Recommendations and Supports

A hand with an index finger pointing upwards. Index finger is balancing a Zoom symbol (video camera), speech bubble, envelope and RSS feed symbol (circle with three lines on top). Arrows from each object are pointing towards a battery symbol, microphone, number sign, and warning sign (triangle with an exclamation mark).

What supports do community-engaged practitioner need to continue their work?

Community-engaged practitioners (participatory researchers, community facilitators, community artists, and participatory visual methods practitioners) play a pivotal role in building meaningful relationships across fields, neighbourhoods, and sectors. They have worked tirelessly and creatively to support communities process the impacts of COVID-19, as well as social and environmental injustices. We spoke with community-engaged practitioners across a number of sectors including, but not limited to: community health, HIV/AIDS, youth organizing, equity, diversity and inclusion, anti-poverty, newcomer services, harm reduction, community arts, and education. These conversations resulted in the following key recommendations to support their work.

More spaces to dialogue, learn & network.

 

Community-engaged practitioners continue to play an important role in helping communities process the inequitable impacts of COVID-19, as well as social and environmental injustices more broadly. There are limited spaces for practitioners to come together to build their practice, share strategies for engagement, and to discuss the ethical complexities of their work. Practitioners require more spaces to learn from one another, especially across fields.

 

Increased & more flexible funding.

 

Community-engaged practitioners need access to increased and more flexible funding. Deadlines and budgets may need to be re-allocated because of COVID-19. Practitioners may need to purchase new technology and equipment as they adapt their work. Funding or other resources for technological training ought to made available. Research funders should also recognize the important role that independent community-facilitators and artists can play within community-engaged research.

 

More Training.

 

Learning how to engage communities online and by phone requires significant creativity, adaptability, and training. In addition to informal opportunities to share practices, and learn from one another, practitioners identified a need for more training on privacy, technology, accessibility, and creative facilitation, more broadly.

Fair & Equitable compensation/Labour practices.

 

Organizations and funders need to recognize the substantial preparation time and skill required to transition, adapt, and plan for online and remote facilitation, and compensate practitioners accordingly. More co-facilitation is needed to balance both technological and facilitation needs. Equipment costs must also be factored in. The fee schedule and guidelines “Recommended Practices for Paying Artists during the Covid-19 crisis” presented by Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC) is an excellent resource, which provides helpful considerations relevant to all freelance community-engaged practitioners. Equitable labour practices for independent facilitators (as gig workers) or those with precarious positions within organizations need to be implemented.

 

Accessible online repositories.

 

As more work happens collaboratively online or remotely, there is an increased need for accessible, safe online repositories for participants to share work, such as videos, visuals, or other arts-based outputs, as well as access workshop materials such as handouts or instructional videos. Current online repositories are limited to those working or registered within an organization or post-secondary institution. Other public repositories come with limitations around privacy, cost, accessibility, or adaptability.

Research ethics board supports.

 

Working online presents additional access and ethical challenges such as confidentiality, anonymity, and privacy issues for all. For those working within academic institutions, research ethics boards (i.e., IRBs) need more responsive and nimble systems. Technology changes very fast and participatory researchers must adapt quickly. A staff member devoted to troubleshooting and providing guidance on ethical issues (as well as the authority to grant timely amendments) should be put into place within research ethics offices.

 

A Shift in Institutional Expectations.

 

Many practitioners worried about their organization or institutions unrealistic expectations around productivity or excellence in a pandemic. Some worried about online settings replacing in-person connections, as a cost-saving measure. Others expressed concern about the significant disconnect between the institutional rhetoric of care and expectations of urgency. This was expressed most acutely by those working in post-secondary institutions. Both academic institutions and organizations must commit to a culture of care and actionable policies that recognize the inequitable impacts of the pandemic on employee's health and well-being.

 

New partnerships and collaborations.

 

Independent community facilitators and artists spoke about the importance of developing collaborations with post-secondary institutions and researchers. Community-engaged learning programs and community-engaged research often focus on partnership development with community-based organizations.  Working with placement students (i.e., community-engaged learning), access to training and events, paid invitations for guest lectures, and relationships with researchers with compatible value-sets were identified as possible opportunities for connection and mutual growth.

Grounding Practices.

Community-engaged practitioners play a vital role in supporting communities to work towards social and environmental change.  As practitioners care for others, they must also care for themselves. Institutional and structural changes are needed to support these self-care practices. These changes require dedicated commitment and time. In the meantime, let this invitation, as inspired by conversations with practitioners and team members over the course of this project, settle, and take root where it may¹:

Whisper gratitude to your plants. Pay attention to their response. Light a candle and dance to the movement of its frame until it goes off. Make some tea. Focus on the warmness going down your throat. Let any other thoughts go.  Make a list of words that don't serve you anymore.

Let them go in fire, water or wind.

¹ Poem excised from Self-Care Notes, as written and illustrated by Andrea Vela Alarcón. The self-care zine can be downloaded and printed out. Please see illustration gallery for details