topics were combined to form a 30-minute session, followed by a live 30-minute Q&A session.  

Collaborative Sessions

Collaborative Sessions convened small groups of 15 - 20 participants to discuss and problem-solve around enduring challenges and/or to co-create an output, such as tip sheets or a collection of resources. They were 60 - 90 minutes in length and the ideal format for pausing and reflecting on lessons learned and taking the learning forward beyond COVID-19.  Submissions for this format catered to at least one of the learning event thematic areas.  

Collaborative Session hosts did not present in the traditional sense. They facilitated the discussion and/or output creation and IDEAL supported session hosts in preparing facilitation guides and designing the conversations to ensure the sessions achieve their stated goals. 

Resource Reveal

Resource Reveals allowed for the implementing community to share practical resources with one another: tools and toolkits, templates, and guides or manuals. Submissions for this format covered at least one thematic area, and were 60 minutes in length, with three presenters sharing their resources for 15 minutes each, followed by a Q&A portion.

Virtual Tea Rooms

Virtual Tea Rooms were open spaces for informal discussions and networking. They were 45 minutes in length and provided opportunities for attendees to establish and strengthen relationships with each other. The Virtual Tea Rooms convened implementers in similar roles, activity types, sectoral interests, and regions, among others.

This event is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the Implementer-led Design, Evidence, Analysis and Learning (IDEAL) Activity and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.