The Republic of Georgia’s political and national security, and its broad national aspiration for acceptance within the Euro-Atlantic community of nations, are under significant threat. Its democratic stability and development are threatened by domestic political fragmentation and polarization. And Russia, through direct or sponsored disinformation campaigns, seeks to exacerbate those tensions by promoting value-based cultural and identity conflicts within Georgia and, through hybrid means, reminding the country of its economic and military exposure to Russian power.
The invasion of Ukraine has brought this all into greatly sharpened focus. But even two years ago when SBAIC member Agenda LLC executed its first project in Georgia– a USAID-funded program to train political parties in countering disinformation– it was evident that the impacts of Russia’s malign influence on Georgia’s political and social infrastructure were undermining Georgia’s will and confidence to continue its Western-democratic orientation.
At the same time, Georgia was – and largely remains – behind other countries in developing digital strategies to manage this information-based aggression and counter these destabilizing, and anti-democratic, anti-Western influences. (Debate remains as to whether this lack is due more to political will than technological capacity. Nonetheless, evidence has emerged that Georgia can be a good base for international cybercrime directed against Western countries.)
This was the broad context in which Agenda LLC, an implementing partner under PM Consulting Group’s USAID Digital APEX contract, began work in July 2020. Though under the gun logistically due to COVID-19 restrictions, Agenda’s Tbilisi-based team developed and delivered a series of fast-tracked and interactive trainings for Georgian political parties ahead of the country’s October 2020 national elections.
Our lean and flexible business model enabled us to move quickly. Our representative in Tbilisi, using his well-developed network of contacts, rapidly pulled together a small team of local experts to: develop training modules suitable to the Georgian culture and political context. Agenda supplemented with input from our US in-house experts. Together, we engaged with high-level party officials, members of the diplomatic and international NGO communities, and USAID to secure participation from eight political parties; and put in place the logistics needed to support the delivery of customized modules and in-person and virtual training sessions.
The training focused on:
- Monitoring the information environment with a customized data and analytics tool
- Identifying, assessing, and countering disinformation/misinformation
- Preparing for, managing, and recovering from crises
- Applying social/digital media best practices
For each training module, Agenda LLC prepared detailed presentations, including key facts, points of interest, case studies and other real-world examples, as well as independent analyses for each of the participating parties, best management practices, and interactive questions/answer opportunities. We also provided one-on-one follow-up with each of the parties and solicited feedback on the trainings, topics, facilitators, and materials via a customized on-line survey.
The period of performance was book-ended by the August holidays and October, the last month of the election in which we knew parties would have no time for training. We thus used August to design and refine the modules, then delivered the entire program to eight parties during five weeks between September 1 and early October, 2021.
The Agenda team received high marks from the political parties and from USAID; we also exceeded all key performance indicators and training goals. The following year, Agenda was asked by the International Republic Institute to support its USAID-funded CEPPS program by delivering a modified version of the same program, again to political parties in the run-up to the local government elections of October 2021. Given the dynamics in the Republic of Georgia, this and other direct-engagement programs remain a top priority.