A happy father and child

Our researchers have seen a lot of project challenges: snow storms, client personnel changes, policy pivots, research question reboots, and even state legislative action to allow data-sharing!  Most projects encounter some unexpected barriers to plans along the way, and we stand ready to address them as they come.  Decidedly, the current pandemic is a new and significant influencer on our work.  COVID-19 is a concern shared by all projects and clients, no matter their policy area, their location, or the nature of their project.

At PPA, we have been listening, talking, and getting creative about how to respond to needs so that we can fulfill our goal of helping our clients make better public policy decisions.

First and foremost, we are prioritizing the health and safety of our community, partners, and clients.  Like many of you, we have done this by moving our work online.  Other ways that we are choosing to prioritize the health and well-being of communities during COVID-19 are:

Adapting research to be done at a distance.  Our teams have used multiple modes of connecting people working remotely, adjusted timelines, refocused deliverables, and redesigned data-collection methods.  This time is necessitating changing the mode of data collection, such as doing telephone interviews or online discussions rather than in-person focus groups.  In making adjustments to plans, we are weighing the capacity of client organizations—many of whom are stretched with additional demands—and the availability of those we are seeking to include in the research.  Adaptation is a human strength, and at PPA it is a core value.

Bringing our strengths.  We specialize in evaluation, research, and strategic consultation, so we are having discussions with partners about the best ways to contribute our expertise to support communities during this time of crises.  For example, COVID-19 has exacerbated many existing challenges related to food access, housing, education, prisons, and the workforce—areas in which we’ve been doing work for decades.  We are helping partners to understand how best to respond and plan for the longer consequences of the pandemic term.

Providing insight.  We continue to provide insights to inform response to needs in our communities, including through our latest issue brief, Digital Inequities and Disparities: Technology Access for Michigan Students.

From our experience, we offer these research considerations:

  • The planned work might be able to incorporate new lines of inquiry that help to address immediate needs, adding value to the project overall.
  • Some populations may welcome the opportunity to participate in research as they are not working regularly. Others are overwhelmed with new demands and cannot give attention to this now.
  • When introducing technology into a project, basic instruction for users and back-up plans for alternative modes of communication are necessary.
  • Documenting the influences the pandemic is having on projects is important for later analysis and interpretation.
  • Research can continue to be done successfully, but depending on the data sources involved, it may take a bit longer.
  • And, as this situation has many unknowns, more frequent communication and ongoing flexibility helps us all to navigate week to week.