Coping With COVID in QI

Developmental Programming in the Age of COVID19

By David Tomlinson

On January 16, 2020 the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) Secretariat bolted from the starting blocks with the launch of the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Component of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) Programme.

The team was in place for the highly anticipated rematch that would see the German National Metrology Institute (PTB), CROSQ and the Dominican Quality Institute (INDOCAL) working to outdo their last performance in the 10th EDF-CRIP EPA-TBT Project. In the case of the previous programme, there was an over 90 per cent rate of achievement in objectives. Now, all the supporting team members at the National Standards Bureaus were again prepared and ready for implementation, with all 15 National Project Champions thoroughly briefed on the national projects that would be implemented.

The first set of major activities that were planned for implementation were:

  • solving the quality issues in five value chains,
  • hosting three national quality dialogues,
  • accreditation of five Conformity Assessment Bodies and two calibration laboratories, and
  • the certification of five private organisations.

In preparation for these activities, the CROSQ Technical Officers began conducting country missions and training, based on requests from Member States. Most notable were the metrology mission to The Bahamas to guide the development of their new container laboratory, the training of eight metrologists at the Guyana National Bureau of Standards facilitated by myself as Technical Officer – Metrology, and the mission to Dominica to assess the readiness of the National Centre for Testing Excellence for accreditation.

While the team was in Dominica, the corona virus (COVID19) began spreading throughout the Caribbean and immediately after the team returned, countries began shutting their borders. This presented a challenge to the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) since all the planned activities required some amount of regional and international travel.

How would consultants be able to travel to provide technical assistance and how would technical committees meet? And for that matter, how would necessary audits be conducted?

Just when the PIU began determining the maximum amount of delay that could be absorbed by the project without affecting the end date, budget or scope, all participating countries went into full shutdown with restrictions on the movement of residents. This shutdown brought on an unprecedented way of life that forced an adaptation into a virtual environment. Activities once considered only possible in a face-to-face setting now had to be done virtually. This forced the team and partners to innovate.

To work around the travel restrictions or limitations created by COVID19, the PIU took the decision that once technically competent consultants were available, they would be hired from within the country first, then from within the region. The first activity that utilized this strategy was the accreditation of five conformity assessment bodies, which are essentially, testing, inspection and certification services.

While it did take some work to ensure everything was in place, all stakeholders were very receptive of the approach and the activity has commenced with the inception reports completed by all consultants. This same model is currently being used to develop the activities related to the certification of five key private and trade organisations. Plans are also being developed for the hosting of training workshops for media personnel to help them to fully understand the meaning and role of Quality Infrastructure (QI) in supporting regional and international trade. Work has already started in this area with the development of the training course structure and content by the Technical Officer – Quality Promotions supported by a media expert knowledgeable in QI.

The PIU is cautiously optimistic that in due course, regional and international travel will open up but as systems are adapting to the impact of COVID19, such as the provision of virtual audits, the team will make full use of the virtual opportunities that are presented to continue to implement the project plan within time and scope. National activities will be implemented with the virtual presence of key technical experts as is required and innovative strategies found and implemented to address the other hurdles that pop up along the way.

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