-The Wildlife Way!-
Covid-19 outbreak was a surprise to many of us. When the authorities decided to impose curfew and restrict the movements of the citizens for managing the outbreak, it made virtually all organizations, that depended on the physical presence of their human resources in offices for the traditional manual mode of work, become defunct. Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) was in this situation on the first day of curfew. Although the functions of the DWC has minimal contribution to managing the outbreak, its core functions, i.e. protection of the biodiversity, wildlife and associated natural resources of the country, human wildlife conflict mitigation and wildlife welfare, is a critical requirement for the sustenance of humankind in the long run. Conservationists look at the COVID-19 outbreak as a minor response from nature to the abuse we humans have been heaping on her for decades.
The DWC decided that staying idle during this period of curfew and restricted movement could potentially have significant adverse impacts on wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka. So the Management Committee of the Department, which comprises the senior management of DWC, met virtually using cal conferencing almost as soon as the curfew was announced and took several decisions to ensure that the Department’s core functions are up and running while adhering to the quarantine necessities and social distancing measures proposed by the health authorities.
The video conferencing was opted out of consideration as there was no necessity for members of the Management Committee to see each other, and therefore we decided to conduct a conference call connecting the officials at 8.00 pm every day including holidays and weekends. It was decided not to halt the functioning 1992 hotline services, even temporarily under any circumstance as this is the means for the public to contact DWC in case of a wildlife emergency. The most critical decision made by the Management Committee was to establish a digital platform for work from home (WFH) to smoothly carry out the administrative and financial tasks incumbent upon the Department. It was decided that all the administrative and financial decisions will be taken using the digital platform, and physically summon only the critical minimum staff whenever it requires manual interventions. One staff member volunteered to stay 24X7 in the head office and is stationed permanently during the curfew period to maintain the ICT facilities and ensure that it was up and running throughout this period. The critical equipments required for officers to carry out vital citizen services such as eCITES Permit process was transported and established in their residences. The newly established eCITES permit system was of immense assistance in this context. During the first virtual Management Committee meeting, the requirements of the hotline management system and the WFH platform was outlined. Often such interventions need to initiated with business process re-engineering, but that luxury was not available under the prevailing circumstance. Therefore, we had to improvise. It was also decided to follow a strict communication protocol “one-step-above and one-step-below” to avoid miscommunication and resulting conflicts.
Under the guidance of the Director General, the Planning and ICT Division deployed the first working prototype of a web based 1992 hotline management facility and established a mechanism to rotationally divert the 1992 hotline calls to duty officers of the radio communication unit so that work is completely digital and remote. Under pre-Covid circumstances, the radio unit provides summarized information of ordinary messages to the Director General, the next day morning and immediately for urgent information. The relevant officers, be it in the field or the head office were also informed regularly by the radio unit. The new system is a significant improvement over the pre-Covid system in that all the senior officers are provided with the access to the system and they can see the information received and actions taken in real time. All the requirements of the manual system were incorporated into the new system and many more additional features were added. With the dedication of the relevant staff, the system was developed and deployed within one a day!
The most critical requirement was the WFH platform and the Department managed to develop it within 3 days and launched a staging platform for training and the real system was operationalized on the fourth day!. The system allows the all the officers to create a task and assign that task to a relevant officer for action. As an example if a Regional Assistant Director needs specific advise or instruction on a law enforcement matter s/he can create a task and enter the specific need and assign that to the Assistant Director – Law Enforcement in the head office who is working from home. The system also facilitates uploading any digital file relevant to the task. The assigned officer can convey his decision immediately or if it exceeds his official authority he can escalate to the next level of authority. When the task is completed the creator can close the task. All the task messages are encrypted and stored in the system and a “hash code” is also generated and stored with the activity login system. This “hash code” could be used in detecting any unauthorized manipulation of the message if the need arises. The user training and the instructions were also carried out using teleconferencing.
Social media options such as WhatsApp was also used in communication exchange. The Regional Assistant Directors have created their internal group which includes all the senior officers reporting to him. Each wildlife region has been assigned to a senior officer of the head office to supervise the affairs of that region and he also included in the regional group. All the staff including the Regional Assistant Directors and Veterinary officers were included into one group and the Management Committee was created as a separate group. All these groups were asked to follow the one-step-above and one-step-below protocol. As DWC’s field staff are operating within protected areas and responding to human wildlife conflict problems even during this period, the DWC’s work of wildlife conservation and protection are continuing seamlessly during this period.
This is how DWC manged to work from home. So we call it as working the “wildlife way” while you may have different terms for it such as working “digitally” or “virtually”!!!!.