In her latest blog, the pilot's embedded researcher Izabela Jamrozik discusses how the evaluation process has continued despite the pandemic.
It has been a year since the Housing GM First pilot evaluation moved over to conducting interviews with people supported by the program to telephone and video conversations.
The initial anticipation of diminished opportunities for developing a rapport with interviewees, as well as having potentially lengthy conversations with people who might find telephone contact more challenging than face-to-face, gradually dissipated.
In fact, the new approach proved to have some benefits, although was not completely suitable for everyone.
Like most of us, participants have in the most part got used to telephone or video contact being the new norm, hence accepting of it, and often enjoyed it as an opportunity to have a chat.
Being able to speak to people over the phone has also provided more flexibility in relation to time and travel management for all parties involved, hence increasing the chances of getting through to people at different times, considering that their life situations (but also phone numbers) often changing on a day-to-day basis.
In my experience of telephone appointments, the length of most interviews shortened, and often became more focused on the researched topics rather than also including more informal chatting and non-verbal aspects of communication.
On a number of occasions interviewees expressed preference for, and hope that, the interviews could eventually resume the face-to-face format which, for some, would be easier to cope with than over-the-phone contact; as well as being more personal by being able to ‘put a face to the voice’, and simply talk over a coffee. Fingers crossed!
Many people said that they found the interviews interesting, and were keen to support the evaluation due to the fact that their GM Housing First keyworkers helped them with so many things.
In fact, I believe that some saw this as an opportunity to share their gratitude and to highlight a number of positive changes which had taken place in their lives since coming onto the program.
In general, participants due for a follow-up interview have been happy to catch up, and in some cases, were the ones who enquired about due dates in advance.
This made me think of the importance of having the same person leading on the evaluation when it came to establishing trust and reliability for people.
For some participants, doing the interviews over the phone also brought unexpected benefits; for example, one person fed back to their keyworker that they found it therapeutic to speak about different things, and that it was the first time they stayed on the phone for longer than a few minutes, which in turn increased their confidence.
It has definitely been a different way of working, and I am glad that with the invaluable help from the teams on the ground, it has been viable to involve as many people as possible to keep the evaluation going.