colored piece of wood

South Africa, Standing Together

By | Current Affairs, Ethics

We live in a time of massive complexity and nothing will ever be the same again.  The global health challenge of COVID-19 has radically changed our landscape, wherever we are located.  Given our globalised world, no one is immune to this pandemic, the health challenges it presents and the associated social, economic and political consequences.

Regardless of race, privilege, socio-economic status, geographic location, religion or creed, we are all impacted in some way or another, to different degrees. COVID-19 is proving to be a massive equaliser.

Coming together as a nation

All nations, communities and families have been affected and we are now called to action to tackle head-on the very real challenges this virus presents.

How we act, now and in the weeks and months ahead to tackle this challenge, individually and collectively, will determine our common future.

It is a time for a spirit of compassion and care to be nurtured and directed to those most at risk of being affected by this virus. Those most vulnerable that are living on the margins and struggling to protect themselves, to feed their families and manage the stress of this time.

We are seeing in the past weeks of lockdown how the most vulnerable are facing extreme hardships, including hunger, fear, displacement and confinement.  We have seen communities mobilising, organisations and government departments getting stuck in and civil society groups forming, working together in new, agile, innovative ways with technology, resourcefulness and grit to scale up rapidly to advocate and support relief efforts. There is much evidence of a deep desire to collectively face the challenges together and the spirit of collaboration is strong.

A challenging time

Given poor socio-economic conditions, limited options, marginalisation and lack of information, vulnerability and access to resources many face very real challenges at this time.  The focus needs to ultimately be on ensuring that those who are unaware or isolated, living in abusive homes, hungry, on the margins of our society or acutely vulnerable, are integrally included in the strategies, tactics and ways in which this virus is addressed, especially during the lockdown period.

As world citizens, regardless of nationality or location, let ubuntu and optimism, coupled with pragmatism and compassion, guide and direct every action we each take, going forward.

There are a myriad of ways to get involved and many groups, initiatives and efforts are underway, or sprouting up, across civil society, in organisations, at all levels of government and within homes and communities.

Changemakers in South Africa

Consider finding ways to use your skills, resources and any time you have to contribute meaningfully. Follow reliable sources of information and updates and don’t spread fear and fake news. Stay safe, follow the guidelines for social distancing, stay at home, follow rigorous hygiene and universal mask-wearing with Mzansi Masks.

Value your freedom, liberty and health.  Act with integrity. Spread love and compassion. Check on your neighbour, donate to a charity, volunteer your expertise either online or in-person through a feeding scheme or relief effort, call a friend, feed a child, shop for an elderly person and give to a stranger.

We are sharing useful info on our social media platforms and our team is working remotely and available at any time.  We will contribute and participate in whatever meaningful ways we can and where we can add the most value in the weeks and months ahead. Please contact me if you wish to discuss anything further.

Let’s ensure social solidarity, good governance, mobilisation across all sectors and contribution with a spirit of community cohesion and activism.  If this energy is directed swiftly, optimally and in solidarity, with compassion and care, and we work together, we can make a difference.  With commitment and integrity, we can find ways to each actively contribute to the collective action and impact positively.

There is an opportunity in crisis. Let us embrace the chaos. With an open heart, let’s work together, be sensitive to others’ vulnerabilities, yet held by our interconnectedness and common humanity.

By Lindy Briginshaw

Founder of Development Works Changemakers

With 25 years of professional experience in the development sector, Lindy is the driving force behind Development Works Changemakers, a specialist evaluation, research, facilitation and development consulting agency, based in South Africa but working internationally.  She is passionate about working for social change and community upliftment, yoga, nature and time with family and friends. 

vulnerability in informal settlments

Part 1: How The COVID-19 Crisis Has Exposed Vulnerability Fault Lines

By | Current Affairs, Ethics

This part 1 of a 3-part series provides a general overview of how the COVID-19 crisis has exposed vulnerability fault lines.

COVID-19 is a universal crisis, which affects each person in each country of the world. This does not mean that it affects all in the same way.

This article looks at how existing vulnerabilities have been exposed by responses to slow down the spread of the virus, and how access to technology and tech-savvy enables responsiveness and resilience in adapting to the “new normal” under lockdown in everyday life and in education.

An unexpected and exceptionally challenging global crisis

At the launch of the UN’s report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres said that the world is facing the most challenging crisis since World War II.

A crisis is a situation of instability and danger or a period of upheaval. It can also be defined as “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined”, or a turning point. In a medical context, it is a point at which “decisive change” occurs, or it could be used to describe the change itself.

Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has brought the world to the point where nothing will ever be the same again, simply because of the way in which this crisis has affected the psyche of the world. We are much less safe and prepared for disruptive change than what we thought. And this applies to all areas of life.

Covid-19 is a health risk

Countries on lockdown all around the world

We cannot significantly change what is happening at the moment. Already on 25 March 2020, it was reported that 20% of the world’s population was under lockdown[1], and the number of people confined to their homes is increasing with more countries implementing lockdowns, extending lockdowns, or implementing stricter physical distancing regulations.

While most agree that lockdown is the only way in which the speed of the virus spreading can be slowed down, there is also widespread agreement that the economic implications of these measures will have a crippling impact on economies worldwide.

The impact of COVID-19 and lockdowns does not only affect economic activities, markets and trade – it has an impact on each and every aspect of life. At the launch of the UN’s report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, Guterres emphasised that countries had to unite, not only to fight and beat the virus but also to deal with its “profound consequences”[2].

Importantly, he said that it would be important to “deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis”. Vulnerability is indeed a fault line that has been exposed in the past few weeks, in ways that the world has not seen before.

The fault lines of physical vulnerability

The virus itself is a more significant threat for persons with existing medical conditions which makes them vulnerable already: diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. The world is waiting in anticipation for the knowledge that will emanate from countries which have populations with a high incidence of HIV, TB and malnutrition.

While there is no data on the impact of COVID-19 on persons living with HIV and TB, we know that their vulnerability will be amplified. Another vulnerability that is magnified by COVID-19 is age, given that many older persons already have pre-existing medical conditions, and as is evident from mortality rates, which shows a substantially higher death rate for older persons. Particularly those over 70 years of age.

covid-19 fatality rate by age

Source: as on 1 April 2020

Exacerbated existing social challenges

Other vulnerabilities that have been highlighted by lockdown are along the lines of social and economic demographics. The lockdown saw local authorities, social development agencies, community and faith-based organisations under severe pressure to provide shelter for the homeless.

The vulnerabilities associated with homelessness are not new, and to date, South Africa has been grappling with how to help large numbers of homeless persons, including youth, who sleep on the street every night, and who make a living on the streets. Hopefully, the temporary solutions implemented during lock-down can ignite change that will see better accommodation of this vulnerable group in future.

The COVID-19 lockdown also highlighted how existing issues regarding informal and overcrowded housing, water and sanitation increases vulnerabilities under a huge section of the South African population. Without access to running water and with communal toilet facilities, it is impossible to implement the hygiene standards required to prevent transmission of the virus.

This crisis is a stark reminder that too many South Africans have become accustomed to living in conditions that are detrimental to their health, and which poses a nearly unmanageable risk under current circumstances.

township in south africa

There is a down-side to public transport

The COVID-19 crisis has even brought unintended negative consequences of using public transport to the fore. Although many South Africans have increased their use of public transport, many still have the option of using private vehicles – something which has now become a safety mechanism. For the majority in our country, this is not an option, and being mobile has now become a major risk.

e-Commerce is not for all

Inequality in South Africa cuts through all aspects of life, including access to technology. In addition to the obvious advantage of technology as a way to access up to date information on a rapidly changing situation, it also makes it easier for some to practice physical distancing.

Those with connectivity and devices are exponentially better positioned to navigate the treacherous and unknown terrain created by COVID-19. For most of the middle class, salaries are deposited into accounts, debit orders go off automatically, and electronic transactions are done in the comfort and safety of homes.

Some of the most vulnerable in our country, who receive pensions, disability and child grants, the only option is to gather in groups, stand in long queues, and are unable to practice physical distancing as prescribed.

Online shopping is reserved for the privileged, and the rest have to take the risk of going to a shop, where the risk of coming into contact with people who are ill but non-symptomatic is a very real possibility. And as the incidence of the illness magnifies, this risk will also magnify when going shopping.

Bracing for tough economic times

The COVID-19 lockdown seems to have hit economically vulnerable people the hardest. The vulnerability of the informal sector and SSMEs have been exposed in an almost brutal manner.  The service industry, non-food and medical supply retailers and wholesalers, transport operators, the tourism and hospitality businesses have taken the knock head-on.

These sectors also have large numbers of casual and temporary workers, who are now sitting at home, many without pay. Hopefully, calls to employers of domestic workers to keep on paying salaries during lockdown will be heeded, as long as employers themselves have an income, and given the need to keep food supply up and running will to some extent protect agricultural workers.

During the lockdown, many who usually rely on information and communications technology to do their jobs, seem to be least affected in the short term. With access to technology at home, they can continue to work, albeit with some modifications needed to their modus operandi.

While the economic impact following the immediate COVID-19 crisis will ultimately affect all, the urgency of embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), has been highlighted.

Uncertainty about the education calendar

It has taken only a few days for the euphoria about an extended school holiday to be replaced by questions on how learners will catch up on lost classroom instruction. It seems that a systematic response is still lacking and that there are diverse strategies in place for assisting learners during this time.

Under lockdown, technology is the obvious solution, but in one of the most unequal societies[3] In the world, the current situation may disadvantage learners who do not have access to technology because of lower economic status even further.


Resilience and solidarity

It is clear that the current situation calls for resilience, innovation and collaboration like never before. There have been several encouraging initiatives aimed at pooling resources, finding solutions and coming up with innovations. Most of these are focused on the immediate physical needs of vulnerable persons, on alleviating immediate economic pressures, and assisting with medical responses.

Many in the education sector seem to operate from the assumption that schools will go back to operating as usual at the end of the 21-day lockdown. It is unlikely that this assumption will hold, and soon it will be necessary to provide urgent and tangible solutions to ensure that learning can continue for the class of 2020.

While not underestimating the dire consequences of the inherent vulnerabilities in our society as a result of inequality, the positive side of this crisis is that it has woken us up to how important it is to urgently address these issues and to bring about changes that will enhance our capacity to navigate challenging circumstances.

Find out more about how Development Works Changemakers is involved in research, development and evaluation projects.

By Fia van Rensburg

[1] Business Insider: Countries on lockdown

[2] United Nations report on socio economic impacts of COVID-19

[3]South Africa suffers among the highest levels of inequality in the world when measured by the commonly used Gini index. Inequality manifests itself through a skewed income distribution, unequal access to opportunities, and regional disparities. Low growth and rising unemployment have contributed to the persistence of inequality. Source: IMF

community politics and tips to overcome

10 tips for moving beyond community politics

By | Ethics, Evaluation

Research fieldwork can be daunting and often impossible when the community is not on your side. It is essential as an evaluator conducting research in the field for an evaluation to strive to overcome this obstacle by acknowledging the importance of community buy-in. This helps minimise the chance of community politics.  

To have the community with you – and not against you – is vital and cannot be underestimated. Politics must be negotiated carefully to avoid community objections, apathy or resistance.

Lindy Briginshaw, CEO and Founder of Development Works Changemakers, explains that without community buy-in, your research study or evaluation can be challenged or even derailed. 

community politics“Don’t anticipate obvious success in undertaking your community research or evaluation study. The strength of your work depends largely on partnerships developed between researcher, evaluator and community, as well as cooperation, negotiation and commitment to the research or evaluation project,” she says.

Here are 10 top tips for overcoming challenging community politics when conducting research,  completing surveys, interviewing community members and gathering data for an evaluation in a particular community.

1. Share responsibilities with your client from day one

Bring your client on-board as much as possible. Your client may be well connected to a community and so able to assist to identify community stakeholders, or influencers, who can legitimise the research process. Such stakeholders include local government officials with political office, as well as community leaders, activists and mobilisers. Once the community leaders have been identified, you will need a point of entry into the target communities. 

You must be given adequate channels of access and know the protocols that need to be followed. This can be achieved by obtaining a letter from the relevant officials in positions of power. This way, community politics can be limited, or even avoided, engaging respectfully and communicating extensively with respective community stakeholders to ensure buy-in and access.

2. Conduct a situational assessment with your client

Get to know the community landscape and social dynamics at play and share your experience of this at briefing meetings. Doing so will provide valuable feedback of how your client’s intervention has been received up to the point of evaluation. This will expose a preliminary assessment of the knowledge, attitudes and perception of the intervention. In turn, you can then identify areas of sensitivity to avoid when approaching the community and refine your methods where necessary.

3. Be up-to-speed on community current affairs

Identify a ‘community champion’ – someone who is a leader or is working in the community and who you may regularly contact for information and guidance before reaching out to the community and throughout the intervention. 

Champions are often your first point of contact as a researcher and evaluator. Usually, they have the community intelligence you need to assist you in your work. Open communication and a good relationship with your champion/s are key and this will support your understanding of the community, as well as your safety and security in the field.

4. Set up meetings with the community leaders

Community leaders are elected or appointed representatives of their community and feel responsible for what happens in their sphere of influence in their communities. It is essential therefore to identify yourself and your purpose in the area. 

Inform and communicate respectfully with the community and leaders of your research and evaluation objectives and who your client is. Failing to acknowledge community leaders can pose a serious challenge and limit access and may even derail your efforts entirely. 

5. Follow the proper channels of community awareness to facilitate buy-in

Once you’ve developed and nurtured a relationship with community leaders, they become an important asset for conducting your research in a particular community. They are instrumental in facilitating buy-in because of their position of influence. 

The leaders will make the community aware of the intended research or objectives of the evaluation study and benefits to the community.  Buy-in from the rest of the community is then more likely to be achieved. The community will be aware of your presence. Most importantly, you are secure in knowing that the proper channels have been followed.

6. Step back and take an objective standpoint

After the politics of access have been addressed, it is important to note that broader political issues should not be addressed by you. You should not represent any affiliation nor any political party, view or ideology. Rather, you should approach the community as an objective outsider who represents the research consultancy. Or an evaluation agency contracted by your client. 

You should emphasise that your role is only for data collection, research and evaluation purposes and that you have no authority, nor judgment, on views expressed by community members.

7. Treat community members with the utmost respect

Always obtain consent for participation from community members through the signing of a consent form. This is necessary before you begin. Community members should be treated with dignity and respect and should not be forced to participate in your research.

8. Be aware of political and community sensitivities

It’s essential to be aware of sensitive issues happening in communities and in the country at large. Knowing this can guide you as to how to dress, approach people and how to talk or even conduct your research. 

This becomes even more important if your research explores sensitive socio-political issues. Having such contextual awareness can mitigate the risk of frustrating community participants and it allows you to be politically sensitive.

9. Know when you can push the limits 

If you find that a survey participant is uncomfortable, it is important that you are sensitive to this. Your task is not to cause turmoil or further damage to a situation. In some extreme situations, you are advised to release a participant from the interview who does not want to proceed. It is best practice to then refer the participant to a person or nonprofit support group, or counsellor, who may support them.

10. Show your appreciation

Once you have completed your research, it is important to give thanks and show appreciation for the community’s time and contribution to your work. You never know when research will need to be conducted in the same community again. 

Leaving people with a smile and a feeling that their inputs are valued is crucial.  This respect shows appreciation for the contributions of community members.

Development Works Changemakers conducts independent evaluations and assessments of globally of projects, programmes, development initiatives and communication campaigns. 

We strive to add value to public and private sector partners, funders and development organisations, by providing accurate, insightful and cost-effective solutions to enhance programme performance.  For more info do contact Lindy Briginshaw, CEO or Susannah Clarke-von Witt, Research & Evaluation Director for more information by emailing or

ethics in researach

Ethics in research and how to handle socio-economic challenges in fieldwork

By | Ethics, Evaluation, Research

It is imperative for researchers to abide by clear research ethics in order to conduct their work in a professional and ethical manner. Simply put, ethics are a set of rules that distinguish between “right” and “wrong” and “bad” and “good” in any situation. Ethics are about the norms for conduct that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in society.

Ethics in research

In research with human subjects, maintaining sound ethics is crucial at every stage. Be it in the research design, fieldwork or writing up and sharing of findings. At the most basic level, research ethics are informed by the principle of “do no harm”. Most of the codes of ethics used in research today were developed for the medical field, where trials/research on human subjects are common.

Many of the principles developed in these codes apply to social/development research and evaluation, including “do no harm”, and the need to bear in mind the power differentials between the researcher and the research subjects. Ethical characteristics, therefore, include honesty, objectivity, integrity, carefulness, openness, respect, and confidentiality.

One of the most important aspects of any research ethics code is informed consent. A participant has a right to understand fully the purpose of the research and the risks and benefits of participation. They have the right to anonymity, and to withdraw from the research at any point, or refuse to answer any question.

Vulnerable groups

When research is being conducted with vulnerable groups or individuals, such as children, refugees, people who are abused or ill, minorities etc. these principles take on even greater importance due to the power differential in the research relationship. The risk of harm to the participant, either during the research process or as a result of the publication of findings. Research design should thus include ways to reduce or minimise the risk of harm.

However, conducting social research is often challenging and throws up complex scenarios that are not ethically straightforward. Successful and ethical research outcomes require properly trained and well-prepared researchers. Research plans and proposed methodologies in certain cases (e.g. research with children or other vulnerable subjects) need to be submitted to a recognised research ethics committee for approval and guidance before any fieldwork can commence. It is also imperative that research abides by the various laws that apply in any country regarding research generally, and with vulnerable populations.

Overcoming challenges

At Development Works Changemakers (DWC) we take research ethics very seriously in all our research and evaluation activities. All of our senior research staff hold postgraduate degrees, have taken courses in research ethics, and have conducted advanced research requiring ethics clearance. They are thus in a position to lead fieldwork teams in ethical research practice. DWC also raises ethical issues from the outset with every partner or client. We also factor research ethics clearance into our proposed budgets and project timeframes.

Training fieldworkers

DWC works with an extensive network of trusted associates and freelancers on repeat assignments. This allows trust to be established over time and our ethical approach to be embedded. Our team is also rigorous with recruiting and managing new fieldworkers to ensure quality standards are always adhered to. Fieldworkers are provided with a detailed contextual understanding and briefing. Ideally, we work with researchers who are located from the community where the research is taking place. This ensures ownership and a deep sense of community connection, understanding and networks.

Fieldworkers go through a detailed training programme before a fieldwork intervention. We focus on the local context, research, ethics, requirements and expectations, study objectives, methodology and tools to be used.

Risk mitigation

The team also roleplays and discusses different possible risks and challenges that may arise through scenario planning and how best to mitigate any problems or challenges that may be experienced in the field.  Technical training is also provided on data gathering using tablets and mobile phones. Research teams are always fully prepared and well-oriented to carry out their fieldwork assignments as optimally and successfully as possible.

Given challenging socioeconomic conditions, risks do materialise whilst in the field. This includes security risks such as crime and safety of fieldworkers and equipment.  No research study is worth risking the safety of a team member. At all times ethical behaviour guides all decisions we make whilst running challenging research and evaluation assignments. Especially in under-resourced communities where risks are high.

People are unpredictable and sometimes community dynamics and political contexts are complicated. No matter how well-trained fieldworkers may be, working with communities can bring about unexpected challenges when they respond in different or unpredictable ways.

Understand the circumstances

It is important to be appreciative of participants’ time and input. However, a balance is needed in respect of any material payment or gift offered in return for participation. Airtime, a snack or small meal may be provided in return for a person’s participation in an interview. Our team shows gratitude and appreciation, in line with good research ethical practice and guidelines.

Fieldworkers always need to be trained in handling unexpected situations in a professional and ethical manner. If in doubt, there is always a senior member of staff to guide them in such situations. Treating people with respect, dignity and tact, and explaining the project objectives and terms carefully helps ensure mutual respect, good research practice and positive results.

Our DWC portfolio is a testament to how we practice ethics and understanding in the workplace. We’d love to work with you.