Like most people around the world, it was mid-March when the shocking realization set in that the COVID-19 pandemic would be like nothing we’d experienced before.

For those of us working here at Probe Research, as far as we could tell, our reaction was much like it was everywhere else…Business was just not at the top of our agenda.

But as the days and weeks ticked on, we started to ruminate over the future of our quarter-century old social research operation. As we considered and debated if, how and when we would re-connect with our clients and our respondents, it became clear the pandemic made what we do even more important. Fast, reliable and detailed information about the public’s views and experiences was no longer an interesting “nice to know” but instead had life or death significance.

What were Manitobans thinking and doing to cope during this pandemic? Did the community understand the basic epidemiology of this novel threat? How well did we grasp what we were being asked to do to “flatten the curve”? Did we trust the authorities who mandated public controls that would be otherwise unimaginable during peacetime in a liberal democracy? What kind of toll was all of this having on our mental and physical health? And what is with this sourdough thing, anyway?

First tentatively, and then with some gusto, we re-entered the field with several sweeping general population “health-check” surveys. Some of these were vivid socio-cultural portraits - illuminating how Manitobans were adapting to the “new normal”. This work was initiated by business groups, governments and on our own steam -- all in the interest of helping us understand each other during a very unusual time.

And a funny thing happened on the way to the pandemic…our response rates skyrocketed. Manitobans were in the mood to talk and they wanted to be heard. Certainly, almost everybody was at home and glued to their phones or computers (which didn’t hurt our cause), but there was also unmistakable and sincere enthusiasm on the part of the public to weigh in on important issues and to share and compare their personal experiences with the larger community. Thousands of surveys could now be collected in mere days. Call it COVID-19 serendipity.

We have often expressed our most heartfelt gratitude to those who participate in our surveys. We know that, without these respondents, our work would simply not be possible. But this COVID-19 upsurge in response rates was especially prized as it enabled Probe Research to remain functional and within the public square at this most crucial time. And perhaps to put this even more bluntly, we understand that those lending us their time to complete our surveys have helped ensure Probe’s stability at a time when many companies are struggling to survive.

Although no end to this extraordinary pandemic seems to be on the horizon yet, Probe Research remains active and relevant. We continue to enjoy strong levels of participation from the public and can assure our clients that our quantitative research tools (and our burgeoning online focus group practice) are even more effective.