This is some of the learning we want to share from Day 2 of interviews with grantees, partners and other stakeholders. You can read Day 1 here. It was helpful being reminded by various people we were in conversation with today that the Covid-19 pandemic is still a relatively unknown scenario and that we are all finding (and learning) our way through. This links to Dawn acknowledging in her announcement yesterday that we are likely to get some things wrong. What we heard from people today though was that given this is unknown territory, and Covid-19 will disrupt usual patterns of community resilience for months to come, we need to think broader, bolder, more short and long-term at once. As one interviewee said, “We need to retain our solid foundations of core service delivery, suitably tweaked for this scenario. But we also need to work in a more flexible, cross-boundary, non-linear way that allows space for new ways of working (remote, digitally enabled) and rapid experimentation.”
Advice & guidance
Due to the influx of community activity, some organisations felt that there is a need for clearer advice and guidance, particularly when it comes to things like safeguarding to protect vulnerable people. It was felt that advice around collecting data and GDPR is particularly needed, as well as advice that goes beyond the basics such as ‘wash your hands before volunteering’. However, an alternative view from some of our other interviewees, is that for many this will not be considered volunteering, it’s neighbourliness, community action, activism or people helping each other out to survive. This was reflected in this comment — “a key thing is that people don’t necessarily think what they’re doing to help neighbours is ‘volunteering.’ I understand the need to be safe etc but the messaging around this needs to be balanced and of a certain tone — lots of policies and warnings about GDPR and safeguarding could prevent people from action.”
Duplication of effort
There is a lot happening out in the sector, many people are taking action and sharing what they are doing. This is both useful and noise. We heard people citing a need for a coordinating body, a connector or conduit that was able to minimise duplication of effort and wise-use/distribution of resources. Can the response be more place/local based, theme based — not just an institutions’ response working in linear isolation? Is there a way to better coordinate between local communities and larger organisations?
This is true of foundations too — people wanted to know that there was collaboration and coordination happening across the funding landscape.
Some people we spoke to were already doing a brilliant job of coordinating efforts. One group of CEO’s were on a WhatsApp group together, sharing workloads, doing work on behalf of each other, and taking on specific roles as part of a shared response.
Yesterday, most people spoke about the role of digital in business continuity for their organisations. This was primarily in relation to taking in-person services and operations online. Today we heard more about the opportunities for digital tools in adapting and being innovative with services, from those meeting immediate material and medical needs to wellbeing and entertainment activities. Digital was being seen as a way to provide a sense of normality in abnormal times.
Many conversations today referred to increased levels of trust as something that is needed. It won’t be possible to report, monitor or relate to one another in the same ways as we were previously, and so trust needs to be positioned as a central guiding principle. Both relevant to funder-funded relationships, relationships between organisations, and between individuals in the community. Some organisations could already see new trust being established as people broaden their networks and connect with people they haven’t before. Trust is also being created through communities needing to work in a much more open way. The perception of who people see as their community and the community they belong to is also changing.
Mental health and wellbeing
We can’t underestimate the impact that the crisis will have (and is having) on people’s mental health. One aspect of responding to this is to raise public awareness of the importance of taking care of our mental health. Another will be adapting services to respond to the loss of recreational activities and physical exercise in person — these have a significant impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, so alternative ways to deliver these services are needed. Services will also need to be ready to shift focus from not only supporting people to achieve and sustain a balance in their mental health, but to navigate loss too.
Although people are reluctant to call this an ‘opportunity’, there is energy and awareness that for some organisations who have been campaigning/working towards a specific goal for a while, this is a moment in which their mission could take root. There is energy around this moment as a chance to mobilise people around particular issues, such as alternatives to systems relating to food, mental health and social infrastructure.
There is hope that after this crisis, there will be a new normal. One person said “the most important thing is that we don’t just put things back together after this crisis to how things were. We need to change things.”
With something as complex as a pandemic, it’s unsurprising that there are tensions in terms of how to respond, how to prioritise etc. Below are some of the tensions we have noticed from our conversations.
Immediate need and the long haul
Most organisations talked about the utmost importance of meeting immediate needs — the safety of people, saving people’s lives, maintaining vital services and being able to reassure about organisational continuity plans. At the moment most organisations are approaching their response as a day to day thing, finding it hard to engage in longer term thinking and planning before urgent needs are addressed. One person used the analogy of it being like oxygen masks in a plane. Another organisation described receiving 300 emails per hour which was making it impossible to do anything else other than respond to those immediate needs. However, our ability to move beyond the short term and absorb and embed the changes in social behavior will also depend on how we act now.
What is ‘Just Enough Internet’?
Some of the immediate basic support that is required includes ensuring organisations themselves have the means and the capabilities to work in a different way. This ranges from providing hardware and mobile phone top ups to staff so that they can continue their work, to advice about digital methods and platforms. Catalyst and the Small Charities Coalition have now created a really basic guide for this. Of course, another tension in this is that through acting swiftly and reactively, we don’t yet know what longer term effects might come from organisations shifting to online more quickly than they would have done in normal circumstances.
Informal community action
As mentioned earlier in the post, the Covid-19 pandemic is activating citizens to come together on a level that has not been seen before (or not since the war). Hundreds of local support groups have emerged in response to the virus, and these are just the ones we know about. This kind of informal activity doesn’t always need resources, and sometimes trying to coordinate their activity with much larger organisations can dissipate the energy of these groups. Often where larger organisations and foundations can play a role is in asking the question, ‘what obstacles can we remove so that these groups can keep organising?’
Minimum effective structure
There is a tension between the messiness of letting things develop organically and in more networked ways, whilst also needing things to roll out at pace and at scale in a coordinated way. To bring these things together requires systems leadership and networked thinking, away from one of classic emergency response.
Our own operational capacity
There were some important questions posed to us during the interviews — the most common asking us to be realistic about The National Lottery Community Fund’s capacity and resources to meet demands. What might be the implications for accessing funding quickly if TNLCF has a reduced workforce itself during this period?
Lastly, one interviewee pointed out a really helpful distinction —
Keeping organisations afloat, especially those dependent on income is a very different issue to keeping people afloat.
This section describes some further opportunities we see, and in particular we’d love to hear from people who have ideas about how to do this, think that they are doing this, or can point towards where this is already being done well.
A Covid-19 Observatory
We touched on this in yesterday’s post but it was repeated many times again today. There is a need for the following:
- A better way to find out what emerging needs are
- A “Needs Analysis” team
- A way of prioritising needs
- A way of differentiating activities that are emergent, urgent, necessary.
- A way to validate and drive the sharing of needs
- A way for charities and other civil society organisations to align with what they can offer
- A way to create I have/I need alliances
- A model for capturing, logging and tracking what is working, including tools and the practicalities of adoption.
All of the above requires operating at a systems level and in a networked way. We’ve called it a Covid-19 Observatory, which initially is likely to work much more effectively as a network of observatories, each focussed on a particular lens (e.g digital + tech) or thematic area (e.g refugees and migrants). Over time they different observatories could merge to focus on the sector as a whole.
Learning and embedding the change from the ground up
A number of people spoke about the need to build and share knowledge about effective emerging community-led responses, in order to enable these to be reinforced and scaled up. There is both a need and opportunity to develop methods for citizen sensing and reporting, in order to share far and wide good practice on the ground in a timely manner.
People spoke of a need for The National Lottery Community Fund, or others with capacity and a landscape view, to put a frame around the learning so that as initiatives emerge or embed we can help make visible a new social fabric. This requires being clear about what needs to come out of this crisis — some answers to which will be in the activity already developing widely — but if we wait and look back at the learning it will already be too late. We need to learn in real time, share the lessons and adapt in ways which enable us to sustain the progress as this crisis passes.
“Doing the learning in ways which develop our support networks and permanently strengthen our communities will also prepare us to cope better with future crises, either societal and exceptional, like the virus, or individual and inevitable.”
Specific and common needs
Doing these interviews means we’re hearing about some very specific but common needs, currently unsolved. By sharing them here perhaps someone can help us identify solutions.
We heard about the first through those organisations primarily serving older people who are alone, self-isolating and not set up with smart phones, computers or WiFi. People are doing food ordering and delivery for these people, but they are unable to pay for the goods. Whilst volunteers are doing some informal IOU’s or just gifting goods, this doesn’t feel sustainable over periods of weeks and months. What payment mechanisms could be created for older people who can’t get online?
The second is about contactless community support. Lots of pockets of this are already happening, but as we go into potential lockdown a different kind of infrastructure will need creating, for communities to provide contactless support to neighbors who are in isolation. Where is this being done well — not just at an individual/neighbour level, but at an infrastructure level?
If you’d like to get in touch you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
These insights were gathered through conversations with NAVCA, Volunteering Matters, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Hilary Cottam, FutureGov, Grapevine, Mayday Trust, Citizens UK, David Robinson, Imandeep Kaur, Mental Health Foundation, Connect Hackney, Active Communities, Catalyst and internal colleagues who lead our iWill programme, A Better Start, Building Connections, and Fulfilling Lives.
Thank you to my colleagues Melissa Ray, Mitali Sen and Emma Robinson who helped with all the interviews and writing our findings up.