Reconnecting community, research and politics through post-COVID recovery

Reconnecting community, research and politics through post-COVID recovery

In the wake of COVID-19, the Falkland Islands government has taken concrete steps to address long-standing inequalities, driven by evidence of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on local communities. How was the gap between evidence and policy bridged in this case? Flora Cornish And Keith Cochrane think about relative politics in small countries.

In early 2020, as governments around the world rushed to impose travel restrictions to stop the transmission of COVID-19, in the Falkland Islands, a group of emergency and medical professionals, politicians and researchers simultaneously began to plan for the recovery of the islands. . We were part of this group. One of us, Kate Cochrane, was the lead emergency planning manager for the Falkland Islands government. Another, Flora Cornish, shared her community recovery research experience and methodology. The Falkland Islands government created a Community Recovery Working Group which initiated a series of community impact assessments.

At first we could not predict what systemic changes this would lead to, but two years later there were significant changes in legislation and policy. With years of experience with the “evidence-policy gap” and the rare political will after a disaster to challenge past practices, we were pleasantly surprised by the results. What changes were made and how did they come about?

relational approach

We apply a relational approach to the problem of knowledge mobilization. This contrasts with the linear, rationalistic model of using evidence, exemplified by the medical research catchphrase “bench to bed.” The relational approach focuses on the interaction between researchers, politicians and those who implement them. It calls for mutual exchange rather than one-way transfer, and for early and permanent cooperation. He does not assume that evidence comes first and then politics, but that the policy environment and evidence generation develop in tandem, through mutual influence.

The relational approach focuses on the interaction between researchers, politicians and those who implement them.

In our work in the Falkland Islands, this relational approach meant bringing in a variety of stakeholders with relevant experience, authority and legitimacy to bring about change. The Strategic Reconstruction Coordination Group, composed of leaders with legitimate authority and decision-making power, was chaired by the government’s chief executive. The Tactical Level Recovery Working Group included professionals from social services, communications, mental health and subject matter experts and was led by a widely respected senior government official. Due to the small size and cohesiveness of the Falkland Islands, these senior and specialized experts are not far from local expertise. Early conversations among these groups revealed anecdotal experiences of how the crisis exacerbated pre-COVID-19 vulnerabilities and inequalities. Members agreed that an inclusive process is critical and agreed to conduct a series of large-scale community impact assessments to listen to less heard voices. The groups braced themselves for uncomfortable lessons about vulnerability and inequality on the islands.

Unequal exposure in a diverse community

The Community Impact Assessment used online and paper surveys, small group workshops and face-to-face meetings to explore residents’ experiences with the devastation of Covid-19 and government response. Online surveys have been the traditional method of consultation with the Falkland Islands government. Comparison of survey demographics with census data found that racial minorities and those with less secure immigration status were underrepresented, and so these groups were specifically targeted for other methods.

As a result of the inclusive design of the study, vulnerabilities and inequalities that had not previously been recognized became visible. Workers who normally relied on overtime pay to make ends meet saw their incomes plummet when vacation pay failed to cover overtime earnings, a sign of their longstanding income volatility. The insufficiency of the basic state pension became apparent when low-income pensioners had to stay at home and order groceries remotely. They described how they usually managed finances, relying on store discounts and special offers to keep their weekly budget covered for their needs.

For some people, rents have risen to unaffordable levels due to government demand for lockdown rentals, raising the issue of long-standing housing insecurity. Restrictions on access to passports, identity documents, and visa services have added to serious problems and concerns for migrant workers and those with unprotected immigration status. Issues of social cohesion were raised, as members of all social groups said they felt that their own group was experiencing particular difficulties compared to others. This last point focused the attention of the Working Group on structural, longstanding inequalities between racial groups and on the basis of immigration status.

Towards gradual systemic change

The first step towards systemic change was that the inclusive methodology made visible the experience of marginalization that had previously been hidden. Politicians found the people’s stories of deprivation touching, expressed shame at the inequalities that were revealed, and committed themselves to fighting them. The Government established an Equality Working Group, agreed on the establishment of an Equality Portfolio with a designated responsible member of the Legislative Assembly, and launched the initiative. pass an equality lawwhich has been mothballed since 1994.

The first step towards systemic change was that the inclusive methodology made visible the experience of marginalization that had previously been hidden.

Economic inequality has also led to policy changes. Inspired by the results of the Community Impact Assessment, Chief Economist Annual Report in April 2021, for the first time, income inequality was revealed. In June 2021, to replace a fragmented and complex benefit system that was found to be unaffordable for some eligible households, a new “unified income supplement” went into effect. In April 2022, Parliament supported a new initiative by the chief executive in consultation with those in financial difficulty to submit a policy paper by the end of 2022, with the MLA proposing a proposal citing Covid recovery work as drawing attention to the issue.

However, some of the most serious inequalities have been caused by the different civil status of residents, which determines people’s access to benefits and services, their ability to plan for the longer term, and their inclusion as voters. This fundamental structural division is highly resilient to change, supported in part by the geopolitical stakes associated with Falklands citizenship: Argentina is willing to take advantage of any loosening of citizenship criteria to make territorial claims, and the UK tightly controls potential UK access. citizenship. This fundamental source of inequality cannot be tackled solely at the local level.

Why does relational policy work?

In the early days of COVID-19, encouraging commentators pleaded with governments to take advantage of the disruption caused by the pandemic to break with past harmful policies and inequalities, as Arundhati Roy put it, to use “pandemic as a portal“for a better future. This has often led to disappointment, but in the case of the Falkland Islands, we are seeing steps towards what we call “gradual systemic change“. Why did it happen?

First, the inclusive nature of working groups and community impact assessments has ensured wide and active participation, especially from those people who have not previously participated in consultations, thereby demonstrating that people are not “hard to reach”, but the methods we choose , make them so. . If there is a political will, it is possible to engage widely.

In the Falkland Islands, people talk about “brick-thick” services, meaning that the same person is both the policy maker or manager and the main policy maker.

Second, the 2020 Black Lives Matter global protests against racial inequality brought racial inequality to the attention of elected and appointed members of government. Those who already advocated equality received support. Combined with local personal accounts of deprivation in the Falklands, political will was created.

Third, the country’s small size allowed for a relational approach. In the Falkland Islands, people talk about “brick-thick” services, meaning that the same person is both the policy maker or manager and the main policy maker. There is a small distance between the community and decision makers, and the “evidence-to-practice gap” is the shorter gap that needs to be bridged. A limited bureaucracy and the absence of long chains of decision makers and implementers means that a few determined individuals with strong connections can make meaningful policy changes based on evidence.

This post is based on an article by the authors, Inclusive Recovery Planning for Incremental Systemic Change: Methodology, Early Results and Limitations Based on the Falkland Islands Experience in Covid-19 Recovery Planningpublished in the journal Continences and Crisis Management.

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Image credit: adapted from Littlehampton bricks via Pexels.

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