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David Colbear

Four insights from supporting local Test and Trace services

Over the last few months we have been working with a large number of councils supporting them with their Covid-19 response – from Bradford and East Riding in the north, through Lincolnshire and down to Kensington and Chelsea in London. In recent weeks this has included, for some, supporting them to establish local Test and Trace services. It has been fascinating to see the different approaches they have taken, so I have picked out four insights from our work.

  • There needs to be a new way of collaborating both nationally and locally. Data sharing is a great example of this. There is real power in understanding national trends and aggregated data, but it is clear that local knowledge – at a micro-community level – is indispensable in tackling Covid-19 (and most other challenges faced by local government). Drawing a line from top to bottom will be critical in making a success of Test and Trace, and the wider recovery of communities from the pandemic.
  • Understanding micro-communities will also be an important tool in addressing inequalities. The difference between rich and poor is stark in many councils we work in, particularly in London. It is clear that the ability of individuals and communities to protect themselves is directly impacted by their circumstances; there is an opportunity to start to tackle this by ensuring that Test and Trace approaches combine data and local knowledge to ensure that the most vulnerable groups are supported.
  • One of the best ways of supporting communities is through really understanding communications and behaviour change. I heard a fascinating example of groups whose preferred listening was radio stations broadcasting from Pakistan. They were not being exposed to local and timely messages– and only by understanding this level of local detail could public health officials consider alternative methods of communication to engage with them and influence behaviours.
  • Establishing a shared ambition across councils is more important than ever. Each council has a slightly different take on how it is implementing test and trace. That is fine – up to a point – as each area is different, but becomes problematic if work is being duplicated and lessons aren’t being learnt. We’ve seen some councils work across their region, which is very reassuring, but a joined-up approach is the best way make Test and Trace effective.

How well we identify and manage local outbreaks will make a massive difference to the future of this country for years to come. The roll-out of Test and Trace is a prime opportunity for public services to show how local and national organisations should work together.

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