Introduction: Crisis, strategy and CSE
The COVID-19 crisis sent the entire world into uncharted waters. The severity of the crisis, and the global reach, was unprecedented. Most organizations did not have a process prepared for how to react to such an event. Nevertheless, organizations continued and developed ways to get through. Finding a balance of meeting their mission statements while prioritizing the physical health of staff, volunteers and participants became a necessary endeavour.
What we have learned from this experience is that it is possible to continue organizational work in the face of a global crisis, that the skills that we have learned are applicable far beyond this narrow experience, and that while this may have been the first of a truly global crisis it is not going to be over soon and it is not going to be the last crisis of this magnitude.
Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) organizations hold a special kind of space in responding to a global crisis of any nature: we offer insight into the intersection of human relationships, communication, and physical health. This intersection of information, skills, and knowledge was the crux of people’s experiences in how they responded to and eventually moved through to a non-crisis space. The services we have to offer are necessary to that process.
This document is designed to provide a blueprint for the global CSE community about continuing to provide our critical services when a crisis strikes and compels us to shift our outreach and education to digital environments. Because the ideal time to plan for a crisis is before it begins, this document is best used during non-crisis times, but it can also be used in the heat of the moment.
From theory to practical application, there are clear steps for global CSE organizations to continue their effective, engaging, challenging, lifesaving work even in times of crisis. Working through these steps provides organizations with a mapping tool for advance planning and crisis response.
Acknowledging a Crisis
The moment when COVID-19 became a crisis was a highly localized issue, impacting different places at different times. This localized, moving target of determining when the crisis started and when to respond to it was a confounding factor. Furthermore, the “beginning” moment of a crisis is often hard to pinpoint. In fact, by the time an organization is aware of and mobilizing against a crisis, it may have already been impacting people for weeks, months, or even years. Consider, for example, when a war begins. Local civilians, particularly those living near borders or on contested ground, may well have had significant, traumatic, and painful experiences long before a formal pronouncement of war. If you phrase your work with them as responding to a sudden or urgent crisis, your participants may tune you out because it would be clear that you are not connected to their experiences of the ongoing nature of their own crisis related experiences.
Organizations that respond more quickly and look to how organizations which have responded effectively to similar crises for guidance on next steps, are more often successful. Taking these stories into account, here are a few key elements to keep in mind:
- A crisis does not discriminate, but is often more harmful for those already grappling with stigma and marginalized status. Considering your organization and/or location to be vulnerable will help you respond more quickly.
- Speed is necessary when a crisis is looming. Do not drag your feet because you do not want to admit it is happening.
- There are likely to have been similar crises in other places and at other times, and looking for successful responses can inform your response.
A Digital Landscape
When the world of education moved from in-person to online, much of the CSE global community were attempting digital sex education for the first time. Most of these organizations did not have a firm handle on what online education can or should look like, hindering their initial approaches. While many found ways through, basing additional work in this area on a solid foundation will provide structure and ultimately result in a more effective educational paradigm. This section of the guidelines offers:
- A theoretical introduction to digital media and education
- A concrete guide to the tools and skills necessary to produce high quality, online, educational, CSE content
When working in in-person CSE classrooms, there are a number of standard protocols for ensuring and supporting the safety of participants. In the digital space, however, many organizations were making up these protocols as they went along. This section includes a series of best practices approaches addressing how to best obtain:
- Participant physical and psychological safety
- Staff, facilitator, and volunteer physical and psychological safety
When an urgent paradigm shift occurs, particularly into a space that is entirely new, training can feel unobtainable (because it may seem that no one has the skill set to provide it) and inaccessible (because there is not time or funding to provide it). Nevertheless, the skills that training can provide are urgently needed. This section provides:
- Information about why training during a crisis is so critical to provide
- Ideas on how to creatively access training
- Guidelines on what to focus on with extremely limited time and budget
What to Teach
During a crisis situation, educational content must often be curtailed to allow for the realities of participants, staff, and volunteers working with substantially fewer resources, often including time and access to one another. Reducing what was intended to be comprehensive sexuality curricula can feel like cutting the legs out from under the program, reducing its impact, and providing sub-par programming. However, when provided with the options of providing shorter programming versus providing no programming at all, making sure that some content continues to be accessible is the best answer. This section provides guidelines on:
- Considering the most urgent needs of participants, staff, and volunteers and using these to guide content
- Identifying the first content that can be cut
How to Teach
For many organizations the bulk of how to move online as a result of a crisis will involve the detailed specifics of how to take their existing content (that was written to be delivered in-person) and provide it in a digital format. The urgency of this question is heightened by a wide range of digital access across the world and the types of digital tools that organizations are able to use. Without a systemic answer to these questions, organizations may be less able to rely on each other to provide successful ideas. This section provides concrete, specific ways to translate activities that were designed to be in-person into digital settings, including:
- Synchronous tools (mostly focused on real time, live video conference type settings)
- Asynchronous tools (mostly focused on LMS systems)
- Social media tools (based on social media that incorporates text, photo, and video options)
- A general consideration of how presenting this kind of CSE activity into a digital space might impact the experience
While organizations can provide CSE without evaluation, and many do, this is not a best practices approach. Without knowing the effectiveness of an intervention, it is much more difficult to know if it should be replicated, if it should be modified, or if new approaches should be developed. Nowhere is this truer than in a crisis moment, with quickly evolving needs and massive unrest. This section includes:
- Context on what to evaluate
- Ideas on how to evaluate
- Considerations for analysis of evaluation data, particularly in a quickly evolving environment
The sections included in these guidelines offer a strategy for CSE organizations responding to a crisis situation, with a focus on when that crisis requires that the organization shift the elements of their educational paradigm to a digital space. None of this is able to effectively remove the emotional strain associated with living during a crisis while working to maintain critical elements of providing CSE to young people. Acknowledging the enormity of this request, and the emotional drain that it involves, along with having concrete steps to make the process more accessible, is what will ultimately provide professionals and volunteers with the wherewithal to continue in face of such adversity.