Paving the road for Inclusive Systems Development

As the portfolio of Swisscontact South Asia is expanding, employees from different schools and organisations are joining Swisscontact more frequently. These new are often unaware of the key thinking approach of Swisscontact. Therefore, to develop their understanding and to refresh the knowledge of the existing employees, a team from Swisscontact Bangladesh took the opportunity to share their experience related to Inclusive Systems Development (ISD) approach with their colleagues from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar through a virtual workshop.

ISD is an increasingly popular development approach that calls for an in-depth analysis of the “system” to identify the root causes of problems and addressing the underlying market constraints through a facilitative approach, ensuring sustainability and scalability of development solutions. Swisscontact is one of the pioneers of this approach as ISD principles guide our actions in the design and delivery of interventions and is being promoted across all projects and mainstreamed across the organisation.

Understanding the potential to help Swisscontact colleagues develop a “systems thinking” ability and provide them with a basic understanding of the building blocks of this approach, Swisscontact Bangladesh organised this introductory workshop titled “An Introduction to Inclusive Systems Development (ISD) Approach”. As we are well into the second year of the pandemic, the need for a virtual workshop was identified and successfully executed by the team from Swisscontact Bangladesh.

As many of the participants had no prior experience of this approach, the workshop was conducted in three days (29 June 2021, 01 July 2021, and 05 July 2021) and was divided into two sessions per day. Mr. Manish Pandey, Director- South Asia of Swisscontact inaugurated the workshop and set the tone for the next three days. These sessions were conducted by the three lead facilitators Mehjabin Ahmed, Senior Manager- PRABRIDDHI project; Syeda Ishrat Fatema, Team Leader- Sarathi and Shujola; and Mohammad Sakib Khaled, Coordinator- Portfolio Development from Swisscontact Bangladesh with a cumulative experience of over 25 years in designing and implementing ISD projects in different countries. Pritam Azra Hassan, Officer- Portfolio Development and Waseka Nourin, Intern- Sarathi supported the lead facilitators in organising and facilitating the workshop. Around thirty participants from Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar actively participated in every session.

On day one, two sessions were conducted, followed by a brief introduction session in the beginning of the workshop. The participants were divided into five diverse groups to make all six sessions lively and challenging. This provided the opportunity for participants from different countries and projects to work alongside and get better acquainted with each other’s projects. Syeda Ishrat Fatema facilitated the first session, where she discussed the uniqueness of the ISD approach and introduced how to analyse systems and identify the related stakeholders. The second session was facilitated by Mohammad Sakib Khaled, he detailed the steps and tools for constraint analysis, as it is one of the most vital steps of ISD.

On day two, both sessions were facilitated by Mehjabin Ahmed. In her first session, she discussed how to design effective interventions and in the following session she discussed how to manage and monitor these interventions. On day three, in the first session, Mohammad Sakib Khaled gave a detailed idea of how to measure results of interventions and in the final session, Syeda Ishrat Fatema concluded by introducing systemic change. 

The workshop had gaps in between to ensure participants are not burdened with too much information. Moreover, each session had embedded group discussions and assignments that not only kept them engaged but also resulted in a much better understanding of the process. The facilitators created a common MS Teams channel for the participants, which will stay live for a month so that any participant can go back and review the content and discussion at his/her convenience, if needed.

The workshop received positive feedback from participants who now understood the concept of inclusive systems development better and enjoyed working alongside colleagues from different projects and countries amidst an ongoing pandemic. They acknowledged this as an effective knowledge sharing platform and looked forward to future workshops and such opportunities. The participants also highlighted the need to have a more detailed workshop broken down in additional sessions and days to help them go deeper into the principles.