Preparing to avoid a second wave of COVID-19 in South Australia, SA Health engaged democracyCo to conduct multiple online forums with 250 multicultural leaders. This work enabled SA Health to combat an outbreak two weeks later and ultimately avoid a second wave.
Problems and Purpose
As the second wave of covid-19 started to affect Melbourne in late June / early July 2020, the South Australian Government became anxious about constraints on their ability to work with specific communities to ensure a potential outbreak did not occur in SA.
Specifically they were aware that they did not deeply understand the cultural challenges in multicultural communities, nor did they have a way of working with them to contain an outbreak quickly and effectively.
Thus, SA Health engaged democracyCo to conduct a forum of 250 multicultural leaders from over 70 communities to better understand their fears, concerns and needs around covid-19.
Background History and Context
Covid-19 has gripped the world in 2020. In South Australia, its impact was acutely felt within a small window in from April - June.
South Australia is a small state of Australia - comprising of a population of 1.75 million people - with approximately 1.2 million of those people residing in Adelaide. As a state which has a long history of welcoming residents from all over the world, South Australia and Adelaide have a rich and diverse multicultural population.
Highly aware of the second wave which was gripping Melbourne during June 2020, SA Health decided to get ahead of the curve and take urgent steps to engage with its CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) communities to mitigate COVID-19's impact.
Specifically, they wanted to know:
- What might have been preventing people from isolating, quarantining or being tested;
- their knowledge levels of COVID-19 and its symptoms, and what to do while waiting for test results;
- what type of support specific communities needed in order to comply with government directions and restrictions.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The process was fully funded by SA Health and led by Prof. Nicola Spurrier (The SA Chief Medical Officer) and Minister Stephen Wade MP, Minster for Health and Wellbeing.
democracyCo designed and delivered the forum and also developed a report which documented specific input from over 50 CALD communities.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Multicultural Communities Council of SA assisted democracyCo in accessing all CALD community leaders. Invitations were issued to more than 250 people, with over 100 attending. This process, given that it was designed to hear from all CALD communities, did not include a random selection process. The number of forums conducted was in direct response to the RSVP's received, ensuring that no more than 50 people attended each forum.
Methods and Tools Used
Originally, the intent was to convene this group face to face. However, it soon became clear that the COVID-19 transmission risks associated with this would far outweigh the benefits. Thus, an online process was designed.
The process was straightforward and included:
- a detailed pre-survey to understand participative requirements (i.e. translation / tech needs) and to gather some initial information;
- the provision of a participant package for all forum attendees (in their language) which explained the process and outlined the technical online requirements;
- 2 x 3hr Zoom meetings with 30-40 people per workshop. The workshops included a briefing session conducted by Prof. Spurrier to set the scene. Participants then spent time in small breakout rooms (of approximately 7 people per room) to explore and discuss a series of issues such as fears and concerns. The workshops ended with participants conducting a detailed survey (while still online) and upon completion of the survey participants were invited into a 'departure lounge' to speak directly with:
- Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Hon Stephen Wade MLC;
- Assistant Minister to the Premier, the Hon Jing Lee MLC;
- Professor Nicola Spurrier, Chief Public Health Officer.
- Following the workshop, the survey was provided to participants to send to their networks with the aim being to build a detailed resource of communication methods and networks for SA Health. An additional 60 people completed the survey.
- Participants were followed up with directly by democracyCo if further information was required and to double check the content of the report.
- Less than one week after the workshops, a 100 page report was provided to SA Health which detailed the levels of concern across more than 50 communities, information about where and how those communities meet, social media and communications details.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
This process contributed to assisting South Australia in avoiding a second wave of COVID-19 and combating the 'Thebarton Cluster' - a small outbreak within a CALD community school. Professor Nicola Spurrier stated that:
"When the Thebarton cluster became apparent, a key factor that enabled us to manage it was reaching out to the community leaders to ensure as much information as possible was available in a timely manner...Leaders of the Afghan community in South Australia have worked tirelessly to ensure health messages are shared as widely as possible and to support individuals who were required to undertake quarantine." 
This process also had immediate communication impacts. Young students had made SA Health aware during the process that they were not being tested due to concerns that it would cost them money, and also fears that the swabs were not cleaned. Within hours of becoming aware of this situation, SA Health released direct communications addressing these concerns and distributed this through the new network created as a result of the forum.
A further impact was the creation of a specific webpage with COVID-19 advice for CALD communities with content that was designed by CALD community leaders and members.
This process is currently a finalist in the 2020 Minister of Health's awards.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
This experience has opened a crucially important relationship for government and ensured that interactions are built on mutual understanding and authentic collaboration.
The specific lessons of this project include:
- People are willing to assist government in its work for public benefit if they can see the immediate impact, and also when their input is authentically valued.
- Supporting CALD communities to participate requires flexibility and a willingness to support communications through translation and culturally sensitive approaches.
- We saw the emergence of inter-community support during this process. The leader of a large and well resourced community reached out through the process to support others and share resources.
- This also was an example of a 'just in time' engagement process: SA health knew the risks of a COVID-19 outbreak were imminent, and so the intensive delivery of the project ensured it could have maximum impact.
 Dempster, A. (2020). Coronavirus clinic to target SA's multicultural community as Thebarton Senior College cluster contained. ABC News, August 15. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-15/sa-health-launches-multicultural-coronavirus-clinic/12562218 (Accessed October 2, 2020).