Community service organisations concerned funding shortfalls will halt new service innovations

Community organisations are concerned that a lack of flexible funding and investment in technology and training will force them to discontinue many of the successful service innovations offered to clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report published today by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI).

The findings are part of a collaborative new research project by a team of researchers from CSI UWA, Swinburne and UNSW which looked at how disability, aged care and emergency service organisations adapted and innovated during the pandemic.

Representatives from more than 34 organisations in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales were interviewed from late 2020 to early 2021, and research was driven by the core questions: What have services done differently during the COVID-19 crisis and what do they want to do differently in their post-pandemic service delivery?

Report researcher, Dr Mariana Atkins from CSI UWA said the research found that organisations went above and beyond in their efforts to support clients and their families during the pandemic.

“Many were concerned about the social isolation their clients faced and so activities to foster social wellbeing were very common. They often paired social cooking, art and exercise groups with online platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime to create opportunities for interaction and connectedness,” Dr Atkins said.

“Food provision was another common theme, with organisations arranging delivery of groceries or shopping for clients. They also provided information in preferred languages and in an accessible manner, such as videos and text messages.”

Community organisations said the decline in one-on-one support during the pandemic meant that many of their clients acquired new technology skills.

“We sent our support staff to teach the seniors how to do video conferencing and by the second or third week they were hosting Zoom meetings,” a WA research participant said.

In addition to new or expanded service offerings, researchers found that many community organisations changed the ways their services were delivered by:

  • Enabling clients to choose how and when workers interacted with them in person
  • Focusing on efforts to maintain face-to-face interaction by using Personal Protective Gear (PPE)
  • Giving staff the flexibility and capacity to work remotely
  • Empowering staff to make independent decisions to avoid service delays for clients

“Although the pandemic crisis was and continues to be extremely challenging, it was also an opportunity for innovation. We found that organisations and their staff were resilient, flexible and creative in response to their clients,” Dr Atkins said.

“And while these innovations have proven to be very successful, to continue them will require significant investments in technology, resources and upskilling beyond COVID-19.”

The research found that barriers to organisations in innovating during COVID-19 centered on financial and technological resource constraints, the administrative burden associated with some funding sources, some individuals’ support needs that were ill-suited to remote support (particularly those with mobility or language difficulties) and structural factors, such as the casualisation of the workforce.

Many participating community services organisations focused on their desire to offer flexible, blended services in the future.

“We hope to offer a mix of face-to-face support with technology. We want to normalise technology but make it more inclusive…” a NSW research participant said.

The Service Innovation Deep Dive: Capturing and leveraging learnings from service innovation during COVID-19 forms part of CSI’s national Building Back Better series - a large scale and national initiative which is monitoring social issue areas over time, revealing what works, for whom, and when.

CSI is leveraging its considerable expertise and networks to reveal how to create a more impactful, inclusive and sustainable future for all people in Australia.