Phase 2 of the Bougainville Transition Dialogues started in the middle of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and during a time when the Australian international borders were closed. This required significant changes to how we have worked in Bougainville before the pandemic. PaCSIA’s initial project application and plan suggested that travel to from Australia to Bougainville would become possible some time in 2021. This assumption proved to be wrong which had a number of implications:
1. It was more challenging for PaCSIA to play its role of liaison between the BTD2 teams, the ABG and other national and international stakeholders. Communication could only occur via electronic messages, phone calls and rare video conferences. Additionally, it was impossible to supply the teams with the necessary equipment (data projectors, video cameras, USB drives with reporting forms and information) during regular trips to Bougainville. The solution to this problem was the use of international courier services and distribution of equipment and information through the regional coordinators.
2. The inability to travel also required a revision of the budget and allowed for more money to be allocated for local activities planned and conducted by the BTD2 teams in Bougainville. Combined with the requirement for more dialogues with fewer participants to allow for COVID-19-safe facilitation practices this led us to conduct three rounds of dialogues instead of just one round as in previous years.
3. The transition period has proven to be difficult to define and explain to communities. The ABG and the GoPNG have worked very hard on progressing the consultation process, have created a transition timeline and are currently working on a covenant to provide a legal framework for the transition. Consultation meetings are necessarily confidential and not much information is published apart from officially signed documents. This has made it very difficult to provide up-to-date information on the process to BTD2 facilitator teams. Our local project partner, DoBIMI, has held a number of limited briefings but it has also been difficult to reach the teams in the field. This role is normally undertaken by PaCSIA during our frequent visits. While facilitators have stepped up, have shared information via electronic message with each other and have connected with local representatives, there is a palpable sense that an information vacuum exists, and community participants have pointed this out on numerous occasions. Conducting three rounds of dialogue has not necessarily helped to alleviate this, but it has shown communities that there is progress and that information is slowly coming down from the leadership to the villages.
4. The greatest challenge in 2021 was to continue the Wokabaut Senis participatory video project. While it was possible to send photos of project reports and participant lists from the dialogues from Bougainville to Australia, it was impossible to upload even moderately large video files. Our Communications & Media Coordinator has collected some videos from the teams and stored them locally on the hard disk drive, but apart from one video with very low quality, he was unable to upload them to a cloud service. In addition, our participatory video expert, Ms Leanne Simon, had to step down from the BTD2 project due to other work and personal commitments. We have greatly appreciated Ms Simon’s contributions to the project and wish her well. All of these developments have meant that we have only been able to publish one further video for the Wokabaut Senis project component. We have now revised our project plan accordingly and hope to be able to collect more videos, publish and share them in 2022.
The three rounds of dialogue, named the “Bridging Dialogues” (January-February 2021), the “Transition Dialogues” (May-August 2021) and the “Progress Dialogues” (November-December 2021) have resulted in a significantly increased number of reports and data that the project has gathered. Fortunately, we were able to hire three research assistants who greatly helped us to transcribe and analyse the data gathered. The following section of the report provides first an overview of developments in Bougainville during the reporting period and then briefly presents the main themes and quantitative data from of the three dialogue rounds.
To learn more about the work conducted during 2021, please click here to access our Annual Report 2021.