Practitioners Led the Way in Change and Adaptation

Lessons from the Pandemic Year for the Future

Woman leading a virtual meeting
By Dina A. R. Israel, Jennifer Miller Gaubert

The InPractice blog is MDRC’s place for sharing resources and tips developed by practitioners, for practitioners. In evaluations across the country, MDRC works in tandem with program managers and staff to understand and solve the complex puzzles behind slow recruitment, low attendance, and attrition. The pandemic brought with it new and unexpected challenges, and with them, a pressing need for evidence to support staff who work tirelessly to deliver effective services. Over the past year, our program partners shared a wealth of real-time lessons from their experiences on the front lines of social and educational services, assembled here in this post. As practitioners continue adjusting to difficult, uncertain conditions, these links to past posts may serve as useful examples to help others find answers to their own pressing questions. What do you and your staff want to learn and improve upon going forward?

Looking for evidence-based, practitioner-tested tips on ways to keep participants connected to your program?

Getting Your Message Across with the Effective Communications Checklist
Find straightforward, practical, research-based tips on how to improve your marketing, outreach, and communications materials. This was one of MDRC’s most frequently downloaded publications in 2020.

Break the Ice, Build Connections
One challenge of remote service delivery is that it often feels harder to build connections with people via a phone or screen. We gathered ideas for creative, short-and-sweet icebreakers that you can use with both clients and coworkers.

Searching for lessons on shifting to remote services and insights on what changes programs plan to keep post-pandemic?

Shifting to Remote Service Delivery: Top Five Tips for Practitioners
Even if your remote services are now well established, this checklist can help you evaluate whether all the elements are in place for keeping participants engaged in services and for supporting staff as they work from home.

The Newly Virtual Workplace: Employers and Trainers Adapt
Maintaining work-based learning opportunities like internships, job shadowing, and hands-on job training was a priority for many schools and programs during the pandemic. These stories and tips from 13 nationwide programs on how they shifted to offering virtual work experiences may offer new perspectives.

Lasting Changes from a Sudden Crisis
Learn how Jewish Family Services in Columbus, Ohio, is incorporating changes made in response to the pandemic—like streamlined communications and adapting technology for online meetings—into their permanent operations.

Conducting Home Visits Without Visiting Homes
Hear how staff in the Child First program retooled their core service delivery strategy—home visiting—when the pandemic prevented in-person visits.

Employment Help for the Most Vulnerable: Adapting the Individual Placement and Support Model in a Crisis
Hear how two employment providers used the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model to help people find and keep jobs despite multiple, serious barriers to employment. The IPS model remains effective despite the sharp shift away from in-person support.

Interested in learning more about training and leading staff?

Connecting Staff and Strengthening Training with Remote Learning Communities
Staff training is as important as ever, and strategies such as creating remote learning communities can help staff sharpen new skills and connect with their colleagues—even from afar.

Running Effective Group Meetings While Working Remotely
Organization and advance planning are vital to successful meetings whatever the context, and even more so when group meetings take place remotely.

Want to know more about ways to use program data to learn what you can do better?

Process Maps: Many Voices Help Make Change
Process maps can help programs understand where services are working well—or not—from a range of perspectives, including participants, staff, and managers. Hear how one program used process maps to identify problems and engage students in finding solutions.

Want to hear how other programs like yours have adapted to the changing landscape?

Moving Fast and Staying on Target: Lessons from Per Scholas’s Experience with Remote Training
In this interview, Bridgette Gray, chief impact officer of Per Scholas—a sector-based training and career advancement program—offers tips on retooling to meet the demand for remote job training.

The Maritime Odyssey Preschool: Providing Early Childhood Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic
This interview with Monisha Gibson, director and CEO of the Maritime Odyssey Preschool in Norwalk, Connecticut, explores the theme of establishing new community partnerships to sustain its services in the pandemic.

Families Forward Washington Faced the Pandemic and Didn’t Turn Back
When Washington State’s Division of Child Support closed its offices in March 2020 in response to COVID-19, its employment program—Families Forward Washington—kept running with minimal interruption because the original design was based on working remotely. Its model may offer useful pointers for other service agencies for adapting to the pandemic.

Alternative Solutions for Child Support
Hear how the Alternative Solutions program run by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services’ Division of Child Support is shifting to less punitive approaches to child support enforcement, and how these changes are making a difference for families, especially during the economic decline caused by the pandemic.

Do you have a story you would like to share about adapting services to new circumstances? What changes does your organization plan to keep post-pandemic? We’d like to hear from you! Reach out to us at [email protected].

Dina Israel and Jennifer Miller Gaubert are the co-editors of InPractice.

About InPractice

The InPractice blog series highlights lessons from MDRC’s work with programs, featuring posts on recruiting participants and keeping them engaged, supporting provider teams, using data for program improvement, and providing services remotely.