The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many functions of society have had to shut down or drastically reorient, with free movement and travel restricted or banned. For us, in the BiH ESAP project, it meant we needed to rethink our whole project and its planned meetings and events. The original approach to the successful implementation of the BiH ESAP 2030 project, and thus the development and adoption of the four Environmental Strategies and Action Plans covering four different jurisdictions in Bosnia and Herzegovina –state level, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), the Republika Srpska (RS), and the Brčko District (BD)— was based on participatory and bottom-up methods with relevant authorities, academia, the private sector, NGOs and individual experts. Over the next 24 months, six working group meetings were planned to be held for each of the four jurisdictions, covering seven different thematic areas each. In other words, a total of 56 meetings with over 200 participants were planned to be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina between May and July 2020, with the aim to define thematic goals and targets, set preliminary indicators and assess possible interlinkages of thematic goals and targets.

Developing a COVID-19 strategy for the project

Given the restriction enforced in BiH in order to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the project team, together with its stakeholders, had to think about how to ensure a successful and effective continuation of project activities that would not undermine the quality and defined project implementation timeframe while still ensuring a participatory approach to BiH ESAP 2030 development. A waterfall, or linear approach, which would deliver on an already predefined set of outputs to stakeholders without a prior bottom-up discussion, would have been the easiest model in times of restrictions, but would ultimately weaken an open conversation among different groups of environmental stakeholders in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the ability for each of them to hear and be heard by the others.

Innovating in the virtual space

Therefore, SEI and its partners concluded that during the time they are unable to conduct physical meetings, online platforms will be used to facilitate working group meetings and discussions for ESAP development. With the adjusted approach to project implementation, three rounds of online meetings and consultations will be held between May and July 2020, resulting in the development of an initial working version of the ESAP that shall be further developed until the end of 2021 and finally adopted in the first quarter of 2022 by the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Screen shot ”group photo” of the meeting. Photo: Melina Valjevac, lead expert.

“In challenging times like this, in order to deliver what we all agreed to deliver, we need to adapt and think creatively. Instead of workshops and meetings occurring over several days, we will see shorter, more frequent meetings happening online, which are more environmentally friendly, logistically easier, faster and can provide opportunities for more free flows in communication and enable creativity and effective work.”

-Bernardas Padegimas, BiH ESAP 2030+ project manager, SEI.

As the “group photo” above illustrates, SEI utilized online platforms to turn a planned two-day meeting with working group lead experts and the SEI team into a virtual event. Although it presented some challenges and required additional follow-up and support, it ran smoothly with meaningful discussions and exchanges. As effective stakeholder engagement and communication are vital parts of this project to be able to progress and come up with a robust and ambitious yet realistic environmental strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was imperative to find suitable workarounds during these times.

About the project

The ESAP 2030+ project was set up as a response of the Swedish Embassy to Bosnia and Herzegovina to a request made by the authorities at the state level, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), the Republika Srpska (RS), and the Brčko District (BD) to support the development of their environmental strategies.

The BiH ESAP will be a document that includes environmental strategies and action plans for the FBiH, RS and BD as well as BiH level actions. The development of BiH ESAP 2030+ is entrusted to SEI by the Swedish government, who will provide a political tool for relevant authorities to reach environmental sustainability and improved citizen health and well-being for current and future generations across the country.

Read more about the project on its project website here.