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How To Incorporate Culturally Responsive COVID Protocol in South Australia

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Varsha Srinivasan
August 1, 2022

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, the South Australian Government approached multicultural leaders to understand how they could proactively counteract the effects of a second wave by contextualizing cultural variation among communities to contain spread. Seeing the devastating impact of COVID in other communities, South Australia began to encourage communal participation amongst their culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Doing so allowed the government to assess cultural misunderstandings and communication barriers in implementing and enforcing COVID protocols.

As a collaborative initiative, the community forums, consisting of regional culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community leaders, received support from the South Australian Health Ministry. The Multicultural Communities Council of South Australia aided democracyCo, a governmental support group, in assembling a diverse, representative and inclusive participant population. Each forum was subdivided into groups consisting of a maximum of 50 participants to allow for each participant to better articulate themselves in a more intimate group setting. Due to public health risks, these forums were conducted virtually. Prior to holding a meeting, participants took a survey for leaders to gain a better understanding of logistical needs so individuals could be better accommodated in group settings. Each leader received a language-specific set of guidelines to prepare for the two three-hour Zoom meetings, which began with an introduction to the agenda and followed with the use of breakout rooms. These spaces allowed for smaller subgroups to meet and discuss community-specific COVID concerns and fears, with an opportunity to address them with the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Assistant Minister to the Premier or the Chief Public Health Officer at the end of the session. These conversations also allowed for full transparency of local myths and misconceptions surrounding testing procedures, especially amongst South Australian youths, to ensure communities were able to trust and acknowledge the legitimacy of government policies. As a follow-up, leaders received surveys to share with their communities and were contacted by democracyCo if further information was needed in drafting a final report. Data was then compiled into a holistic document that outlined and assessed the needs of each community.

Through this inclusive participatory process, South Australia was able to mitigate the impact of another COVID wave, particularly amongst multicultural communities. Given the collaborative nature of the forums, leaders were better equipped to advocate for public health protocols. Because they were enforced by multicultural leaders, community members were more likely to acknowledge the legitimacy and authority of these guidelines. The South Australia Government also addressed the doubts and concerns youth in multicultural communities had regarding costs and sanitation of testing apparatus, such as how expensive acquiring a test could be and whether swabs are being re-used. Thus, this collaborative process also has allowed for increased transparency and accountability from the government toward its citizens. Communication efforts also were expanded to include an online platform for citizens to better understand the reasoning behind implementation of specific initiatives, and it was endorsed by multicultural leaders. As such, multicultural communities were able to see and hear from a representative voice, making communication efforts from the South Australian Government more relevant to the public.

This collaborative approach has bridged a gap between historically underrepresented communities. By providing a space for inclusive and representative dialogue, these Forums have promoted a sense of mutual understanding and authentic communication. By meeting with multicultural leaders, the government actively worked toward understanding the cultural context of the communities they were implementing policies in. This culturally sensitive approach allowed multicultural leaders to serve as the ears and eyes of their communities without turning the situation into a politically divisive one. Additionally, community members began to show trust in the process and ask questions about the guidelines to clarify any lingering misunderstandings. Overall, these Forums successfully adapted to the needs of diverse communities in a swift and efficient method to combat large-scale spread of COVID. This is important to model for culturally and linguistically diverse communities the value of implementing and abiding by national public health guidelines to mitigate the spread of new strains of COVID. These Forums could provide insight for other Australian communities or global movements to get more inclusive input that will give national authorities more legitimacy in implementing their public health initiatives by incorporating more citizens’ narratives.

To learn more about this case, visit https://participedia.net/case/7086. To read about other innovative applications of public participation, visit www.participedia.net.

Author: Varsha Srinivasan is a foreign language area studies (FLAS) fellow pursuing a dual Master of Public Administration and International Relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as they relate to multicultural education and cultural sensitivity, specifically in relation to immigrant diasporas in the United States. Her previous experiences include serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Colombia from 2019-2020 and teaching seventh grade science through Teach for America in the Las Vegas Valley from 2017-2019. She received a BS and a BA from Emory University in May 2017 and a Master in Education from the University of Nevada—Las Vegas in May 2019. She can be reached at [email protected].

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