The picture above captures the feelings of the last few months so well. It’s felt like being on a rollercoaster and climbing a mountain all at once. When the National Lottery asked ‘What’s been hard?’ the response was ‘Everything!’ The pace of change; the number of challenges; the emotions, to name but some of the difficulties of COVID-19. However, once we sat back and really thought about it, there were some key themes around what had been hard which can help us as we plan our way out of lockdown, and look at our future strategy over the next few years:
What have you found hard as a team or organisation in responding to Covid-19?
One of the hardest elements has been the lack of digital skills, knowledge and activity amongst our stakeholder base. Moving our staff team to working remotely & online has been quite smooth. But more than 50% of our carers are aged over 55. 30% are aged over 70. From previous research we know that a significant percentage of these carers are either not interested in ‘technology’ or lack confidence in using it. This marries national research into digital skills gaps & exclusion in older people. This has meant that although we have the desire and (some) skills to move our services online, we are not sure this is inclusive of our traditional carer base (although arguably you could say it might attract new, younger carers who don’t currently access our services).
Additionally, it is hard for us to manage communications with carers as we have email addresses for less than 50% and we know that only 50% of our emails ever get opened. Currently, we are lacking a comms resource, which makes this even harder. So, whilst there could be ways we could improve the open rate of our emails / click throughs to our resources, we don’t yet have the skill to achieve this.
In learning psychology, people talk about a ‘groan zone’ or ‘learning edge’ — where you are being pushed to learn and grow but not so much that it’s overwhelming. Where is your groan zone as a team/organisation right now?
Our groan zone is around data. What data we have; what data we need; how we collect data so it is useful; how we then use that data to inform what we do. Historically we have provided the services our contracts told us to, and listened to feedback on those services, but we haven’t really been good at using data to inform what our user need is, and whether those services are the right services. We also haven’t always captured & stored data in a way that is easily accessible, making it hard to draw out information and make good decisions.
We are slowly learning what ‘good data’ is and how to use that data, but it’s challenging. For example we set up a wellbeing form for staff to use as they are talking to carers through the lockdown. We put some thought in to the questions, but as we began to get the answers we realised we hadn’t asked the right questions (we asked ‘how are you’ when we meant ‘how is your caring role’). Through the answers we also realised there were questions we really should have asked. We didn’t sit down and think hard enough about what we really wanted to know, and the data we were trying to get. This is a learning experience which means we can build on this moving forward. It’s meant we’ve embarked on a data pilot, supported by NPC, through which we have hope to have a better understanding of the types of data we need; how to collect and store it and how to use it.
It definitely feels like we are edging towards being more data informed, rather than gut instinct / anecdotally informed. At least that’s the plan!
What have you found hard (if anything) in collaborating with others (organisations, partners) right now?
The main issue with collaboration has been time. We are keen to do more locally to engage with other Carer Trust Partners in the South West and the wider third sector in B&NES to look at how we can share learning and find opportunities to collaborate. But the challenge of doing this alongside a huge upheaval within our own organisation (moving to remote working) and limited resource has made this difficult. We would love to find out how local partners are adapting to the new environment and how we can work together to share learning & undertake joint projects but we’re only just starting to find the space & time for this.
Where are you seeking most support?
This is an interesting question. Reflecting back, we have definitely turned inwards to support each other rather than looking outwards for collaboration opportunities. That team support has been fantastic, with a real sense of shared vision and purpose, and a genuine feeling of looking out for one another and working together. We also looked to national networks to provide information and advice. The Carers Trust, Carers UK and Catalyst are three we regularly use.
However, this question made us consider where else we could or should look for support. What might the sector look like if we shared our experiences more fully with each other, and had spaces for cross-organisation or cross sector peer support? What is it that stops this and how could we overcome it? This was one of the themes covered in a National Lottery Digital Fund Webinar looking at What is Hard which can be viewed here. Taking part in this webinar was itself supportive in being able to learn and share with other digital leaders and hear the range of challenges, similar and different to our own, which other charities are facing.
The Children’s Society have also written a great blog on what they’ve found hard which can be found here. Some similarities, some differences, but what’s clear is how as a sector we have found this experience hard, but we’ve also found ways to come together, to adapt, and do the best we can for our beneficiaries. That’s something we can all be proud of.