Methods: The researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with the core teams for the eight inaugural communities of the NJNAFC in the winter of 2020-2021. Individualized interview protocols were based on various background information, including five prior waves of qualitative interviews since 2016; a comprehensive survey conducted several months prior; and researchers’ notes from NJNAFC regional meetings. The interview questions asked participants to describe their team’s involvement in programs and services in response to COVID-19, with probes on how their efforts were part of a broader community network response to emergent needs. We conducted a qualitative descriptive analysis—including thematic coding, memo writing, and team meetings—to understand the roles of AFCIs in their communities during the pandemic.
Results: Analysis of the interview data indicated four primary themes to describe the roles of the AFCIs during the pandemic. First, “creator” refers to how the core teams created events, programs, and services to address community needs during COVID-19. The second role, “amplifier,” describes how core teams amplified their partner organizations’ capacities to include, engage, and serve older residents. AFCIs also were “good community partners” by providing time-limited financial, instrumental, and informational support for other organizations. The final theme was “communication broker,” wherein initiatives facilitated bidirectional and systematic exchanges of information across networks of community residents, partners, and state or regional entities.
Discussion: We discuss ways in which this project demonstrates the value of long-term, university-community partnerships to advance community practice research for the benefit of community leaders and academic researchers. We discuss our strategic efforts to disseminate the findings back to the NJNAFC through a co-facilitated network meeting, as well as summarizing the findings in an easy-to-share infographic. This output demonstrates the social work value of service in the role of the researchers and the AFCIs’ enhanced ability to serve their communities. For longer-term scholarly purposes, we are conducting additional analysis to develop a multiple-case study, which will advance theory more generally on the organizational “space” that AFCIs occupy in social work and the field of aging. We conclude by discussing the generative capacity for action research to continue the mutual pursuit of transformative community practice and collaborative knowledge production during a crisis and beyond.