Matthew discusses the important role engagement has played in the third sector's impressive response to COVID-19.
Interviewing third sector organisations for the ALLIANCE’s Community in Action project, the importance of engagement has been a recurring theme.
In their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations haven’t taken it upon themselves to decide what people need. They have engaged with the people who benefit from their services, sought their views and codesigned any adaptations.
Versus Arthritis’ Young People and Families team’s first step as lockdown came into effect, for example, was to engage with the young people they support to ensure that they were able to produce resources that were both wanted and needed.
Mel-Milaap, based on conversations with the people they support, completely transformed the service that they provide, shifting from day care facilities to food distribution. They have now delivered thousands of meals across Glasgow at no cost.
PAMIS’ Family Support Directors have played an important role engaging with families and finding the information that they need during this difficult time. And this information sharing is multidirectional. As well as sharing information with families, PAMIS collect the experiences of the people and families they support and share these with the Scottish Government to inform future decision making.
Scotland All Strong have engaged with their clients to design bespoke personal training, health and fitness classes to support people’s fitness, mental health and wellbeing during lockdown restrictions.
And Crohn’s & Colitis UK have planned a survey of their members and supporters to gather further information about how the pandemic is affecting their lives, so that they can tailor their services appropriately.
The third sector’s response to COVID-19 has been incredibly encouraging. Organisations have shown agility and creativity to quickly adapt to what have been unprecedented circumstances and, as a result, have been able to continue to support people throughout the pandemic. Some have completely transformed in order to do so.
And the sector’s close relationships with the people they support has been of great benefit when seeking views on these new, adapted services.
Engagement is one of the third sector’s real strengths and, at the ALLIANCE, we believe that the voice of lived experience should inform decision making at every level. Whether that takes the form of a Scottish Government consultation or a charity engaging with its members and supporters, decisions which affect people should be made in partnership with those same people.
However, this engagement should never be tokenistic. As we heard earlier this year during our roundtable discussion on the implementation of the Framework for Community Health and Social Care Integrated Services, engagement without a goal in mind can often feel ‘frustrating and disrespectful’ for those being asked to share their views.
This has not been the case during the current pandemic. The third sector’s engagement efforts have been used to directly inform service design, filling gaps that have appeared in services as a result of the redeployment of specialist health and social care staff. By continuing to engage, by continuing to ask what is needed and by continuing to meet these needs, the third sector will have an absolutely vital role to play in Scotland’s recovery from COVID-19.