Tailor-made design: Co-creating training and delivery with refugees

UNHCR Innovation Service
UNHCR Innovation Service
5 min readDec 1, 2022

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Building a connected future for displaced people. Part 2 of 2

By Tala Budziszewski, Associate Innovation Officer, Digital Inclusion, Asia and the Pacific

You can find lessons on YouTube for almost anything these days: How to fix your bike, how to cook with zero waste, how to make that weird thing your computer is doing go away. However, despite this and the wide number of lessons, curricula, and tools available to improve digital literacy, effectively building the digital literacy of displaced people around the world remains challenging. A lack of digital literacy and basic digital skills is a common barrier to refugees connecting with and navigating the opportunities provided by the digital world. That’s why the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) continues testing approaches and ideas to improve digital literacy and skills so refugees are not left behind.

Building on previous work piloting the use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to deliver basic digital literacy training, UNHCR Indonesia is now testing a refugee-led approach to designing and delivering training to diverse refugee communities. The IVR pilot highlighted challenges in creating a curriculum that works for people of varying skill levels. Even within communities with low digital literacy, there are wide differences in familiarity with mobile phones and digital tools. Training modules must strike a balance between being too basic for those with some familiarity and being too complex for those with almost no digital skills who need help operating devices.

Creating a basic digital skills curriculum in partnership with refugees

UNHCR Indonesia is using a co-creation approach with refugees to develop a basic curriculum. After initial consultations with refugees of different ages, genders, and nationalities, an initial workshop with Refugee-Led Organizations kick-started the outline of a new curriculum. The workshop highlighted the advantages of this methodology, to determine both what to include in the training and how to present it. The co-creation session identified three key points for the curriculum development:

  • Topics: The team identified priority topics on basic digital literacy to include in the curriculum, such as how to create accounts, establish secure passwords, and make digital payments. The perspectives from refugees were not only important in identifying these priorities, but also the nuances needed based on the situations and challenges refugees face. These include limited connectivity, constrained access to services, and low purchasing power for devices and data.
  • Benefits: During the co-creation session, the team recognized a need to link training to their reality to keep refugees engaged, especially because of the barriers to digital access they face. To keep learners interested, the skills taught will be connected to everyday benefits digital skills offer refugees, such as staying in touch with their home country and culture, and finding relevant local information.
  • Debunking myths: Misconceptions and ingrained ideas about digital devices must be tackled. This is especially true to encourage more female users, because of the perception among some refugee communities that the internet is only useful for men, not a place for women and children, or not a place for people in rural areas. Training will also be provided about the dangers of social media and how refugees can protect themselves and their families, with the goal of encouraging safer access rather than avoidance.

One size does not fit all: Embedding training into existing practices and resources

When the project was originally designed, the team planned to test different ways of delivering the training both remotely and in person, using different teaching approaches in one-to-one or small-group settings. In consultation with refugees, it became clear they don’t favour remote learning, other than younger people with existing digital skills, and instead preferred a structured learning course. Refugees mentioned that they like meeting in person, interacting with teachers, and knowing that there is a set of lessons. This approach has its challenges, though, as refugees often do not have the funds or time to travel to physical classes, and learning centres often lack equipment, resources, and space. The project will therefore need to address this by supporting travel to the centres for refugees, offering stipends for refugee teachers, and providing specific equipment individual organizations need to deliver the training.

The Refugee-Led Organizations UNHCR is partnering with for this pilot — SMART, Al Diia, Sisterhood, HOPE Learning Centre. and HELP Learning Centre — already have learning centres with established teaching programmes covering multiple skills. Based on their recommendations, we shifted the approach to test the delivery of training through these learning centres rather than individual refugees cascading training in their communities. Each refugee learning centre will follow the methods they have developed to deliver other skills-building for refugees. The curriculum will be a basic one with accompanying teaching materials. Each centre has experienced refugee teachers who will be trained on the curriculum but will adapt it using their own wealth of experience. The course will be jointly owned, so each organization can continue using and adapting it to fit the needs of their students and learning programmes beyond the end of the project.

Embedding the curriculum into established learning centres helps capitalise on existing resources and expertise, and has other advantages, too. Because each organization has its share of assets and gaps, bringing them together provides an opportunity to share resources. For example, some centres do not have space but have teachers, while others have space but insufficient teachers. Others have tested systems to select participants while others want the opportunity to refer students to other programmes.

The co-creation experience has also paved the way to test other kinds of collaboration between UNHCR and Refugee-Led Organizations, as well as the organizations working together on their own. When the project is completed, new doors may open based on the relationships built and lessons learned. UNHCR will document the project to determine how effective the digital literacy curriculum is, how the delivery approach works, and how UNHCR can continue co-creating programmes with Refugee-Led Organizations. These lessons will all feed into ongoing work and initiatives across the organization, including other pilots and work to enhance the digital inclusion of displaced and stateless people as part of UNHCR’s Digital Transformation Strategy. If you’re interested in more information, please contact hqconref@unhcr.org.

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UNHCR Innovation Service
UNHCR Innovation Service

The UN Refugee Agency's Innovation Service supports new and creative approaches to address the growing humanitarian needs of today and the future.