Getting through this and moving forward – learning and sharing in a time of coronavirus

Dr Simon Davey.

The sun is shining and the world is moving on but these are definitely odd times. It’s heartening to see how quickly we’re adapting and keeping all the important things going. The pace of change has never been greater and contributions are coming together to resolve issues and share options.

So after the initial foray to get everyone ‘remote working’ and out of the office, we’re definitely in a ‘learning and sharing phase’. The way we deliver services as well as how we work together is adapting rapidly. The decisions we make now might not be perfect but they will inform a forward view and as long as we can consider the consequences of what we are doing now, we should be well placed for the future.

I will focus my attention on resources which support staff, volunteers and organisations to be effective and sensibly compliant. I am conscious that England and Wales is very well served for the needs of individual advice seekers by Advice Now – https://www.advicenow.org.uk/ – and Citizens Advice – https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/.  

Key Areas: some notes

1. Tools – what to use and (simple) why/when. Simple recommendations and signposts to pros and cons and helpsheets. We won’t have time to learn the details of this so recommendations of a simple ‘suite of tools’ is valuable. Catalyst have a good collection of advice here https://www.thecatalyst.org.uk/support

2. Information management and information security (including data protection). We still need to protect data and apply common sense compliance. The ICO [Information Commissioners Office] are tweeting some useful resources here but a lot is common sense. Keep it simple, keep it as organised as possible, protect data and documents with passwords and use secure sharing. 

3. Leadership – including recognising the challenges. I attended a great The National Lottery Fund Digital Fund webinar on this subject yesterday. Key aspects included: providing direction, clarity in absence of hard facts, making decisions, managing expectations, being compassionate and how to show strength as well as being vulnerable. This will be a testing time for many so know you’re not alone and reach out to peers. 

4. Effectiveness and productivity – how can we work better and what does effectiveness mean when you’re homeschooling two small children and the cat is walking over your keyboard? We need to be clear what we need to get done, recognise our barriers, know who can help and reach out, recognise we are making progress and reassure ourselves that work will get done, it just might not get done perfectly between an arbitrary 0945 and 1015 in the morning like the schedule said. Also, now is a good time to apply the 80/20 rule. What’s the 20 per cent of your activity that results in 80 per cent of your impact (and that’s about people as well as numbers)?

5. Mental health and well-being – this is a marathon not a sprint. Many are working crazy hours adapting, developing new mechanisms and dealing with urgent stuff. Others are in a phase of grief and adapting more slowly. This isn’t the time to give up chocolate or running (assuming we’re still allowed our daily run) It’s a time to take care of ourselves and each other – there are excellent resources out there. You can’t be maximum effective if you’re crashing in well being. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing

6. Communications – including not having unnecessary virtual meetings and not bombarding people with instant messaging. There’s a difference between checking in and what becomes borderline harassing people. Let’s use daily check ins well. Let’s ‘meet’ when we need to and let’s also harness the power of Skype, Zoom, Teams et al for virtual social get togethers after work (or indeed alcohol free during the day). Skype-vino, G and T(eams) and Zoom Café are working for me (and saves the train journey back home from the pub). Whilst you’re still sober, you may need to make managing up a thing.

7. Sharing – how do we share stuff? Twitter? Collating and curating on webpages? There’s so much good stuff I’m coming across but where to put it. A shout out here to the LiP Network – http://www.lipnetwork.org.uk/topics – for collating a lot of this stuff across the access to justice space in England and Wales.

8. Rule of Law – important stuff which is outside my expertise but I recognise Public Law Project, the Legal Education Foundation, Bingham Centre and many others are crucial here. Also US based Twitterati. https://binghamcentre.biicl.org/publications/rule-of-law-monitoring-of-legislation-coronavirus-bill

9. Regulation – agencies giving legal advice can be regulated and they need to stay on top of that especially as it seems to be evolving by the day. 

To be successful, we need:

  •  Inputs from trusted sources whilst also taking feedback from wider sources – gathering e.g. via Twitter or following Medium blogs and soliciting emails.
  • Collation of a list of resources (e.g. recommendations, learning, feedback) for each area.
  • Collation of a list of who’s doing what in each area – with so many groups already ‘leading’ on things we should amplify rather than duplicate.
  • Publication of national resources in a single place (I think for us the LiP [litigant  in Person] Network would be a great start for this) 
  • Propagation via social media and our other networks and channels

In terms of getting groups together to take action, I was very impressed by the Digital Fund’s (and CAST’s (Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology) format of Zoom webinar plus open link Google Doc (background paper, crowdsourced ideas, questions and write up). It seems to work and supports groups up to 30 or 40 without causing chaos.

The other Google Doc idea that I am seeing is people putting themselves forward as offering advice and support but perhaps we also need a two column list – ‘What is your issue?’ And ‘Here’s a potential solution’. We could start it rolling and then we’ve collated the issues (and some of the solutions) as we went.

The natural leaders are stepping up and organising this so let’s get behind them and support them. This is not a time to reinvent the wheel or fly your own flag unnecessarily. Perhaps in a few weeks time, we’ll have a bit of headspace but meanwhile we’ll have:

  • Tried new things and learned what worked for us
  • Been clearer about our actual barriers and challenges
  • Thought through consequences as we did it
  • Move people on a change journey faster than they ever thought possible
  • Be clearer that the ‘brave new world’ isn’t quite as scary and we can just do it.

I am hoping this gives us all a bit more strategic drive (iteratively in pursuit of a clear direction); the commitment to be bold; and the desire to embrace change. In the end this is just change. It might be Covid-19 inspired or led change but it’s just change.

The world will be different in three to six months time but however challenging right now, some aspects of the world might also be better. Stay safe, stay home, take care and have hope in the future. We can, and will, get through this.

Thanks to Roger Smith, Martha de la Roche of the Litigant in Person Network and Nicola Tulk from Nesta for input, thoughts and ideas. And to CAST and TNL Digital Fund for inspiring some of the themes. Picture from Pixabay.

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