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Local implementation at a time of crisis - online meeting of the Implementation Network of Ireland and Northern Ireland, October 2020

In October, the Implementation Network of Ireland and Northern Ireland held its first virtual meeting, on the fitting theme of ‘Local Implementation in a time of crisis’. Kate Murphy, Graduate Intern with CES summarises learning and some takeaways from the meeting.

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October's Implementation Network meeting heard three stories of building and adapting local services amid the Covid-19 crisis. Bairbre Nic Aongusa (Assistant Secretary for Community Development at the Department of Rural and Community Development) detailed her Department’s implementation of the “Community Call” programme, and the learning from this. Elaine Gillespie (Head of Community Planning at Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon Community Planning Partnership) shared learnings from establishing a business support hub, providing a community response helpline, and developing a response and recovery plan. Kate Beggs (Northern Ireland Director of the National Lottery Community Fund) discussed how they adapted their funding approach during the crisis. Each of the speakers spoke through an implementation lens giving insight into the problems they faced and how they overcame them.

“You don’t want to be picking up the phone to a stranger in a time of crisis”

While each speaker reflected on their programmes and the different challenges they faced, there were recurring themes across the contributions. The most potent of these being the importance of relationships. All speakers mentioned trust and the quality of pre-existing relationships as the biggest enabler for implementing change in a crisis. The importance of quality relationships spanned agencies, local and national government, and voluntary sectors. Conversely, lack of trust, lack of previous engagement or poor communication were barriers to implementing a coordinated process.

“Communication should be vertical, horizontal and relentless”

Due to the urgency of the crisis, organisations were afforded a new level of agility. This agility was evident in the speed in which organisations adapted to working remotely, redeploying, and allowing flexibility for both staff and end users.

“Building the plane while we were flying it”

While this pace and agility may have been necessary in a time of crisis, all speakers highlighted the importance of staying true to organisational principles, as these actions could form the foundations of future implementation, relationships, and culture.

‘Mission and vision in a time of crisis’

This brings us to a final theme and take away point: the importance of organisational policy. Just as strong relationships should precede a crisis, so too should stable, sustainable policy. There are two key aspects to this: futureproofing and identity. A key enabler for one organisation was their investment in a long-term strategic vision. While they hadn’t foreseen the pandemic, they had foreseen the importance of online working, and had invested in sustainable relationships with clients, staff, policy officials and other funders. This also touches on the issue of resourcing, with some organisations having additional financial and physical resources to draw on, while others had to be agile and redirect finances or people. This is in line with current research on implementation readiness.

A clear mission statement provides the framework for crisis moments, it sets out the aspects of the organisation which can be agile, and those which cannot. For example, during crisis the organisation may be flexible in terms of fast-tracking new initiatives but remain adamant in retaining its duty to safeguarding. This stabilises the organisation’s identity in moments of high-flux and combats the urge to “do anything” in a time of crisis. While agility is important this meeting added the caveat of ensuring that even in times of agility the organisation holds to its values.

In summary, the extent to which implementation is possible in times of crisis is mediated by both “before” and “during” factors. Before a crisis hits, the quality of pre-established relationships and future-orientated policy will determine their status as enablers or barriers to implementation. During a crisis, organisational flexibility and strength of communication can be leveraged against the situation, while ideally paying heed to the organisation’s core principles.

These themes are reflected in upcoming implementation research and publications. A recent blog post by Allison Metz (University of North Carolina) on implementation during the Covid-19 pandemic has attributed the pace of change to trusting relationships. However, it also describes how relationship building was accelerated during the crisis and how to build successful relationships going forward (see other resources below).

If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Implementation Network of Ireland and Northern Ireland and would like to attend Network events in the future, receive updates from the Network, please email snevin@effectiveservices.org.

The next meeting of the Implementation Network is planned for March 2021 and may well take place online but in the meantime, I’d like to signpost you to some external events and resources below.

International events:

2020

November 17th: The Role of Context in Implementation of Evidence-Informed Programs and Practices (University of North Carolina)

December 4th: The Critical Role of Relationships in Implementation Practice and Evidence Use (University of North Carolina)

2021

March 30th-31st: 2021 Evidence and Implementation Summit (Australia)

May 3rd-6th: Global Implementation Conference

May 27th-28th: European Implementation Event

Resources:

CES Implementation Science Tools