Not another webinar?!

We recently co-hosted a webinar with Britain Thinks, our research partner who delivered some fantastic work for ECC on the experiences of families who are ‘just about managing’ financially.

I know many of us might be experiencing ‘webinar fatigue’ right now with flurries of invites to attend some webinar/show and tell/budget TedTalk or the like, and we think “am I really interested enough to give up my time for this?”

Obviously we can’t attend everything, so it’s a case of picking those we feel will offer the greatest value to us, or maybe just catching the recorded version at our leisure.

But I wanted to share a bit about our experience of the webinar ‘from the other side’. It felt really worthwhile putting the time in to deliver the session – we got some great feedback from colleagues and partners and I’d say the effort definitely paid off.

A bit about the JAMs programme

First, a bit of background. The ‘just about managing’ (JAM) programme came about following a Full Council motion passed back in July 2019, which stated:

Hard working people who are ‘just about managing’ should see the rewards of that hard work and therefore we will continue to adopt a focused and targeted approach”.

Essex County Council wants to be a local government for all citizens, and not just those who traditionally have the greatest need for public services. So a commitment was made to a programme of work focused on supporting working families with children who are ‘just about managing’ – those not experiencing severe deprivation, but still earning below the level required for a decent standard of living.

This relates to a significant proportion of the population (around a quarter of families within Essex) who generally have very little contact with the council, and who we knew little about.

We therefore needed to develop our understanding of this cohort and identify where there are opportunities to proactively support these families. That’s where the research comes in.

Gathering an evidence base

This has been one of our largest projects prior to and during COVID-19, and a huge amount of insight has been gathered. This has enabled us to build an in-depth understanding of the experiences and challenges facing this cohort, and a robust evidence base to inform the development of interventions aimed at supporting these families.

I’ve been involved in this project for around a year now, and have really enjoyed the journey the research has taken us on. It’s been humbling that so many families were willing to share such private areas of their lives for the purposes of this research, and the insights have been truly eye-opening for us and our stakeholders.

The research helped to provide a voice to a cohort who are not often heard, challenge some of our early assumptions, and showed the value of this type of ethnographic research.

Particularly the longitudinal approach throughout the lockdown period, which meant we were able to observe how families’ situations and attitudes changed as the week’s went by, and use this to respond to any emerging challenges.

Sharing the learning

The webinar was a great way to share the work more widely with interested colleagues and partners, and discuss how we’ve actually begun to use the research insights to develop policy ideas and interventions aimed at supporting these families.

Attendees included individuals from relevant charities and consumer organisations as well as those working in policy and research at other local authorities, and it was exciting to see the comments being exchanged via the Zoom chat while we were presenting.

I find it really exciting to hear about this type of methodology being used by a local authority and this type of qualitative work being given recognition and value. Too often this style of research with small numbers of people that produces really rich evidence and insight is dismissed as having less value than quantitative work…it's so heartening to see this work being commissioned and the LA taking learning from it. Fantastic!

[Project manager at another local authority]

There was real enthusiasm for the research and in particular the methods that were used, and sharing the work in this way has resulted in new contacts and relationships being built where we can continue to learn from one another.

And if that’s got you interested in finding out more about the research, take a look at the webinar slides.

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