Participants in the CCEC virtual coffee sessions and survey noted several challenges related to the current pandemic, including:
Reduced capacity or productivity related to working remotely: Participants are distracted as they deal with kids at home. Some are feeling the effects of not having access to their physical office spaces and workplace items. Some feel guilty that they are not being productive enough.
Uncertainty in collaborating with partners: Participants wonder how long the current situation will last, and what it will look like over time. They are unsure about:
- How to communicate with partners: Campus-based collaborators are unsure of how to sensitively reach out to community-based organizations to help address emergency needs without being a distraction or a burden. A partnership coordinator asked, “How do we engage community partners about the value we provide, [that we don’t just focus on] student learning?” Community-based collaborators are unsure of how to engage with post-secondary students and supervisors amid the broad transition to remote learning within institutions.
- How to adjust engaged research and learning projects: Partners wonder how long existing projects will be delayed, or how they should be modified to suit the current situation (if at all, as social distancing restrictions change).
- Funding availability: Participants wonder if existing funding will continue, or if future funding will still be available. One community-based participant noted that some of their grants have been cancelled, disrupting their programming. Several campus-based participants asked for input about how to reallocate research funds within academic institutions to address community needs.
“the big struggle for me right now is that my research agendas and my program of research are continuing, if not stronger… Right now our community partners are like, ‘don’t stop, but now we want you to ask these 10 other questions… I’m not sure how I can keep up, especially if our students aren’t there. If they’re online, how can they continue the research? I don’t know how they can continue it if they’re across the country.”
(faculty member, CCEC coffee session participant)
Potential disruptions or cuts to community-based research and other community-campus initiatives: Participants expressed concern about:
- Impacts on fieldwork and data collection, due to restrictions on travel or ongoing requirements for social distancing. A faculty member commented, “Some of [the research] I can do from a distance but realistically our teams might lose a whole season of research. We rely on the summer to be in the field and to travel. What does this mean for our projects?”
- Potential for exclusion of some community partners/populations in virtual environments: Campus-based collaborators know that access to reliable internet or computer technology is not a given for community partners, and that it can be challenging to do community outreach in virtual spaces.
- COVID-related risk within projects: A partnership coordinator noted concerns about how to responsibly communicate risk to students involved in engaged research, and about how to help community-based collaborators think through issues of confidentiality in virtual environments. One faculty member noted that all research at their institution has been suspended for the time being.
- Reduced focus on community issues not perceived as directly related to the current COVID-19 crisis: This was noted by one community partner that addresses issues related to environmental sustainability. Another coffee session participant commented, “we want to move forward, but understand that people are overextended, and may not have an appetite for anything beyond day-to-day operations”.
- Potential for significant scaling back or termination of community engagement programs at post-secondary institutions: Campus-based collaborators are concerned about the effects on post-secondary institutions of reduced student enrollment during the summer and fall terms (particularly where international students form a significant portion of student enrollment). They perceive precarious positions for some community engagement offices or non-tenured engaged faculty as institutions move toward greater austerity during this period. They also wonder about the effects of ongoing online learning on students’ ability/interest in participating in engaged research and learning programs, and about how to adequately support students at this time.
“How do we recognize that weathering [the pandemic] may look different for different institutions because of our partners’ capacity, and their relationships to individuals or to the institution?”
(community-campus partnership coordinator)
Coffee session and survey participants described their needs during this time, which include:
- Opportunities to connect and communicate
- Information resources about COVID strategies and supports for engaged research and learning
- Advocacy for maintaining CCE programs within academic institutions