Dispatch within a local group protocol

This is our advice having run advocacy and First Aid dispatch chats for two years across the UK. You don’t have to follow it, but it works well for small groups.

‘Dispatch’ means
  1. Gathering together a group of people who are able to offer support.
  2. Collecting requests from people who need support.
  3. Processing these requests and linking people who can offer support with people who need support.
  4. Ensuring to the best of your ability that the people who offer support do so to the best of their ability, and following protocol (see Policy for doing support work in the covid 19 pandemic).

This does not mean that people should be divided into two distinct groups of ‘supporters’ versus ‘recipients’. People who require support for certain tasks – because they cannot leave the house, for example – may also wish to be involved in coordinating the dispatch of support to others, or in responding to requests for non-physical support, advocacy etc.

This is NOT a protocol for setting up a full COVID-19 mutual aid/support group – it is only protocol for the dispatch aspect of this work.

How to do dispatch in a local group

  1. You should set up a way for people in your local area to make decisions, discuss things socially, share news and create other plans related to community support and organising for the COVID-19 pandemic. You could create a Facebook group or a Slack workspace. WhatsApp groups may be more familiar and accessible to a larger number of people, though they don’t allow the same possibility of using threads to keep track of different topics.
  2. Out of the people who join this group you should find out who is willing and able to do support work. This should be maximum 30 people in order to make coordination possible – if you have more people, consider splitting into multiple groups for smaller geographical areas or for lengths of time (eg. have one group covering the first two weeks, and then hand off to the next group after this).
  3. You should set up a chat group made up of these people. This is your dispatch chat: nothing but dispatch information should be in this chat. All other conversation, such as about disinfection systems, leafleting etc. should be kept in the wider Facebook group, Slack workspace or WhatsApp group.
  4. You should decide on two or three people to be dispatchers. These people will need to gather information from people asking for support by monitoring requests that come through email, phone, Google forms etc. and share them to the wider group. These people don’t need to be able to leave the house so this is an ideal job for people who are self-isolating.
    • We recommend having a smaller dispatch organising chat for dispatchers to figure out who’s organising each case.
  5. When a request for help is received, the dispatcher should find out all relevant information. They should ask who needs help, where they are, what they need and when they need it.
  6. The dispatcher should post an anonymised version of this basic information in the dispatch chat. This should be in the form of “someone needs X doing in Y area at Z time” (see the form below). It is important that this information is anonymised when shared with the whole dispatch group because it is personally identifiable information about the person who needs support.
  7. When people volunteer in response to a post in the dispatch chat, check if the person requesting support would have any objection to those particular people being involved, giving the volunteers’ first names and surname initial only. Similarly, check if the volunteers have any objection to being matched with the recipient, giving the first name and surname initial only.
    • This allows people to avoid being matched with someone who has previously caused them harm, for example. Remember that this may be a sensitive topic – don’t require people to give their reasons.
  8. Make a new group chat with those volunteers and, if they’re available, the person who needs support. All discussion of what needs doing for that person should take place in this small chat.
    • This prevents people in the main chat from being given too many notifications, and keeps the person’s address and detailed needs away from your main chat.
    • If the person requesting support is able and willing to participate in this chat themselves, this helps to maintain transparency and accountability, as well as making it easier to coordinate practicalities.

You should keep track of how you are organising dispatch and the systems you are using so that it is easy to hand this role over to other people when those organising and responding to dispatch need a break.

You should store personally identifiable information carefully and delete it when it is no longer needed in line with data protection and GDPR guidelines (introductory guide to GDPR). For example, if you use a Google form to collect requests for support you should delete form responses when the dispatch has been carried out and if you use email you should delete emails in the same way.

Form messages

To the dispatch chat:

“Hi, this is [name] from [group name]. We’ve had a request for help from someone in [first part of postcode]. They need [tasks doing]. Please DM me to be added to the chat for organising this!”

An example of how this might look in practice is:

“Hi, this is Steve from St Brohias COVID-19 Mutual Aid. We’ve had a request for help from someone in [first part of postcode]. They need grocery shopping at 4pm on Tuesday. Please DM me to be added to the chat for organising this!”