Trust Your Design

In mid-March, the Tax Equity team at the International Budget Partnership was faced with a dilemma – continue planning a two-day convening of researchers, staff, and civil society scheduled for May or take it completely online. Like many organizations in the face of COVID-19 uncertainty, we ultimately decided to turn the convening into a series of online conference calls. What would have originally been predominately a logistical challenge of bringing together approximately 20 people from 12 countries and across 5 continents to our offices in Washington DC had now become a design challenge: How could we design a set of conference calls that could reasonably ‘replace’ two days of in-person learning and connection, and with a planning time of 3 weeks to boot?

To overcome this challenge, GLP was called in to help pivot this work to success.

The purpose of the original convening was to bring together key people involved in a set of 8 case studies commissioned by IBP and to provide feedback to the authors of the case studies and to synthesize lessons across the different cases which explore the role of civil society in recent tax reforms in Kenya, Uganda, France, Guatemala, Mexico, United States, The Philippines, and Vietnam. The group being convened would include: the local researchers contracted to write the studies, representatives of the civil society organisations involved in the tax reforms, select IBP staff, and external reviewers (of the case studies). Given the wide geographical spread of and variety of people involved, without clear and intentional design we risked undermining both the desired outcomes and also core principles such as: respect, inclusion, engagement, and relevance of/to the participants. We had to get this right!

Trusting the Design

We decided on five 90-minute conference calls across 3 weeks to accommodate time zones and give space for reflection and engagement for authors, IBP staff and reviewers, and civil society partners in this feedback process. The purpose of the first 3 calls was to discuss and synthesize feedback for the case study authors from the reviewers and CSO partners, as well as give space for authors to reflect on the feedback – this was organized according to time zones. The fourth call would be for IBP staff and the reviewers to discuss key themes and lessons arising across the case study. Then, last but not least, the fifth call would be for all participants in the process to finally meet each other and help refine the key themes from the discussions.

However, these 5 calls alone would not have led to the success of these calls.

Designing very clearly for what needed to happen before, during, and after the calls ensured that participants felt respected, included, engaged in and relevant to the whole process even if they were not a part of all the calls.

BEFORE the calls, all participants were welcomed into the process with a PowerPoint where they were able to “meet” all the key staff and case study authors, understand the purpose and format of the meetings, and also listen to a video by the Executive Director expressing their importance to the eventual publication of this seminal set of case studies. Some participants had been brought in even earlier in 1-on-1 calls to help inform the design of the PowerPoint and also to guide planning for what would happen during the calls. Along with the welcome PowerPoint, participants were given access to the case studies and sent a note-taking tool to help focus their feedback and ensure a concise but rich contribution during the calls. And for authors, who are normally used to presenting their work, a separate tip sheet was sent to them to assure them that although the format of the call would be different, that there would be space for them to reflect on the feedback they would receive.

DURING the calls, this meant that participants came prepared with their notes and with their curiosity piqued about the format of engagement. In the first three calls, participants were then led through a PowerPoint presentation that included short summary presentations, key questions, and interactive discussions to invite feedback for the authors. In the fourth call, participants were able to collaborate in a Google Document together to tease out key lessons after a structured discussion on overarching themes. In the last call, participants were able to engage in smaller groups to tease out important contextual considerations for the key lessons. In this way, all voices were invited in, heard or seen (through written input), and their unique perspectives appreciated.

AFTER the calls, participants were able to see the fruits of this collaborative process. All the feedback provided by participants whether through the note-taking tool, in the calls, and in the chat box of the calls were collated and synthesized for the case study authors. For the civil society partners, the discussion around key themes and lessons for civil society was also summarized. All participants were also sent a feedback survey to invite their input on how we can improve virtual convenings such as these, along with a thank you note appreciating not only their presence but also the hard work they put in to making the calls a success.

By trusting the process of mapping and designing for not only each phase (before/during/after) but also each audience type, we were able to get detailed yet clear feedback, have structured discussions that had both depth and breadth, and build a community of practice, all in a 90-minute Zoom call.

How does this ring true for you: trust the design?

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Fariya Mohiuddin ( is a Senior Program Officer, Tax Equity at International Budget Partnership.

Read here a full description of this IBP work and here for a GLP project spotlight.

Read below for more GLP blogs about IBP:


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