The latest ALLIANCE report shines a light on third sector experiences of using video conferencing platforms during the COVID-19 lockdown.
It can be hard to accept that seven months have passed since the onset of lockdown. At the beginning of March, we were still planning engagement events and extensive travels across Scotland to deliver our projects. By the end of the same month, the entire ALLIANCE team were working from home, workshops were temporarily put on hold and contingency plans were established for what most thought would be a 6-week lockdown.
Only a month before COVID-19 forced this sudden change, we filmed a series of short videos on the use of video conferencing (VC) in the third sector. Back then, we knew of a handful of health and social care charities that used VC tools on a regular basis. In most cases, this was because geographical challenges or the characteristics of certain long term conditions which can make traveling for appointments tiresome and difficult. But by the time we released our case studies, many other organisations also had to start considering remote service delivery.
Between July and August 2020, we carried out a small-scale mixed methods research project with third sector organisations to understand their experiences and needs around using VC. This was prompted by our desire to learn how organisations were coping with the adoption of new technology in the face of new circumstances and challenges.
Our research was done in parallel with another considerable piece of work around VC, the Near Me public engagement. We were conscious of this and made sure that our aims were different, but complementary, to those of the national Near Me exercise. Therefore, the purpose of our work was to understand the needs of third sector organisations using VC technologies as a result of COVID-19 and to determine what sector specific support is required going forward.
Our findings show that the majority of the organisations that we engaged with had moved to remote service delivery quite swiftly once the March 2020 lockdown was announced. Organisations went to great efforts to continue providing essential services to their clients, such as advice, training and counselling.
Our report seeks to throw light on some of the key enablers and benefits of remote service delivery in the third sector. However, it also acknowledges the vast challenges of not only delivering services remotely, but also those of rapid implementation in a pandemic context. Many organisations had to consider challenges they had not encountered before, such as reaching those without devices, rapidly upskilling staff and volunteers to use digital or even safeguarding clients online.
While the findings of this small-scale research project align with those of other studies published during COVID-19, they also highlight the difficult task third sector organisations have had to undertake to continue delivering their services. To charities used to delivering their work on the ground, digital can feel new and unfamiliar, and there is little support or clear sector-specific guidance around the technology.
It is therefore important to ensure that adequate consideration is given to the experience of third sector organisations. With the prospect of further lockdowns on the horizon, steps should be taken to manage this continued transition in and out of remote service delivery. To support this, our report sets a number of recommendations for policy makers, technology developers and third sector adopters to consider, in order to ensure that remote service delivery becomes an option which empowers Scotland’s people, services and organisations and contributes to better outcomes.