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Rich Pickford, Nottingham Civic Exchange, Nottingham Trent University

09 November 2020, 4:54 UTC Share

Playing our part against Covid: a love letter to collaborative colleagues

Rich Pickford, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Officer, draws on lessons learned from Nottingham Trent University’s continuing work with the C19 National Foresight Group.

Last March I was asked if I could spare time to share my thoughts on a few issues with a colleague. Nothing new there, I spend a large amount of my time responding to queries and asks from academic colleagues; my role is one that majors in facilitation. Those questions turned out to be:

• How could you ensure trust between journalists, the public and Government if they weren’t in the same room when conducting interviews?

• How would you track and share the current trends and issues across Europe and internationally to help inform thinking on Covid-19?

Unbeknown to me at this time, finding resolutions to questions like these was going to be at the forefront of my work for the following 8 months… the beginning of my journey in these different, soon to become badged as a ‘new normal’ and uncertain times. This global pandemic has meant that like almost all other Universities, our academic expertise was being drawn upon and we were more than happy to help in any way we could. Following these questions posted by London’s Local Resilience Forum (which resulted in changes to the Government’s Covid-19 Briefings and our material being shared at pace with all London Boroughs and the Mayor’s Office to support the understanding of Covid-19 as it hit our shores), we were then invited to support a new cross-governmental and multi-agency Foresight Group that would be tasked with horizon scanning beyond the next two weeks of the crisis, recommending ideas for tackling the impact of Covid-19 in the UK.

The C19 National Foresight Group has taken up a significant part of my life, and almost all of the life of my colleague’s (Dr Rowena Hill has been seconded full-time to the C19 National Foresight Group). It has been our endeavour to rapidly respond to questions/topics posed of us and/or raised by our Group and wider network behind it. We have weaved a path to support colleagues across Police, Fire, Ambulance, Local Resilience Forums and almost all of the UK’s Governmental Departments to consider new and emerging challenges and to help expand their views beyond their portfolios by highlighting common issues and beneficial grounds for collaboration.

The first month or two was spent meeting daily to hear the latest intelligence through situational reports done verbally as everybody across the UK scrambled to live in a new way. As the new normal developed we created a whole suite of reports, briefings and ways of working that were focused on providing 80% of the answer today, often with less than a days’ notice, rather than 100% in a few weeks. Whilst this was a painful process for academics, the Group’s guiding principles of saving lives, relieving suffering and supporting communities was the key message we kept coming back to. It highlighted the daily challenge colleagues were facing and the continual task they faced in weighing up, data, information and intelligence they were receiving or in some cases, were unable to obtain access to.

Covid-19 has been an unprecedented challenge for everyone, but we want to highlight the amazing, and often unseen work, done by emergency responders and planners within local, regional and national roles. Our work, recording their views and sharing them with Government, has been a unique process made possible by the Hydra Foundation to ensure anonymous and honest feedback went to the heart of Government by those delivering the response on the ground. Our rapid reviews have been one mechanism we used for achieving this outcome; together, we (C19 National Foresight Group and the Hydra Foundation) have hosted three national reviews. The third of these was published at the end of October. They highlight the strength of character we have all shown when dealing with Covid-19, but also the need for two-way communication between national and local actors.

The development of the second wave and our second lockdown (in England) has reignited our workload as we prepare for a busy winter sharing knowledge from wave one and developing learning and thoughts for recovery and adaptation as we plan for the future. As I write this, we are producing 60 second summaries of our key outputs to share insights and reminders from the first lockdown so key messages are remembered and acted upon.

This work would not have been possible without the commitment of the C19 National Foresight Group’s multi-disciplinary team, and the team of academics, research assistants, and professional services colleagues that we assembled at NTU.

They have been able to support each other, value everyone’s contributions and keep the focus on supporting others through the pandemic. An awareness of the tasks at hand, openness to the challenges faced and a desire to make a difference have been key. This desire is what has motivated all involved to push through challenges we have all faced. I have never been part of such a prolific team (producing offer 70 outputs since we began) who have influenced so much so quickly. It is great to be able to share our story with you.

Lessons learnt

• Value your skills in public policy, knowledge exchange and engagement, you are good at what you do.

• Government (local and national) is not one big machine, it is made up of a whole range of committed individuals and groups that are loosely linked. They are not always aware of the interconnectivity that runs across them. Being the connector of dots can really add value.

• Providing reviews, summaries and digestible material will be used in ways you never imagined (make it readable and shareable).

• Always ask the questions you have and query uncertainty… never assume others have the answers, you’re there to help.

You can find copies of all our publicly released work online here alongside a link to the colleagues who’ve worked with us to support the C19 National Foresight Group.

Rich Pickford’s role is to maximise the impact of Nottingham Civic Exchange’s work – by designing their events and establishing networks and programmes with researchers, communities, businesses and residents. Rich has a background in outdoor education and youth work, and prior to working with NTU worked for the RSA, supporting their initiatives throughout Wales and the Midlands.

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