Photo: 4 of 5 icons for moving the needle

Moving the needle: COVID-19 Response

Posted on July 19, 2021 by Abby Rolland, TPF Fellow 2020/21
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During one of my interviews at The Patterson Foundation (TPF), I asked CEO Debra Jacobs about the impact of TPF and its initiatives.

Debra, wise as always, framed my question differently, sharing how TPF strengthened people, organizations, and communities through connecting, learning, sharing, evolving, and strengthening. She then specifically mentioned the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) and discussed how SCGLR connects with children and the meaningful players in children's lives – parents and families, schools, early childhood centers, pediatric offices, summer camps, and more. While I appreciated the response, I didn't fully understand TPF's work and how it tackles community-based issues until I arrived and was fully integrated into the culture, systems, and values.

My initial response now would echo Debra's. I would use a different example, though, and choose TPF's COVID-19 Response initiative. Talk about an evolving effort! This initiative, born out of the necessity to address COVID-19 in the Suncoast region, has taken many shapes and forms depending on the time of year and the players willing to work and share with us.

I first started in 2020 as a fellow on loan to a start-up organization focused on distributing surveys about COVID risks and behaviors. That evolved into working with the four local health departments in the winter and spring of 2021. Another evolution came in the form of creating TPF's weekly COVID-19 Response newsletter that Hannah Saeger Karnei, Kiarra Louis, and myself handle. Many nonprofits doing incredible COVID vaccine and health-focused work also contribute to the newsletter.

As Hannah adeptly put it, our work focuses on three main objectives: amplifying what works, sharing critical information, and helping everyone in the Suncoast region understand what we need to do to create a healthy community.

As part of our broader COVID communications efforts, Kiarra also put together a meaningful resource guide that lives on TPF's website. We also send information to Stacy Sternberg to post on social media. We are always open to sharing resources and ideas with various organizations to assist in their COVID efforts.

As the initiative has shifted to focus on communications efforts and amplifying what others are doing, one may ask about the outputs and impact of our work. How many editions of the newsletter have we put together and distributed? How many people are we reaching? How many are positively reacting to the newsletter? Is there a recipient who has shared it with their stakeholders, which then directly resulted in someone getting vaccinated?

I can partly answer the first, second, and third questions. As of this writing (July 15), we have created and sent out 18 unique newsletters, with more planned. The newsletter is distributed to 390 leaders at various organizations in the Suncoast region. We've received positive comments from many who contributed or told us they were planning on sharing the information and resources with their stakeholders.

I don't have an answer to the fourth question. As someone who's been directly or indirectly involved with communications efforts for my entire career, it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to measure cause-and-effect with our efforts. And frankly, that's not our goal for this newsletter. Instead, our goal is to amplify the work that other organizations are doing through larger regional efforts, and share resources that might be useful for informing decisions.

I prefer to use one of TPF's approaches when discussing the impact of our COVID-19 communications efforts. Using this "Moving the Needle" framework refocuses efforts toward lasting impact and finds ways for people to engage and create their desired future.

1The first icon focuses on moving from Scarcity to Abundance: Expanding a narrow scope of thinking to a broad view of the collective resources from multiple sectors. When used as a lens to view our COVID work, this definitely applies. We don't see ourselves as the knowledge source about COVID and the efforts in the region. Instead, we amplify work already being done. We share information about the collective resources from many sectors, including other nonprofits, government, business, media, and individuals, because we know that each contributes something special to this work.

2The second icon moves from Issues to Aspirations: Shifting the focus from problems, challenges, and barriers to a shared vision and new possibilities. Our shared vision with many others is a healthy and thriving Suncoast region. To do that, we must defeat this pernicious virus that has wreaked havoc and brought tragedy to our lives. The virus is the challenge and the problem, but by focusing on solutions to creating a healthier region, we reframe the issue to how we can all contribute to the solution.

3The next icon is Enabling to Engaging: Rather than taking actions that perpetuate problems, creating opportunities that change realities. We don't want to perpetuate the problem of COVID, but we want to amplify opportunities that can change the current reality.

4The fourth is Silos to Systems: Rather than acting in isolation, exploring, discovering, and working together in a shared ecosystem. As I said before, we do not have all of the answers. Instead, we want to weave a tighter connective-tissue network that creates and shares opportunities.

A fine example of this – Hannah had a meeting with individuals at Solmart Media, who own several Spanish radio stations. They mentioned that because of the newsletter, they met with DeSoto/Hardee Health Department to talk about better reaching the Hispanic population. They were motivated by the data we shared to reach out and see how they can help the health department reach Hispanic households with critical vaccine information.

5And finally, Outputs to Outcomes: Rather than focusing on short-term actions, optimizing efforts toward long-term impact. Some of the numbers I listed before are outputs – how many issues have we produced, how many people subscribed, etc. Those are important to understand, but they don't paint the whole picture. Instead, we've worked hard to optimize our efforts to engage with various partners and amplify their work to help catalyze long-term impact toward a healthier Suncoast.

So, if you asked me about the impact of our COVID work, you would be signing up to hear how we're moving the needle. It's not easy work, it's not easily quantifiable, but this is how we engage, connect, and share with others.

While I will soon launch into my next career journey after TPF, I am incredibly proud of the COVID communications work that Hannah, Kiarra, I, and the many others we have worked with, have done. We know that we are not the knowledge and events creators, but if we can help share important resources and connect people, organizations, and communities, we will have done our job.

COVID has not ended, thus our work has not ended. By reflecting so far, though, I can say with positivity and affirmation that we have had an impact.

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