Launching a new Research and Action programme on ‘Emergent Agency in a Time of Covid’. Want to join us?

Mutual aid groups morphing into long term citizens’ organizations; women’s organizations forming to address the surge in domestic violence during lockdown; small producers switching to producing protective equipment for health and care workers.

Across the world, people are responding to the pandemic at a local level by acting, organizing and learning. What kinds of patterns can be identified in this ‘emergent agency’? How could others support and amplify this work? And what could be the long term impact of all of that?

That’s the focus of a new research programme on Covid and grassroots action. And we want you to get involved. Here’s the pitch.

Emergent Agency in a Time of Covid-19’ is a collaboration between Oxfam and the LSE’s Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity (AFSEE) programme.

What patterns will emerge?

We want to understand one of the important and potentially positive side effects of the pandemic – the response it triggers among low-income/excluded communities around the world. Will those responses create new organisations, new politics or new options for others to support?

Early examples of pandemic solidarity include mutual aid collectives in many countries, a feminist emergency plan in Chile coordinating caring responsibilities and support against gender-based violence, and data-based advocacy in informal settlements in Cape Town.

We’ve been sharing some of these on the blog, but now we want (with others) to get much more systematic. Starting now, we’ve got a year to do this. The project has 3 aspects (I think of them as breath in; process; breathe out):

  1. Gather case studies and experiences
  2. Identify trends and patterns across and within themes and countries
  3. Discuss, refine and share

We’ll sharpen the research questions as we go, but they currently include:

  • What individual and collective agency is emerging among low-income households and communities across different groups at the intersection of multiple inequalities, precarious and informal workers, and non-state actors, as they respond to the health pandemic and its political, economic and social fallout?
  • How can these experiences reshape how donors and governments understand needs, vulnerabilities and agency, and options to reduce emerging or entrenching inequalities?
  • How can these examples inform how civil society and community-based organizations act or advocate around Covid?

How are we going to do this?

Given the restrictions imposed by lockdown, the research is likely to involve research institutions, think tanks, and individuals with established networks and relationships in communities and with CSOs/CBOs. We are looking for people and organizations to participate, many of whom will already be working (whether through their programmes or research) along these lines.  Are you seeing similar things in your own programmes or research, do you want to be part of working out how that fits into global trends?

The point of contact will be project leader Irene de Goede, who can be reached on From Oxfam the project team will be Irene Guijt, Katrina Barnes and Filippo Artuso. From LSE it will be Armine Ishkanian and Sara Camacho Felix. I’ll be a confused, two hatted piggy-in-the-middle.

Besides evidence gathering through listening posts in several countries, we will engage the current batch of LSE’s AFSEE fellows (and hopefully a few alums) to contribute with their own individual projects and we will facilitate the sense-making discussions and learning exchanges.

If you’re interested in the latter, here are the ways we think people can get involved:

1. Advise us on the project – any thoughts on the approach? Lessons from previous comparable initiatives? Leave a comment below.

2. Join as a research partner: please get in touch with Irene de Goede if you are interested.

3. Help us process what we find: we are looking for individuals or institutions willing to commit to some serious reading and thinking on the trends and patterns in what will be a disparate mix of experiences. Is that your bag?

4. Discuss findings as they emerge. We’ll be ‘breathing out’ every few months, through online presentations and discussions of emerging patterns. Watch this space, or email and ask to be put on the mailing list for regular updates. Initially at least, we’ll use this blog as a platform for sharing links and emerging findings – see the ‘emergent agency’ tab and page.

Hope you can join us. And here’s a two pager on the project if you want to download and send on.

And a heads up for any funders. This is a shoestring, proof-of-concept type operation. If it goes well, we’ll definitely be looking to expand!

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11 Responses to “Launching a new Research and Action programme on ‘Emergent Agency in a Time of Covid’. Want to join us?”
  1. Interesting initiative – I’ll explore with friends & experts in Myanmar.
    Suggestion, next to researching: “How can these experiences reshape how donors and governments understand needs, vulnerabilities and agency, and options to reduce emerging or entrenching inequalities?” I would think it even more interesting to reflect on how “we” (international NGO’s and experts) evolve – to learn from this. We must find new ways to connect and support in solidarity, considering severe INGO critiques including from partner NGOs?

  2. This is a very interesting project; allow me to chat with a colleague today about the possibility of joining. I/we have carried out research on the involvement of faith-based/community-based orgs in local change projects in El Salvador for the past 15+ years. We are very much interested in understanding how local forms of org capacity are flexing/adapting/innovating in rural contexts in El Salvador, where COVID-19 lock-down measures have been disruptive. Will follow up with an email to Irene. Thanks!

  3. I will love to be part of this as regards sharing the rethinking of the donors in Nigeria as it concerns Medicine Security and access to Medicine in Nigeria.
    Over time my org local pharm manufacturing group which I am the Executive Secretary. I have been advocating for beyond aid sustainability strategy – that local pharma must be engaged to be the most quick win response in closing the gap in access to Medicine towards equitable access to Medicine,essentially in attaining Self reliance and Medicine Security in Africa.
    In the wake of #COVID19 and presently the narrative has changed to “Journey to self reliance ” by donors,had series of meetings in this regards lately and this is a most welcomed development that never happened. I am so so excited on the new development and interest by development partners to trust local pharma to close the gap,based in well validated framework.
    So I am looking forward to be part of this research @frankmuonemeh

  4. This sounds fascinating and much needed. In terms of approach I know you know sense maker and I haven’t caught up with it’s evolution recently. But I used Marc Maxins storytelling approach at global giving for a complexity-aware approach that collects stories of change. The best bit – training local people to collect stories and then putting these stories into his system for translation and analysis. You see where stories cluster, how themes relate with word trees etc. Might be worth a look inter terms of approach if you’re looking for a grass roots way of collecting stories of change to accompany institutional stories. Also I’d be happy to give some time to analysis. I used core principles from complexity science – emergence, interrelatedness, feedbacks, attractors, path dependency in analysis during phd at IDS. The approach could be useful here .. I’ll email. I’ll have time from Jan. Good luck on the collection of data!

    • Eamonn Casey

      Hi Jody, would love to know more about the Marc Maxims storytelling approach & training, offering a grassroots basis for collecting (& analysing themes) in stories of change. Any site or links you can quickly point me to for further digging?

  5. Widely varied local responses, some coming from “usual suspects” but others from new ones. We are hearing about mixed often ad hoc collaborations. Important to include as integral parts the responses of various faith-linked groups. Berkley Center at Georgetown University is following responses as systematically as we can.

  6. samir sardana

    You are missing “The Corona Bonanza” for LDCs like Pakistan.The Opportunity is being missed out.

    Bonanza 1

    There will a temporary shock to the government fiscal revenues as Imports will crash,CIF rates of imports will also crash,domestic production has stopped (as tax on MRP less deductions is paid at the time of production and not sale),domestic MRP rates will also crash.That is Y the state has not passed the benefits of lower crude and palm rates to the people.dindooohindoo

    The Bonus is in non-salary expenditures of the state,which are on ARC (Annual Rate Contracts) or other RC.With crash in commodities and surplus capacities – Pakistan can easily make and re-negotiate its procurements.Large nations like Hindoosthan,will face disaster,as they will face supply risks,per se.W.r.t the purchases by the Pakistani state,the state can declare Force Majeure,especially on International contracts.

    There is no immorality in this,as the suuply and value chain of the suupliers to the state – will,in any case,declare Force Majeure – which will ensure that the suupliers will default on the government contracts.The supliers will make supplies at ARCs,only to the extent of the existing stocks,as at March 15th,2020.They cannot be allowed to supply,from new purchases at the old ARC rates.

    Global suppliers will be glad to dump their stocks – with depots in Pakistan – for sale to the Pakistani State.

    This could easily reduce the costs by 30-50%,on a one time and recurring basis.Once this Cost is saved,in phases,the benefit of oil price crash on fuels and edible oils and also power tarriffs and fertilisers,can be passed on to the public.That will be pure jannat.

    Bonanza 2

    The Only Solution to the supply chain risk in USA/EU (w.r.t their supply chains in PTRC) lies in massive robotics and AI – which will make humans obsolete in manufactuirng and also,in part,in IT.The question is,what to do with the humans.That is Y the virus is sought – Simple !

    For Pakistan – the crash in Raw Materials and cost of capital, availability of capital and crash in logistics costs will make manufacturing and exports viable.That makes existing unviable manufacturing units viable and jobs and decline in NPAs.No fresh capacities should be launched,solely based on the current cost structure.Crash in costs plus the low labour costs in Pakistan and stable PKR – is the Alt-AI and Robotics

    The Pakistani people should thank its prior leaders,that they made manufacturing unviable in Pakistan,and made it a trading nation. Had the state set up manufacturing units – they would be unviable,banks would be busted and there would have been mass skilled unemployment. Just look at Hindoosthan. dindooohindoo

    This is the time for setting up manufacturing units – SME and others.

    The military,food,telecom,technology and health secuirty of the USA and EU is in the hands of the PRC.These nations will be FORCED to move at least 10-20% of their supply chain,to other nations.They have no choice.

    Bonanza 3

    The SBP and the treasury of the private sector,should suck in the Corona rate cuts and packages in EU/Nippon/North East Asia and the USA – and restructure the entire FX loan portfolio,w.r.t tenor,spreads,risk premiums,swaps and hedges. One simple way,is by trade finance,which is based on underlying trade and other activties with those nations.

    Bonanza 4

    After doing 3 and 4 above,the state should invite bids to build and repair infrastructure on BOOT basis.The Cost of infra should reduce by at least 30%,supplemented with long term soft loans and grants.

    With viable manufacturing and exports,lower cost of debt – an already cheaper infra cost – will make infra financing and operations,all the more viable

    Bonanza 5

    To lock in the gains to the people and industry,the SBP and the State should lock in to NYMEX crude and futures,at current rates (on CBOT or with large funds etc.) – for as long as possible,with reasonable contangos or maximum backwardation.A large nation cannot do this – as it will move the premiums,in the derivatives market.

    The State should thereafter, lock in the oil and gas rates – and then affix power and fertilisr tarriffs, for the same tenor – with a priority for industrial zones – after meeting the consumer needs.Edible oil contracts can also be struck with large funds,in the USA/EU.

    This is also the time for the state to declare Force Majeuer on the ulra high cost RPP/IPPs.With reduced power demand,the entire power demand of Pakistan, can be met from fuel and coal plants,at less than half of the previous marginal cost. For several people, this power supply can be free of cost,as the Marginal cost of power on current fuel costs,should be around 1-2 Rupees (which is not worth collecting from marginal users).

    It is time to celebrate !

  7. Pedro Badran

    Muy interesante, desde Bolivia y bajo el respaldo académico de CERES, la licenciada Rosario León ha iniciado una investigación expliratoria para entender los cambios en la sociabilidad generados por la pandemia y su efecto en confinamiento. Nos encantaría poder entablar contacto para intercambair criterios.

    • Duncan Green

      Gracias Pedro, suena re interesante y relevante. Tenemos un webinar el 12 de Noviembre para llevar adelante la conversacion – podemos contar contigo y/o Rosario? Detalles aque este viernes