Even though the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has had implications worldwide, it did challenge us to be innovative. The International Centre for Hydropower believes that it has come out of last year with renewed engagement and knowledge, plus an improved portfolio of training courses. 

The International Centre for Hydropower (ICH) has been working to solve challenges in the hydropower sector since 1994 and believes that “continuing professional education creates social, economic and environmental value”. 

Over the last 25 years, ICH has developed a training course portfolio with themes ranging from operations and maintenance, financing and project management to conflict resolution and revenue protection. Each year ICH offers more than 25 courses throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and in Norway. The courses are normally intensive and held over one to three weeks.

As Chairman Kjell Repp says in the recently published ICH Annual Report, 2020 was “a strange and challenging year”.

“In January 2020 most of us had no idea what lay ahead,” Repp reflects, “and by mid-March, when the COVID-19 virus started spreading globally, most physical international relations and communication had decreased and then came to a halt. As a result, ICH had to review all courses planned in 2020.”

Twenty five out of 28 scheduled physical training courses had to be cancelled and were replaced by digital courses. This was, Repp acknowledges, thanks to ICH’s “devoted and hardworking staff” who revised and delivered courses via digital platforms ready for roll out in a very short period of time.

“Transferring courses online required a new approach, sharpened communication skills and provided continued impetus to provide a valuable learning experience for participants,” Laura Bull, Head of Studies at ICH said, adding that this new approach provided a unique experience that transcended borders, languages and cultures.

“Our experience mirrored that of practitioners in the industry and reinforced the importance of building trust between communities, companies, leaders, facilitators and stakeholders,” she continued. “Communication and connection across the planet without limits of space and time gave rise to powerful conversations, creativity, participation and active listening as vital tools that enabled us to understand each unique reality.”

Bull explains that the methodology to deliver training online was developed and adapted based on each course and its expected outcomes. However, the use of virtual platforms obviously limited capacity for comprehensive practical exercises as conducted during previous on-site courses. To compensate for this, all the courses presented additional case studies with regional perspectives, incorporated assignments and groupwork and maximised interactive and participatory learning. The sharing of experiences amongst participants and experts was described as being highly valued, and that it was inspiring to see participants complete online courses despite the connectivity issues and other challenges they faced as a consequence of the pandemic.

“To date the online courses were very well received,” Bull said. “Participants are grateful that their training has not been interrupted and that they can still take positive steps in their professional journeys.”

“It is clear that online courses are here to stay, and that any future strategy needs to consist of a combi­nation of digital and regular on-site courses,” ICH’s Chairman Repp says. “However, it is also clear that online courses cannot replace all that in-person courses offer – personal interactions and time spent together outside of the classroom are invaluable.”

Line Amlund Hagen, Managing Director of ICH agrees: “It is clear that online courses cannot replace meeting our students face to face. Over the past year, we have all experienced the loss of personal contact and hence have realised how important that is.

“Our participants have been grateful not only that their training has not been interrupted but also for a positive experience of connection in an otherwise difficult time,” Hagen continued. “Participants have shown true commitment to learning – enduring early mornings, late evenings, corona restrictions and sometimes poor internet access to be able to follow the course.”

Repp said that the goal is to extract the best out of the two platforms when developing a new course strategy. He added that: “It is important to remember the focus on how hydropower knowledge can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). Cross-cutting issues like gender, anti-corruption, human rights and climate change, which are all vital parts of the SDGs, have to a continuous and increasing degree been included in all ICH courses, and must not be forgotten when restructuring the courses for digital platforms. Based upon our experience from the past, however,” he says, “I am sure that ICH will succeed.”

Driven to change

“2020 will forever in the history of the planet be a year in which we were all driven to change. Living and working through a pandemic changed the way we live, work, relate and connect with the world. It changed the way we communicate, changed how we perceive the present and sharpened our desire for a better future,” Laura Bull reflects. “The conversations changed in form and method, but not in purpose. The ICH team sought to understand the realities and reinforce concepts to meet both ongoing challenges as well as new ones brought about by the pandemic. 

“Building knowledge requires a connection. Our courses brought hydropower practitioners and specialists together from different world regions and cultures. Working together, reflecting, adjusting and building trust, we generated collective solutions. Transferring courses online required a new approach, sharpened communication skills and provided continued impetus to provide a valuable learning experience for participants.”

The full ICH Annual Report 2020 can be downloaded at www.ich.no