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The COVID-19 lockdown in March has ignited our imaginations and opened up our potential. There is a huge appetite to harness what was activated during lockdown. Those are sentiments that came out of the recently released national COVID-19 impact survey of the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector.

We have a new reference point for the stunning outcomes, as one survey participant put it, that can be achieved when we work together. In talking with one of the lead researchers, CSI Associate Adrian Field, it’s clear that the survey’s value lay not only in the results, but in brokering the collaborative effort and collective expertise that generated it.

The survey was a partnership between CSI, Hui E! Community Aotearoa, Philanthropy New Zealand, and Volunteering New Zealand. CSI acted as a bridge between the funder, Foundation North (through Te Pūaha o te Ako), the survey team, Adrian Field and Emily Garden, and the partnership members. They coordinated effort, facilitated expertise, navigated opinion and harnessed the knowledge of the partners.

The power of collective expertise, collective energies and collaborative effort

According to Adrian, bringing four organisations together in partnership strengthened the design of the survey and the reflections on it. The partnership created a multi-disciplinary team with multiple skills, multiple contacts and multiple networks. It gave strength to the process and resulted in something that was useful for the whole sector, not just individual parts of it.

Giving strength to effort and effect

This partnership may have been experimental, but what happened as a result was not accidental. Brokering collective and collaborate effort and effect must be done with care, intent and skill. Adrian says Chloe Harwood from CSI brought the partners together in a constructive, forward focused way that made the collaborative approach strong and well structured, and actually sped up the design and delivery.

Of course, this kind of collective effort meant there were the occasional, but navigable tensions. It’s a more negotiated process, says Adrian. But that process and the tensions made for a better, clearer approach that resulted in a huge response from across the sector.

Harnessing our collective energies for what happens next…

We now also have a collective energy across four organisations and their stakeholders to do something in response to the survey findings. This will be key to what happens next.

The survey found that, while survey participants mobilised, moved with agility, and supported communities to get well, stay well and answer the call to unite, most survey participants (74%) reported that they had taken some form of financial hit. In May-June half had sufficient funds to maintain staff and activity for six months or more, the rest did not without revenue coming in. Main concerns were lost income streams, financial uncertainty, immense pressure on operating costs (staffing, IT infrastructure, rent), and balancing and maintaining a level of service on reduced revenue.

Despite this, survey participants largely remained upbeat and positive. They were excited about the possibilities for change that COVID-19 had opened up, and hugely committed to the communities they serve.

As Aotearoa moves between alert levels, there’s no doubt that the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector will be in a precarious financial position. But it will once again harness its collective generosity and ngākau nui, big heartedness to help communities stay connected, get well, stay well and answer the call to unite and be kind.

Our collaborative efforts have only just begun. We have work to do! Connected ways of being, collective energies and expertise and collaborative efforts have been validated. They bring rich sources of guidance, help us respond confidently, be decisive, know we’re doing the right thing with care and intent.

We’ve learnt the coordination, facilitation and communications skills required to broker these collective efforts. We know they take time and resource to deliver and we need to seek that time and resource. We have an obligation to honour and grow our collective, collaborative efforts as we support the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector to respond, recover and reshape its future.