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After the emergency: what happens after lockdown ends?

Chris starts to think about what happens once this current lockdown is over. How can we make sure people can recover, that lessons are learned and planning for the future can begin?

It may feel too early to start thinking about what happens when the lockdown finishes, but I realised earlier this week that unless I’m actively picturing the end of this episode, my energy and motivation remain at rock bottom.

It’s a topic full of ‘known unknowns’, but that shouldn’t stop us at least building a framework to help think about what the future may look like.

The main thing

It’s up for discussion, but my personal view is that once restrictions are lifted, we can’t go back to operating the way we did before. That’s partly because, in a practical sense, restrictions may be re-imposed in some form relatively quickly. There may even be a different pandemic to deal with in the future.

At the same time, the situation we’ve created to deal with the crisis isn’t sustainable in the long term. We have implemented emergency measures, not redesigned the learning and working experience. There will be things we want to preserve but also plenty of compromises made that need to be rolled back or reassessed.

And on another level, Lawrie Phipps, in a recent blog post said:

“Things will be different, even if they are the same, we cannot erase our experience.”

This is perhaps the most significant thing to happen to our society in generations, we will have been changed by it in ways we don’t yet recognise.

So, I wonder if the following steps would be a useful way of framing things. Approach all of this in a spirit of collaboration and appreciative enquiry rather than a fault-finding exercise.

Pause

People are exhausted and dealing with the trauma. After such a hectic, stressful period, staff and students need time to decompress to avoid getting something like the bends, post-COVID19-style.

People also need to take stock of their new environment; political, economic, social, technical, legal and environmental. And also personal. I’ll come back to talking about PESTLE at the end.

Also, take the time to recognise what people have achieved. The solutions to the crisis will have been imperfect, but we need to acknowledge the collective effort that went into responding so quickly and in such radical ways. There have been personal, emotional and financial costs.

Listen

Once people have had the space to breathe, if you are in a position of leadership, allow people to talk and listen carefully to what they are saying.

What has this experience been like for your staff? What have they discovered worked well and what didn’t? What are their thoughts about the future and what do they recommend?

What was the experience like for your students? What was the impact of all the things you put in place for them? What helped them, to learn and what didn’t? What a positive effect on their wellbeing and what placed extra strain on them?

Let people tell their stories. As well as helping you to gather intelligence, that will help others put structure on and make sense of their experience, allowing them to take back agency and develop a sense of control that was taken from them.

It’s easy for some voices to get lost in this process, particularly the groups that are under-represented or traditionally side-lined. Make listening an active and collaborative process and think which stories and voices you might be missing.

Colleagues in Jisc has begun the process of working with partners in the sector to start collecting experiences and stories systematically to learn as much as we can about how people have been affected. You’ll be hearing more about this in the future. But it needs to happen at the local level as well.

To borrow a phrase i heard from Donna Lanclos, avoid the trap of ‘participation theatre’; giving people the impression of being listened to but without it making any identifiable difference.

There will also be a wealth of data to examine as well, but without the stories of experience, it will only give you half the picture.

Reflect

Based on what you now know, is it possible to do a Start-Stop-Continue exercise? These aren’t the big strategic decisions but things that are more immediate and within your influence to do something about.

Start (or increase)

    • If you knew what you know now before this situation arose, what in hindsight, would have been helpful to have in place before the emergency? Perhaps circumstances meant you weren’t aware of the need or you lacked the resources or opportunity.
    • Perhaps these are enablers or safety nets. Ask yourself the question, if this all happened again next year, what would we need?

Continue (or improve)

    • What has happened, or what have you done, that is worth preserving?
    • What resources will you need to enable these things to continue?

Stop (or reduce)

    • Are there any aspects of business as usual that prevented you from responding to the crisis the way you wanted to?
    • To keep the show on the road, were there any systems that were adopted or practices that emerged that on reflection won’t be sustainable once the emergency is over?
    • Look at these things through the lens of your values; organisational and personal. Pay attention to any areas of tension.
    • And what are the implications of turning these things off?

Plan

Eventually, you’ll want to develop a long term, strategic approach to all of this. The difficulty at this stage is that that’s only really going to be possible once the new environment becomes clear. Some things might emerge quite quickly while some impacts will take years to become apparent.

Now might be a good time to start thinking about possible futures and how you might respond to each one.

This sort of planning can be done in a light touch way or in much greater depth, so finding the right level for you and your team is important. You might want to avoid doing anything too in-depth at this early stage.

A framework for constructing a picture of potential futures would be to use PESTLE analysis, which you can find out more about in this guidance on prioritisation. The impacts of COVID-19 will be fundamental and systemic, so finding a way to balance the political, economic and social with the technological could be very useful.

Our next webinar

We’re planning a webinar for 27th April on this topic which you can register for here. We’re very interested to hear your thoughts on what your organisations should start, stop and continue. Add a comment below or join us on the 27th at 2pm.

Photo by Alexandru Dinca from Pexels

By Chris Thomson

I'm a Subject Specialist at Jisc focusing on online learning and digital student experience.

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