Cross-sector Decision Landscape in Response to COVID-19: A Qualitative Analysis of North Carolina Decision-Makers
Biddell, C. B., Johnson, K. T., Patel, M. D., Smith, R. L., Hecht, H. K., Swann, J. L., … Lich, K. H. (2022, March 12). (Vol. 3). Vol. 3.
Context: The COVID-19 pandemic response has demonstrated the interconnectedness of individuals, organizations, and other entities jointly contributing to the production of community health. This response has involved stakeholders from numerous sectors who have been faced with new decisions, objectives, and constraints. Objective: We aimed to examine the cross-sector organizational decision landscape that formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Design: We applied a systems approach to the qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews on the cross-sector, organizational response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyzed transcribed interviews using conventional content analysis to synthesize key themes. Setting: Semi-structured interviews were conducted via secure, video-conferencing platform between October 2020 and January 2021. Participants: Forty-four state and local decision-makers representing organizations from nine sectors in North Carolina participated. Main Outcome Measures: We defined the decision landscape as including decision-maker roles, key decisions, and inter-relationships involved in producing community health. Results: Decision-maker roles were characterized by underlying tensions between balancing organizational mission with employee/community health and navigating organizational versus individual responsibility for reducing transmission. Key Decisions fell into several broad categories, including how to translate public health guidance into practice; when to institute, and subsequently loosen, public health restrictions; and how to address downstream social and economic impacts of public health restrictions. Lastly, given limited and changing information, as well as limited resources and expertise, the COVID-19 response required cross-sector collaboration, which was commonly coordinated by local health departments. Conclusions: By documenting the local, cross-sector decision landscape that formed in response to COVID-19, we illuminate the impacts different organizations may have on information/misinformation, prevention behaviors, and, ultimately, health. Public health researchers and practitioners must understand, and work within, this complex decision landscape when responding to COVID-19 and future community health challenges.