Blog post: Agrilink project team resilience in the COVID pandemic era
Since last March we were dealing with something out of the ordinary that affected our life and our work: the COVID 19 pandemic. Like many other H2020 projects here at AgriLink we tried to keep up with all the new safety regulations and various lockdowns all over Europe, whilst still following our workplans and deadlines. But what a year!
Inevitably many events we initially planned to attend in person were cancelled. This included the JRC meeting on EU-FAS, a SCAR-AKIS meeting and the IFSA conference all planned for March of last year. Then our much-anticipated 5th consortium meeting which was due to be hosted at the end of April 2020 in Riga by our partners in Latvia, the Baltic Studies Centre (BSC).
But we quickly adapted! Our 5th consortium meeting was efficiently moved online to a virtual meeting running across 4 days. The same solution has been found for the 6th, 7th and – most recently – 8th consortium meetings planned for October 2020, February 2021 and June 2021. It has helped, of course, that covid struck during our 3rd year of project implementation when all colleagues were already known to each other and were fully immersed in the aims, objectives and activities of the project.
The situation also caused some difficulties in planning our dissemination activities, including our regional multi-actor seminars and workshops. After careful reflection and some practice we were able to adapt these to an on-line format. Some partners were able to organise face-to-face meetings, but only in very small groups following strict safety rules.
Our partners, Vinidea, explained that all physical meetings in Italy were prohibited from March – May 2020. These restrictions were relaxed slightly during the summer months and then re-introduced from November 2020. According to Cristina Micheloni, “Overall, the co-creation process embedded in the Living Lab implementation had to stop and we had to find alternative ways of implementation. The fact that Living Labs participants were mainly hobby farmers, part-time or retired farmers, made it difficult to switch to digital and virtual tools. Moreover, dealing with a social innovation aiming at strengthening local community, the lack of social interaction deeply hampered the process.”
The situation in the UK was also very challenging after they entered a national lockdown on 23 March 2020. Fortunately, The James Hutton Institute had been informally supporting a working from home culture from early March 2020 in order to prepare for this likely inevitability. Working from home was often practised by staff in pre-Covid-19 times, but the transition to full-time working from home and the associated domestic care arrangements still resulted in a dramatic change to working patterns and availability.
As Christina Noble, from the Hutton team continued to explain: “We were in the middle of a significant fieldwork period, preparing and conducting interviews and surveys from advisory suppliers in our 2 case study regions in Scotland and England. Data collection in our Scottish case study was slightly less impacted by covid since it was an area that our team both work and live in. However, In England, our second case study was spread across two different geographic regions and the majority of services and staffing levels were reduced for advisory suppliers. Communication efforts were affected as telephone and emails were unable to be answered. Furthermore, we were also aware of our moral obligation not to impose any additional stress upon stakeholders during this time and so we refrained from making contact during the first half of 2020”.
“Despite these challenges the AgriLink team have been able to proceed with other tasks in the different WPs, including the delivery of desk-based outputs and discussions about publications amongst the wider consortia”, said Pierre Labarthe, the Project Co-ordinator. “I’m very impressed how effectively many partners have moved events online, although inevitably some activities did not enjoy the level of participation that was originally planned. We now look forward to the possibility that we may be able to meet our colleagues in person in 2021 to reflect upon and celebrate the important work done through AgriLink”.
Contributors: Pierre Labarthe, Cristina Micheloni, Christina Noble