Now Boarding: Evident’s Advocacy Communications Unit flies south for 10 days of fieldwork

This blog post was written by Mef Marzan, our Senior Project Manager for Advocacy Communications.

Evident prides itself as an evidence-based communication agency. The strategies and activities we implement respond to the real challenges faced by the people our partners aim to serve. Our teams regularly meet with stakeholders and visit project sites to have a deeper understanding of the problem, and witness how our strategies are making a real-life impact. An old adage asks: “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The same can be asked of any campaign or project: “if a social media card is posted and the target audience has no internet access, does it make a difference?” We cannot shout our advocacies into the void and expect everyone to hear and echo our beliefs.

Our advocacy communications team is composed of individuals with the desire to make grassroots, community-level impact that is both seen and felt, by influencing audiences across all levels. That’s what makes us eager to do fieldwork and community-level engagement: so we can listen and understand how things are on the ground. So when COVID hit and we had to take an axe to our fieldwork activities, it felt like we were struck down at our roots.

It felt like a sign from the universe that the opportunity to reconnect with our clients and finally meet Evident’s Cotabato team in person came almost two years after the first lockdowns were set in place. With the more relaxed local travel restrictions and the whole team vaccinated and boosted against COVID, we flew to Mindanao for a 10-day trip to refresh and sustain relationship-building efforts with clients and local media.

Touchdown Mindanao: First In-person Meeting with Clients

The Evident team supporting the Education Pathways to Peace in Mindanao Program (PATHWAYS) met with project partners from the Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education (MBHTE) and Palladium Global Philippines (Palladium) to touch base on the project’s progress, and prepare for the next steps. Impressively, Palladium, MBHTE, and Evident have been working on this project together for the past two years, yet no one has ever met each other outside of Zoom and MS Teams. 

The Australian Government-funded Pathways Program in partnership with the MBHTE in the Bangsamoro aims to improve the performance of learners — especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds — in the BARMM, and to rally stakeholders to support the delivery of high-quality education services. Evident serves as Palladium’s official communication partner to provide communications support to the MBHTE in the final stages of creating the full BARMM education policies and related support structures.  

We are providing the expertise needed to communicate and gain support for MBHTE across various levels of the BARMM society. Seeing that our partners in development are slowly getting back on the field, the team is very optimistic about conducting more face-to-face activities and training in the region, especially in the island provinces. We’re also looking forward to the implementation of the next phases of our engagement with the Ministry.

Evident’s advocacy communications team with representatives from the Pathways Program and the Information and Communication Division of the MBHTE.

Check-in: Aligning with the Cotabato Team

To implement projects in Mindanao, Evident enlisted the help of communication experts and project managers from the region and established a team based in the City of Cotabato. We coordinate closely with the Cotabato team ensuring our communication outputs are effective by providing valuable insights, contextual information, as well as coordination work. We have accomplished many things while mostly communicating online, so we were excited to meet the Cotabato team and see what we can do in person.

Because of our established work dynamic, the team meeting went seamlessly. The Cotabato team also served as our group’s tour guides, taking us to the best places to eat, which seemed as endless as the trivia they shared about the region and the city.

Carry-ons: Meeting with Former Partners

We also met with a former UNFPA project partner from Magungaya Mindanao Inc. (MMI) for a project called “Protecting Women and Girls affected by the Marawi Armed Conflict in Mindanao.” MMI works with vulnerable communities to provide support to disaster victims and work toward lasting solutions to injustices and poverty.
MMI was instrumental in the research Evident conducted to understand how the women of Marawi are adapting to their new circumstances and the roles they have taken within and outside the home. The results of the research guided how we developed video materials, allowing us to ensure that all output reflects these women’s social realities and reaches intended audiences.

We value the work and relationships we have built with our clients, partners, and colleagues, and we maintain those relationships so that the work we do grows and benefits more people.

Evident with Ms Raihana from Magungaya Mindanao, Inc. (MMI)

On-Air Announcements: Meeting the Media

As a communications agency, we value our partnerships with the media as they share important information, context, and stories relevant to our audiences. They are also the people who understand audiences as well as we and our clients do. And to understand the local media landscape, one of the team’s penultimate activities was to meet with the local media.

While many of us only listen to the radio on the road to drown out the humdrum of our commute, this isn’t the case in the BARMM. Radio dominates the BARMM region’s media landscape, as it has a wider audience reach even in the more remote areas. The team was lucky to meet media practitioners and notable radio personalities in Cotabato, who enlightened us about the media practices in the region. 

They shared how they are adapting to new technologies like conducting simultaneous live streams on Facebook while transmitting via the airwaves, and showed us mobile apps that allow people outside the region to tune in to their stations without the need for antennas. Yes, people can hear them nationwide!

They expressed their excitement about meeting the Evident team, and hope to have stronger relationships with communication practitioners who want to effectively reach Mindanaoan audiences.

Lessons unpacked

The trip to Mindanao was a reminder of why we do what we do. It connects us with our partners, the people we work for, and the places they work in. Zoom meetings get the job done, but meeting the people on the ground is why we are in this job in the first place.

While it was an overwhelmingly successful trip, it was not without its challenges. Travelling despite the relaxed protocols leaves much to be desired. It’s not going to be as easy as it was before 2020, so we suggest packing extra patience along with your clothes and toiletries. 

We learned that you can never be too prepared when you set out to travel during a pandemic. Be prepared to have plan Bs and plan Cs just in case plan A doesn’t pan out. While there were unexpected setbacks and challenges, the team demonstrated agility and grit despite difficult situations. 

If you are anything like us, bring extra packs of energy too, so you can make the most out of your fieldwork. As if our itinerary was not packed enough, we still managed to do a quick detour to hike up La Palmera Mountain Ridge in Sultan Kudarat and gaze at the natural beauty of the sky meeting the lush greenery.

Evident team at the peak of La Palmera Mountain Ridge for a bit of rest and relaxation in between work activities

At the end of the 10-days, the advocacy communications team strengthened its relationships with its partners and proved how understanding people is at the heart of effective communications. The trip to Mindanao is not the culmination of the in-person activities we have planned with our partners — it’s only the beginning. 

Evident prides itself as an evidence-based communication agency, but we also humbly work with purpose at the core. 10 days may seem short in the fast-paced world of communications, but to us, those 10 days reminded us of our purpose and why we chose to work in advocacy: to make a sound without needing any trees to fall. 

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