Our conference room is turned into a TV studio

Every year for the last ten years, one of our largest events is the annual launch of the PAPI report. PAPI stands for the Viet Nam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index. This is the largest annual survey of citizens in Viet Nam. Every year, we go out to all 63 provinces of Viet Nam and interview more than 14,000 citizens on a range of governance issues including public administration reform, anti-corruption, public service delivery, environmental governance, e-governance, etc. Since 2009 when it was created, PAPI has become a big phenomenon in Viet Nam and the release of the report every year in April is the most popular UNDP-organized event in the calendar, attended by more than 500 participants.

Of course, this year due to COVID-19, we realized a while ago that we would not be able to organize such a large event in Ha Noi in early April. As the COVID-19 situation was evolving, the team started initial discussions on how to launch the PAPI online. We had organized livestreams of previous PAPI launch events, but this time we had to go completely online as opposed to simply filming the event at the venue. This year, we decided to organize a one-hour livestream and since Facebook is extremely popular in Viet Nam, we wanted to use as the platforms our existing Facebook accounts which already has many followers. The livestream in Vietnamese would run on the UNDP Viet Nam Facebook page and in English on the PAPI Facebook page. We believe that it was crucial in these early discussions to brainstorm with colleagues on every possible option available and assess the advantages and risks for each option. 

UNDP Resident Representative Caitlin Wiesen gives interviews to TV channels just before the Livestream

If you cannot bring all your speakers and presenters to one physical location due to COVID-19, then it is time to switch to recorded videos. The production of these videos was the most time consuming and needed to be planned and executed very carefully. All videos needed to include translation into Vietnamese or English, and into sign language in order to provide equal access to information for as many people as possible. The challenging part was to edit the content to fit with the time slots in the agenda, ensure that the presentation slides were shown in the right language in the right version of the videos, add the event banner as background, etc. Due to COVID-19, most of our speakers needed to record themselves from home. We produced and circulated instructions with photos on how recording devices should be used, their recommended positions and how to place your computer or phone when recording both speaker and slides. Until a few days before the actual event, Ha Noi was actually under a quasi “lockdown” and we even envisaged to have the whole event pre-recorded, as it would have been difficult and risky to connect each speaker from their respective homes. In the end, we were very fortunate to be able to come together and run the event from the office. Still, in order to reduce the risks, we opted for a mix of live segments and pre-recorded presentations. Our senior management were also available for media interviews, both with TV crew and for recording to provide for TV stations which could not come. To support viewers in accessing the viewing platforms on the day, we posted instructions on all our channels on how to watch our event and sent reminders to registered participants one day before the event.

In the weeks before our event, it was very useful for us to watch many online events and learn lessons from them. We would discuss what we observed during these online events and take notes on what we could replicate (or avoid). Organizing an online event is in some ways fundamentally different from organizing a physical event. During an online event, there is little room for error. Our worst nightmare was that when we would go live, there would be a technical glitch and the screen would be black… Choosing the right crew to run the livestream was absolutely key. Each technical detail had to be planned (checking internet bandwidth, lighting, sound, simultaneous interpretation, transitions, etc.). Besides meticulous planning, testing is also crucial. Our conference room was turned into a TV studio and the day before the livestream, we tested everything for several hours in order to iron out any remaining problems.

During a conference or workshop, participants would usually not stand up in front of everyone and leave the room in the middle of the proceedings. Online behavior is completely different: if the content is not interesting, participants will leave the livestream at any point, nobody will notice (except the organizers who are anxiously keeping track the number of online viewers).

Our strategy to attract and keep viewers was two-fold. First, it was to create momentum (“a buzz”) several weeks before the event. We advertised through all our networks. In addition, we created “Facebook events” and tried to get as many people as possible to indicate that they were either “going” or “interested”. Within 11 days, we had around 1000 people expressing interest, thereby demonstrating to others that this might be an event worth joining.

Secondly, the agenda for the event needed to be designed in a way to keep the audience interested and engaged. An online event cannot last half a day, ours lasted 90 minutes in the end. We insisted that each segment (speech, presentation, video clip, Q&A session) was less than 15-20 minutes long, so that the programme was varied. We encouraged interactions with viewers, including through Facebook comments and reactions. Several colleagues were tasked with writing comments, highlighting interesting findings from the speeches and presentations, managing comments from viewers and responding to questions. At the same time, we also had live tweeting during the event.

So what happened once we went live? It was all nerve-wracking, but also exhilarating. The most exciting part was seeing the number of viewers increase and go beyond our expectations. We reached around 900 live viewers - on both Vietnamese and English language livestream, the great majority of whom stayed with us until the end of the live event. Many reacted and posted comments during the livestream. Provincial governments sent us photos of them watching the livestream together. For me, this was one of the most interesting and encouraging outcomes of going online this year: our reach was no longer limited to a group of participants in a room. Participants from all over the country (and abroad) could watch and engage with us. Those who missed the live event could also watch the whole video afterwards and within 24 hours, we reached 27,000 people with more than 12,000 views. 

Colleagues from Ba Ria – Vung Tau provincial government watching together H.E. Robyn Mudie, Australian Ambassador to Viet Nam, delivering her keynote remarks during the livestream

Now, the question is – if and when we are allowed to resume large-scale events, will we go back to organizing the traditional PAPI launch event at a hotel venue? Already, I can see that colleagues and partners were so impressed with the online event that it will be hard to return to business as usual. Maybe organizing events online is going to be our “new normal”.

The online launch of the 2019 PAPI report was organised on 28 April 2020 together with the following colleagues: Le Thi Thu Hien, Le Vu Hoang, Nguyen Viet Lan, Do Thi Thanh Huyen, Vo Tuan Son and Nguyen Thu Thao. The Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) is a policy monitoring tool that assesses citizen experiences and satisfaction with government performance at the national and sub-national levels in governance, public administration and public service delivery. Following the initial pilot in 2009 and a larger survey in 2010, the PAPI survey has been implemented nationwide each year since 2011. For the 2019 PAPI Report, 14,138 randomly selected citizens were surveyed. In total, 131,501 Vietnamese citizens nationwide have been directly interviewed for PAPI since 2009.

In 2019, PAPI measured eight dimensions: participation at local levels, transparency, vertical accountability, control of corruption, public administrative procedures, public service delivery, environmental governance, and e-government.

PAPI is a collaboration between the Centre for Community Support and Development Studies (CECODES), the Centre for Research and Training of the Viet Nam Fatherland Front (VFF-CRT), the Real-Time Analytics and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In the first 10 years of its development, PAPI has been generously funded by the Government of Spain for 2009-2010, the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC) for 2011-2017; by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia for 2018-2021; by the Embassy of Ireland for 2018-2021; and by the United Nations and UNDP in Viet Nam since 2009.

The full 2019 PAPI Report and more in-depth analysis of the findings are available at: www.papi.org.vn. Or, scan the QR Code to download the 2019 PAPI Report to your smartphone.

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