Since the first outbreak of COVID-19 in the early spring of 2020, IRL leadership has adapted to accommodate and support its fellows. Our fellows have had to quickly figure out how to make dramatic changes to their research and community engagement plans. Fellows across cohorts expressed their interest and need to learn from and share with one another successful and sustainable practices in connecting with and engaging their communities while carrying out their IRL projects.
To respond to this need, IRL hosted the first virtual cross-cohort forum on Community Engagement during times of COVID-19 via Zoom on January 21, 2021, to leverage IRL team experiences and knowledge during the unprecedented pandemic. Five panelist teams representing cohorts 3 and 4 (Teams Colorado, Colville, Mississippi, Western North Carolina, and Bootheel) and 76 attendees came together to share ideas for sustaining community engagement. As diverse and unique each of our IRL teams and their needs are, IRL is built to develop, support, and connect leaders who are: caring, curious, collaborative, and committed.
The conversation focused on the impact of COVID-19 on (1) what community engagement looks like for cohort teams, (2) what challenges each team has faced, (3) what strategies have been successful in overcoming these challenges, and (4) resources needed to sustain engagement. Two breakout rooms during the forum allowed for folks to get to know one another and share strategies and learn from each other.
The conversation was rich and impressive stories were shared. We take away a number of important learnings, including:
- Demonstrate care for the community by using resources to show support
- Recognize community’s challenges and strengths
- Create space for sharing, be flexible and consistent
- Find out what community needs and has capacity for (i.e., distance or outdoor face to face vs. Zoom), be creative and adapt accordingly
- Relationships are foundational: adapt communications, check-in, be visible in support of the community (e.g., care packages, COVID-19 resource information)
We thank panelists from Teams Colorado (C3), Colville (C3), Mississippi (C4), Western North Carolina (C3), and Bootheel (C4) who shared the nimble, innovative, relationship-centered engagement strategies. Additional thanks to Kathleen Call, Robin Moon, and Reva Hines (C1 Team Baton Rouge Alum) for organizing this forum, and to Praise Mafe for coordinating the logistics of the forum.
A blog documenting more detailed lessons from the event is forthcoming.
We look forward to future cross-cohort networking and co-learning events and are grateful for all of you in the IRL community of practice who do amazing work and challenge one another to elevate community within your personal lives and research!
IRL Communications Specialist