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Research in the time of Covid-19: A conversation about the impact of Covid-19 on research methods between the Pandemic and Beyond and PRAXIS coordination projects.

This blogpost records synchronous and asynchronous conversations between Pascale Aebischer, of the Pandemic and Beyond coordination project, and Luba Pirgova-Morgan, who is examining the impact of Covid-19 on research in the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton portfolios, as part of the PRAXIS project at Leeds University. 

Pascale

We’re both of us working with a large number of researchers who have had an extraordinarily challenging time working through the Covid-19 pandemic and finding new ways of doing their work, with lots of adaptations required of them as they had to find research methods that would allow them to interact with individuals and communities in a Covid-secure, socially-distanced way. In many cases, for the researchers in the Pandemic and Beyond portfolio, this has involved shifting communications online. And that, in turn, has meant that new rules had to be worked out to keep everyone safe. 

I remember filling in an ethics form for my own Digital Theatre Transformation project in which we simply explained that we were going to conduct interviews with audiences via Zoom, and where our main concern had to do with how long we were going to keep the interviews on our Sharepoint in order to be compliant with General Data Protection rules. But we were ill prepared for what then happened when we had the actual Zoom conversations with our audience members, in which we not only got access to their homes in a way that would never have happened before the pandemic, but we also got access to their feelings in a way that was unprecedented. Lots of the people we communicated with for that project were desperately hungry for contact, so that the conversations often felt as though they were not so much research as also a form of therapy. And there were quite a few tears during those conversations, too. 

Talking to the other researchers on Pandemic and Beyond projects who had interactions with research ‘subjects’ on Zoom, it’s clear that we were not alone in this: there’s something about the combination of social isolation and the access to people’s homes on Zoom that catalyzed a lot of emotion, and that turned research conversations into something much more personal than our normal research protocols prepare us for. Is that something that chimes with what you’ve heard from your own portfolio? How has Covid-19 impacted on people’s research methods?

Luba:

That is something that has definitely emerged through the Praxis Project: Covid-19 Strand as well.  There has been a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of researchers as well as the completion rate and success of the projects as research methodologies have transformed amidst the pandemic.  In many cases, projects were more successful as they innovated and found new opportunities for research and new partnerships that emerged.  

But this wasn’t just limited to the research projects, practitioners, and practices. With innovation in all aspects of research projects to the opening of new modes of communication, many researchers in the interviews called for an expansion of existing ethical frameworks or even the development of new ones. This expansion or development of new ethical frameworks does not change the existing understandings of ethical research, but rather it is to take into consideration the pandemic context and the severe changes to communication practices that have occurred as a result. 

For example, with many of the research projects moving online, data collecting, analysis and dissemination will require an ethics framework that can reflect on the different applications or online mediums of communication, sharing, and transfer.  These different mediums, arguably would require different ethics frameworks or as suggested by respondents, a more flexible ethical framework. 

Further, this re-invention of ethical parameters was seen as necessary in order to specifically incorporate the changes of our lived realities shaped by conducting research amidst Covid-19.  The pandemic changed not only everyday lives but the entirety of the lived realities.   The balance between work and life in particular came to the foreground as new boundaries between the private and public sphere were drawn with repeated lockdowns, new rules and regulations, and often, a temporal closure of businesses, offices, universities and schools. Congregating at home to stop the spread of the disease is easy on paper, but the reality often reflects a circus-like act that must take place. Care responsibilities and home schooling while chasing project deadlines were reported to be particularly difficult and made the home/work balance often difficult to maintain. 

That being said, there were various coping mechanisms that were put into place by researchers to help them balance their work/life priorities better.  ‘Flexibility’ and ‘adaptability’ of working schedules and expectations were crucial for maintaining work on the projects with often work hour reduction and physical changes to their environment being the most cited approaches.  These physical changes in the environment spanned from allocating specific ‘work only’ areas in the home to moving house to an area where they may receive additional support from extended family members or friends. 

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GOLCHI+

This vlog documents and reflects on a small leeway event emerging from preparations to the Metamorffosis-Festival. This arts festival was part of the AHRC funded research project “Re-Inventing the Live-Event” (Bangor University) which looks at how the pandemic triggers paradigmatic changes for the idea of bodily co-presence at live-events.

Together with members of the art group Crone Cast, researcher Sarah Pogoda explored how new hygiene routines during Covid-19 changed perception of private and public space as well as how we perceive intimacy. Taking inspiration from the Happening Celtic+ by German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys (1971), Crone Cast and Sarah celebrated a semi-public hand washing ritual. The experiment thus used a composition in which bodies share space and time for immediate bodily contact (washing each others’ hands), constituting an unmediated experience of intimacy. Both bodily co-presence and hand washing have become highly contested and regulated due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our artistic experiment was seeking to trigger thoughts through experience rather than discourse, exposing our bodies to a conflicted situation for pursuing the different and ambiguous feelings elicited.  

The vlog brings together audio-visual footage from the experiment with thoughts from all participants recorded a few weeks after the event had taken place, translating the ambivalent results into an audio-visual form that is equally disconcerting.

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WHAT NEXT FOR DIGITAL THEATRE?

By Richard Misek

Digital Access to Arts and Culture Beyond Covid-19

The last 20 months have seen a widespread pivot within the UK’s theatre sector towards livestreamed, on-demand, and digitally native performances. During this time, well over half of all UK theatres and theatre companies have created artistic content for online audiences. But following the lifting of restrictions this summer, there has been a ‘snap back’ to in-person performances almost as sudden and drastic as the initial pivot to digital. Research conducted earlier this month by our current AHRC COVID-19 project (‘Widening Access to Arts and Culture Through Video Streaming’), and recently reported on the BBC and in The Guardian, suggests that over half of all publicly-subsidised UK theatres that pivoted online during the first 18-months of the pandemic have now returned to producing live performances only. From conversations with researchers across Europe, it is clear also that this is part of a far broader international trend.

Why has this ‘snap back’ happened, and what are the implications of it?

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Masking emotions & sterilising care: ‘reset’ ethics and the unintended consequences of COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused far-reaching consequences for health systems worldwide. In responding to the pandemic, decision-makers have to balance competing interests and difficult trade-offs have to be made. We are told that Government guidance continues to ‘follow the science’, but such guidance must also be values-based. Transparency in the values that underpin those decisions is crucial to support healthcare decision-makers and frontline practitioners during a pandemic, as well as to build public understanding and support for the balances struck.

Pandemics—and public health emergencies more generally—reinforce approaches to ethics that emphasise, or derive from, the interests of communities. Accordingly, in the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic, attention was focused on saving as many lives as possible. The main focus of discussion was on infection prevention and control measures, and the approach that should underpin resource allocation between patients with COVID-19 in the event that demand for life-saving equipment were to outstrip supply. Guidance on ethical responses to the acute phase of a pandemic is readily available. In the UK, for example, the Pandemic Flu Ethical Framework was available to guide decision-making.

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The Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid-19 Research and Recovery: a snapshot

by Pascale Aebischer, Des Fitzgerald, Sarah Hartley, Rachael Nicholas and Victoria Tischler

In this blog post, we present a snapshot of what we have learned about the distinctive Arts and Humanities contribution to Covid-19 research and recovery and the positive impacts this research has had on society, culture, health and decision-making. The Pandemic and Beyond team has reached the end of the phase of work dedicated to bringing the researchers across the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Covid-19 rapid response portfolio into dialogue, organising projects into thematic clusters, and mapping their work.   

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Still not Seen or Heard: The voice and experiences of people with learning disabilities during Covid-19

By Professor Matthew Reason, Principal Investigator of the ‘Creative Doodle Book’ project. The Creative Doodle Book project is a collaboration between Matthew Reason of York St John University, learning disability arts company Mind the Gap and Vicky Ackroyd of Totally Inclusive People.

A recurring feature of the UK government’s guidance during Covid-19 concerned ‘shielding,’ giving advice for people identified as clinically vulnerable from coronavirus to stay at home and self-isolate. This included many people with a learning disability or autism, such as adults with Downs syndrome.[1] This guidance was accompanied with recognition that, as well as being more vulnerable, people with learning disabilities may also require more support in understanding restrictions and managing changes to their lifestyle.[2]

Despite such measures – or more accurately, according to the Health Foundation, because the support provided to enable the measures was inadequate – 6 out of 10 people who died from Covid-19 in the UK have been disabled.[3] Figures from Mencap suggest that people with a learning disability have died from Covid ‘at up to six times the rate of the general population.’[4]

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Masking uncertainty on the bus: risk and responsibility after ‘freedom day’

By Emma Roe*, Paul Hurley*, Charlotte Veal** and Sandra Wilks***.

Project: ‘Routes of infection, routes to safety: Creative mapping of human-viral behaviours on the bus to understand infection prevention practices’

On a day heralded by some, including members of the UK government before it took a more cautious tone[1], as ‘freedom day’, the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Health Secretary are self-isolating having either tested positive for or been exposed, to Covid-19. Boris Johnson’s announcement[2] a week ago that Monday 19th July would mark the move to Step 4 of the Roadmap – when coronavirus regulations exercising restrictions on our daily lives, and crucially on our bodies, come to an end – has sparked conflicting and inflammatory debate. An object at the forefront of many of these discussions has been the face mask. Part of the shift in the government’s approach “from one of rules and regulations, to one of guidance and good sense”[3] is the end of the legal requirement in England to wear a face covering on public transport[4], in shops and in other indoor spaces[5]. Understanding this approach and its implications means understanding the social and cultural dimensions of a pandemic, and getting to know the matter (the SARS-CoV-2 virus, emotions, human interactions) and materials (masks, space, and air) through which it is communicated.

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Music and Poetry in the Pandemic

As part of the Pandemic and Beyond project we are working in collaboration with a Lived Experience Panel, a group of people whose lives have been impacted in different ways by the Covid-19 pandemic, to help us shape how we communicate the work of the research projects to ensure that we reach communities who might benefit from the findings. In this audio post Ronald Amanze, a member of our Lived Experience Panel, speaks about what music and poetry has meant to him during the pandemic. Ronald is a musician and music producer who uses poetry and music to record and explore his experience of living with dementia following a stroke.

You can read more about Ronald’s work here, and you can also follow him on Twitter. You can listen to his Dementia Diaries here. Ronald has recently presented and co-produced an episode of Music Memories, which is available on BBC Sounds.

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Digital dissemination and visual communication in the time of COVID-19

Digital and visual communications are a crucial method in disseminating information during the COVID-19 pandemic. From slice-of-life diary pieces to public health information on guidance and symptoms, visual storytellers are using their platforms to share their stories and disseminate information. While digital platforms have the capacity to facilitate misinformation, they have also been utilised to ensure the spread of important, and potentially lifesaving, information. Following on from our Knowledge Exchange Workshops, in this blog post Shannon McDavitt, Research Assistant on ‘Comics in the time of COVID-19’, explores some of the AHRC-funded projects that are researching media communications and health messaging during the pandemic.

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Research on Museums and Collections in the Pandemic

A central aim of the Pandemic and Beyond project is to connect researchers working on similar Covid-19 research problems so that projects can share knowledge, data and findings. Our first Knowledge Exchange Workshops were key to achieving this, bringing team members from each research cluster together to present their work and to discuss the connections between projects. In this blog post, Mark Liebenrood, researcher on the ‘Museums in the Pandemic: risk, closure, and resilience’ project, reflects on the group of projects focused on the impact of Covid-19 on Museums and the work they are doing to ensure resilience in the heritage sector going forwards.