Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 5: Pivoting

Regular followers to our sprint notes will no doubt notice that we seem to have skipped a sprint! We can assure you the work has continued but the impact of Covid19, the subsequent move of the Benefits & Housing Needs service to remote delivery coupled with some changes to the project team have meant a slight interruption to our normal comms plan. We’ll endeavour to catch you up on what has been going on in the next few paragraphs. provides a sports example for pivoting that reads; Basketball. to keep one foot in place while holding the ball and moving the other foot one step in any direction.

Anyone familiar with the lingo associated with startups (and the associated success and failure of many modern companies) will be familiar with the term ‘pivot’ and the need to rapidly change direction to succeed. I like the basketball definition above – it also mentions keeping one foot in place while changing direction with the other. That’s a nice summary of how we’ve been focussing our energy as a team over the last few weeks. 

The team have been grappling with two key questions:

1. How do we keep firm and grounded in our vision for the future service? 2. How do we rapidly re-prioritise our efforts to provide maximum value to staff and residents in the current environment?

Updating our vision for the future service
We’ve updated our tube line inspired map of the future service to reflect conversations and learning so far. The key changes reflect;

  • The importance of  understanding vulnerabilities and assets
  • That tenancy sustainment plays a crucial role
  • A new branch has been added that ends with really good information and advice
  • We have added an (optional) stop for the crisis support that some of our more vulnerable residents will need before moving forward with a longer term plan

SMS Tool & Document Upload
Kicking off with a new section for our sprint notes (where our “pivoting” comes into play).

We had previously experimented with using SMS to check in and nudge residents on their Shared Plan, and had a working prototype to test if people engaged with this format. As the service moved to being delivered remotely, it became clear there were more places SMS could add value across the service. 

The team came together quickly to ensure the solution was secure and would cope with an increased load. One week later and we’re now scaling it across teams. We’ll still need to retrospectively check we’re meeting the right user needs, and undergo a service assessment, but overall we’re really excited with the potential impact delivered in a short space of time. 

Now that the Hackney Service Centre has shut, there’s no easy way for residents to share evidence (think ID, proof of address/income, and bills) to support any applications they’re making to the service, and for these to be attached to their record.

In less than a week the dev team produced a safe, secure and working prototype of a new “Doc Upload” tool. Residents are able to take a photo, add info and share with the service. There’s loads of potential for this to improve how documents are managed from the beginning (by linking with Single View) to make sure residents only need to tell us once. Lots of testing to come!

Information and Evidence & Single View
We’ve now tested and iterated both the waiting time tool and changes to the content on the Hackney website. Security and accessibility tests have been completed and there are only a few small tweaks to be made before these changes will be pushed live. Watch this space. 

The Single View crew have now nearly onboarded all of the staff across the service and the analytics data is clearly showing that users are actively adopting it. The team have also:

  • shown they can successfully retrieve documents from the Jigsaw system
  • completed accessibility testing of the app
  • made some user interface improvements
  • added some really useful snippets of data based on user feedback (for example bedroom requirements from housing register applications)

Shared Plan & Understanding Vulnerability
When “everything that everybody does is geared around preventing homelessness”, then it’s part of all officers’ jobs to build and contribute to a shared plan of action.

We’ve built a working prototype that enables:

  • Multiple officers to contribute actions
  • Residents to access via a link texted to them
  • Residents to mark actions as complete

There are now six officers across three different teams testing the Shared Plan. The initial feedback has been brilliant, particularly during this time of remote working.

“This is exactly what we need. Make your plan bitesized. It’s a way to make just a few steps at a time” – Officer, Housing Supply Team “I think this is going to be so useful now that everything is remote” – Officer, Housing Advice and Options Team

Next steps for Shared Plan include optimising the view for residents on mobile, and giving residents more ways to input into their plan. Then we can measure if this is actually engaging people more and changing their behaviour.

For the moment we’ve paused on understanding vulnerability and assets, and will pick it up again in the next phase. There’s also potential for this to be fed into wider Hackney work around their covid response (of which understanding a resident’s vulnerability plays a key part) – so watch this space.

Want to know more? Here are the links to our most recent  Show & Share Sessions 25/03/20 and 01/04/20. Keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 4: Manic March

This sprint has seen the resurrection of the “power-hour” to help power along all the “things”. Here is an update on what has happened so far in manic March:

Understanding Vulnerability + Shared Plan:

Understanding Vulnerability is the key to determining what route a customer initially takes through the Benefits + Housing Needs service. So, we have started to develop the initial paper tool into a digital prototype that has taken centre stage this sprint.

Testing with the Benefits Teams has encompassed:

  1. Spotting red flags – Employment and Support Allowance ending, non-engagement
  2. Understanding the context – Building a bigger picture of the situation (phoning, looking at their notes in Single View)
  3. Document Vulnerabilities – Using the prototype, free text and checklist with prompt options
  4. Building a shared plan – Work with the resident to create a Shared Plan (actions for both Service staff and the residents)
  5. Share the plan – With the resident using the SMS tool to support them in taking action to prevent homelessness

Tune in next time to find out how the tool has developed to potentially incorporate multiple council officers feeding into a single shared plan; and a read-only view for residents. 

Single View of a customer:

Continues it’s take over of the service with 83 users now onboard. Over the last two weeks they have also been looking at the user interface; making sure it is accessible for all users. The team will start to test these new iterations over the next sprint.

Tech Development is ongoing and includes:

  • New designs for the users viewing pleasure
  • An improved timeline and search facility(!!!) to prevent a user having to scroll through everything

For more details check out Soraya’s week notes 

Information + Evidence:

The waiting time tool is now embedded in several everyday processes within the service including responses to complaints and members enquiries. The mayor’s office has also had a demo and the next step is to embed the tool in their processes. 

The tool will also be utilised to inform Hackney Community & Voluntary Services about the  message that we are sending to our customers.

Development of the wording of the new website pages is continuing to help deliver a realistic and supportive message about their housing solutions. To ensure customers are receiving the right information testing with residents is underway.

Want to know more?

Well keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 3: Sharing the love

As the romance of valentines day fades we would like to share the love by updating you on the great things that are happening with the Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign project. 

Understanding Vulnerability + Shared Plan:

The basic idea – Spot red flags > Understand context > Build a shared plan

We know that our staff are aware of a lot of events in customers’ lives. So the focus has been on how we utilise these triggers to understand a customer’s vulnerability.    

We’ve been testing a tool with 4 Officers from Benefits, to help us understand what ‘trigger events’ happen e.g. ESA ending, which contribute to a customer’s vulnerability. Then to identify the best ways the service can support them. 

The Tool

What did we learn?
  • Officers have a good sense if the resident they’re working with is vulnerable
  • There are cultural and practical barriers (e.g. targets!) that currently limit the amount of additional support they can offer
  • The paper prototype is a useful prompt and way in to working in this way
  • How can we use tools like this and give you the time, space and permission to give the best possible support to residents?

Next we are starting to think about how the tool develops into a working prototype that supports staff and fits with current processes. As well as, how do we start creating a shared plan that helps a customer with their vulnerability by utilising their strengths?

Single View:

This seems a timely point to highlight the importance of people within the service being able to easily spot the excellent work that is going on around understanding vulnerability. Naturally the best place for this is the Single View – so watch this space.

The latest teams to join the Single View Crew are Housing Register and Settled Homes. To make the day to day user experience more effective we have been squashing all the bugs. As well as making sure our feedback loop is to a high standard, so that we know what to do first. 

Enter stage left ……….. A new starring role in the Single View…….Comino documents. Meaning more documents are easily accessible in one place. Moving forward, we will be identifying where we can have the most value and putting measures against this. 

Make sure you follow Soraya’s weeknotes for a more in-depth look at the Single View!

Information + Evidence:

Another super busy two weeks, especially with Chris Caden pushing the energy through and getting stuff done! Last week we showed you a very insightful graph that showed changing expectations around wait times for social housing. We’ve updated this with some more data and we can clearly see the work having some solid results.

On top of this, Chris has been running a number of website content drop-in sessions; specifically around:

  • ‘Join the Housing Register’ page (50,000 views a year)
  • ‘Housing Options and Advice’ page (33,000 views a year)

We wanted to learn how we can improve these pages to:

  • Better set housing expectations 
  • Improve the way we promote alternatives in the private rented sector 

Some key bits of feedback included; ‘It’s too long, we don’t want to be reading War and Peace.’, ‘This page doesn’t include any information on other housing options.’ and ‘We need to give the facts about the waiting times.’ 

In response, the team has already started to prioritise a design for a whole new website.  Looking at; 

  • Title change 
  • Set expectations early, explaining the poor likelihood of receiving a property from the register 
  • Includes wait times by bed size and band
  • Condense the content into a shorter space  
  • Promote alternative housing solutions

Another exciting piece of news is that we are starting to embed the waiting times tool with the Mayor’s Office. Remember to email Chris Caden ( if you want to find out more!

Want to know more?

Well keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with me ( or Scott ( if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 2: Where did January go?

Sprint Notes 2: Where did January go?

January 2020 for the redesign project has been anything but “dry”, with lots of exciting progress being made.

Here is what has been happening around the service:

Understanding vulnerability, capability and assets:
Colleagues from public health, adult and children’s social care joined us to discuss how we might start to determine which customers take which route on our service vision tube map. This involved identifying what we considered an asset and a vulnerability. I personally found it easier to decide on the top 3 assets rather than the top 3 vulnerabilities. A prominent factor in these discussions was a customer’s level of resilience and why this may vary.

We are now looking at what we can create to help these conversations and ways of working happen effectively across the council and service. Guess you will be able to read all about it in our next edition ;).

Single View:
44 users have now been on-boarded and the feedback is coming thick and fast. The team have been working on ‘tech debt’*. Essentially, they have been making sure the tool is super stable and able to use no matter what happens; making it a more sustainable and efficient product in the long run.

The team also went to a Hackney Service Standard Assessment, where the product is tested against a number of GDS principles. It was a great session, with learnings happening on both sides of the table and you can read about it in Soraya’s weeknotes.

Over the next two weeks please watch this space for Comino documents coming to single view soon!

Collaborative Working:
We are trialling the use of prompt questions to help hospital staff identify patients who are in need of help with their housing situation.

Arto Maatta and Tony McDonald spoke about the new process to identify patients who need assistance earlier, thus smoothing the hospital discharge process. With Tony now being able to triage cases, upload documents and educate Homerton Hospital staff on homelessness prevention.

Sabrina Pathan also announced the ‘Peer Practice Group’ an opportunity for service staff to:
Talk about new ideas to support and improve the service
Highlight problem areas in a safe space with peers
Get support from colleagues with complex cases by pooling skills

Benefits & Housing Needs staff deal with customers who have experienced trauma on a daily basis, this has an impact on them. It’s healthy to share this with your colleagues, so come along and get involved.

Email Sabrina at for more details.

So much good work is happening, and I can’t wait to see what else is coming soon!

Information & Evidence:

We are making some good progress with our testing on the Information & Evidence tool. Testing with the Housing Management Neighbourhoods Team + Settled Homes Team; to try and find out if the tool could change resident’s attitudes on their housing expectations and also to see whether they would like the tool to be online and to access other housing options.

So far, it is! Results are above, and we are looking to continue testing in this way to find out more, and where the tool will be most useful for Service Staff and Residents. In the next two weeks we will be showcasing the tool for some of Hackney Councillors and Customer Services. If you would like to find more about this work please email Chris Caden (

What’s next?

Well keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to message to get in touch with Scott or Claire if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

* Technical debt (also known as design debt or code debt, but can be also related to other technical endeavors) is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy (limited) solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.