Community organisations fear innovation backtrack
15 December 2021 at 5:21 pm
Experts say significant investment in technology, resources and upskilling is needed if progress is to be maintained
While community organisations successfully innovated to deliver more accessible services during the pandemic, many are now worried for the future of these improved services.
New research from the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) has uncovered that a lack of flexible funding and investment in technology and training has left community groups concerned that their service innovations will be discontinued.
The findings are part of a collaborative new research project by a team of researchers from
CSI UWA, Swinburne and UNSW which looked at how disability, aged care and emergency service organisations adapted and innovated during the pandemic.
Over 30 organisations in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales were interviewed from late 2020 to early 2021, with the research driven by the core questions: What have services done differently during the COVID-19 crisis and what do they want to do differently in their post-pandemic service delivery?
The research found that organisations had gone “above and beyond” in their efforts to support clients and their families during the pandemic.
This included organising social cooking, art and exercise activities over Zoom and FaceTime, arranging delivery of groceries or shopping for clients, and providing information in preferred languages and in accessible ways, such as videos and text messages.
Respondents said the decline in one-on-one support during the last couple of years meant many of their clients acquired new technology skills.
“We sent our support staff to teach the seniors how to do video conferencing and by the second or third week they were hosting Zoom meetings,” a WA research participant said.
Researchers also found that many community organisations changed the ways their services were delivered by giving clients a choice over how and when workers interacted with them in person, giving staff the option to work remotely, and empowering staff to make independent decisions to avoid service delays for clients.
Dr Mariana Atkins, from CSI University of Western Australia, said that although delivering services through the pandemic was a challenge, it actually allowed room for great innovation.
“We found that organisations and their staff were resilient, flexible and creative in response to their clients,” Atkins said.
But, she said that without significant investments in technology, resources and upskilling beyond COVID-19, the future of these innovations was uncertain.
“And while these innovations have proven to be very successful, to continue them will require significant investments in technology, resources and upskilling beyond COVID-19,” she said.
A hybrid future
Organisations said that post-pandemic, they wanted the opportunity to provide “blended services”, because switching completely online had put up some barriers such as the fact that some individuals’ needs were ill-suited to remote support.
“We hope to offer a mix of face-to-face support with technology. We want to normalise technology but make it more inclusive,” a NSW research participant said.
Several organisations also wanted to expand their staff and volunteer workforces to ensure that they have the skills required to facilitate new ways of working such as the inclusion of more online activities.
This report forms part of CSI’s Building Back Better series – a national project monitoring social issue areas over time.
Read the full report here.