Learning-by-Doing in the time of Pandemic: Online Coaching on Political and Economic Analysis and Report Writing

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) successfully completed its Basic Course on Political and Economic Analysis and Report Writing (BCPEAR) on 26 August 2020, even as the Course had to be redesigned during its implementation to adapt to the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seventeen (17) personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) participated in BCPEAR, which FSI conducted on a staggered basis from March through July and August. The Course was temporarily disrupted. When the course sessions resumed, the Institute included new class exercises to reflect current on-the-job practices in the time of pandemic: intelligence gathering, analyzing, and crafting political and economic reports.

Prior to the lockdown, the “how-to” session on political and economic analysis and report writing, deconstructing good reports and not-so-good examples to learn from, and the do’s and don’ts at Post were handled by DFA experts, such as Fernando Beup, Jr., Anthony Aguirre, and Consul Gonaranao Musor of Singapore PE.
BCPEAR 2020 highlighted that there’s a better way to learn political and economic analysis and report writing: a learning-by-doing approach. It was intentional on the part of FSI instructional designers of the Course to require all learners to dive in into two (2) writing exercises, one for political reports and another for economic, using the concepts and tools they learned in the Course. Online coaching allowed for feedback and improvement of outputs that approximate actual tasks of political and economic officers.

As FSI is committed to continue to improve its services, being an ISO certified training and research institution, the Institute’s training team ensured that the Course’s redesign met the criteria of responsiveness to the learning needs of its primary client, the DFA.

An online survey was sent to incumbent Political and Economic officers at Foreign Service Posts to ascertain the specific competencies necessary to do quality work in the political and economic sections of the Embassy. A focused group discussion (FGD) was also organized with Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) who have served as Political and Economic Officers at Post.

The FGD confirmed pertinent data gathered in the online survey, and the results aided in putting together a more responsive Instructional Design for would-be Political and Economic Officers and Assistants. The Course’s redesign process adhered to Competency-based Human Resources principles: Effective Communication, Strategic and Critical Thinking, Partnering, Networking, Collaborating and Consensus Building, External Awareness, Political Savvy, and Foreign Policy Management.

And because it’s online learning, a number of incumbent political and economic officers were able to share how intelligence gathering, partnering and networking, analysis, and reporting are conducted at Post. BCPEAR 2020 participants were able to learn from seasoned diplomats: Consul General Jose Victor Chan-Gonzaga (Embassy of the Philippines in the United States), First Secretary and Consul Jeffrey P. Salik (Philipine Embassy in Canada), Consul Mary Jennifer D. Dingal (Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), First Secretary and Consul Winston Dean S. Almeda (Embassy of the Philippines in China), Third Secretary JJ Domingo (Permanent Mission of the Philippines in Geneva, Switzerland), and First Secretary and Consul Gonaranao B. Musor (Embassy of the Philippines in Singapore) on what it takes to produce quality outputs using the various personal and professional skills to be effective at this kind of job: being proactive, thorough, and resourceful.

The Course enhanced the learning experience for participants by implementing a hybrid of methodology, such as lecture for theoretical concepts, how-to sessions, storytelling, sharing of experiences in doing field work, and writing exercises on political and economic events, with the outputs reviewed and critiqued by senior FSOs.

BCPEAR learners also benefited from experts from the academe: Prof. Christian Soler and Prof. Brian Gozon of DLSU and Prof. Herman Joseph Kraft of UP Diliman for some theoretical concepts and analytical frameworks from the fields of International Political Economy, International Relations, and even Decision Sciences and Innovation. Another value adding session was the interaction from political and economic officers from the US Foreign Service, Stephanie Moniot and Heidi Herschede.
The last online session of BCPEAR was an integration session with former Undersecretary for International Economic Relations, APEC Senior Official, and former Acting Director of FSI, Ambassador (ret.) Laura Quiambao Del Rosario. She reminded the learners of the value of long-term tracking of priority issues and key persons in industries, such as technology, pharmaceutical, education, and energy, and advised that economic reports not just focus on actionable (present-oriented) items, but must also be aspirational (futures thinking- oriented) to push for development. She currently serves as the 9th President of Miriam College.

Even with the abrupt shift to 100% online learning, the learners, resource persons, and program managers at FSI have seized the opportunities presented by online synchronous learning. The gains from such agility are somehow captured and verified by the participant’s description of their learning experiences in BCPEAR: