Wise Connections During COVID-19

Grant from ECF helps PolicyWise provide practical research to better deliver community services online

As an organization with a mission to get practical, actionable research into the hands of social services groups and government officials, PolicyWise has a unique view of the pandemic. With the help of $35,000 from Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF), they spent much of the summer and fall surveying front-line agencies across the province, with the goal of improving online delivery of services that were almost exclusively face-to-face pre-COVID.

From this broad base, they have hit on what might be a universal rule of community support: Whatever you’re doing, and however you’re doing it, it’s about making sure people feel truly connected, but to you and their wider communities.

“People and relationships are always at the heart of the work non-profits do,” explains Carley Piatt, project manager of PolicyWise’s new report, Pivoting to Online Programming During COVID-19. “It’s always about connection, and it doesn’t really matter which way. The challenge through the pandemic has been in exploring and staying in touch in creative ways.”

The report collects some of the best practices service providers have found, synthesizing them into techniques and tricks that PolicyWise hopes organizations can start implementing in more systematic ways.

“ECF was excited to support this research as we take the lessons learned during the pandemic and carry that knowledge forward to strengthen the nonprofit sector in the future,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, says.

Though it has undeniably been a challenging time, with the transition often as difficult for organizations trying to provide services as it is for people attempting to access them, the need for rapid response and constant readjustment has at least given these groups plenty of experience in a very short while.

“Everyone was in the deep end the entire time,” says Piatt. “Things happened faster and we learned more, because if something wasn’t working one week, they had to try something new the next week.”

Piatt also indicates that some of what’s come to light from adapting to COVID can and will be used after the pandemic. As long as you can maintain that crucial relationship, online and other forms of distant connection do allow organizations to reach communities that face physical barriers.

“It has allowed people to participate in new ways,” says Piatt. “You can connect with rural people, people with mobility issues, family issues — people can access these things on their own time in their own way, and that’s something that can carry over after the pandemic.”

Though it’s hardly the learning environment anyone would have chosen, the work that PolicyWise highlights could have a silver lining for the city’s non-profit service providers for a long time to come.

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.