Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project -Sprint Notes 13: Get On It!

A few weeks has passed since our last entry, and a lot has happened. Really, a lot. These notes get harder to write because of all the content, that is why you will be expecting to see a few new publications regarding this work shortly. So keep an eye out on your channels! 

The project team has now come to the end of the year project, so here is a bit of a recap of some of the stories of impact over the last phase, and what you can expect to see next.

Understanding Vulnerability Snapshot:

Yes! We have changed the name from ‘Understanding Vulnerability’ to ‘Snapshot’. If you haven’t been following; The Snapshot allows staff to build a bigger picture of the resident’s situation when they contact any part of the service. 

Last time we showed you some of the feedback we had from testing. As designers do, we started to iterate the tool and ensure a smooth transition from ‘Alpha’ to ‘Beta’ . We also did a number of 1-1 interviews and feedback surveys to understand if staff are able to learn more about a resident and if they are able to recommend additional resources during a conversation when using Snapshot:

63% agreed they learnt something new or unexpected about the resident

64% recommended a resource or useful service to the resident during the interaction

Above you will see our hypothesis and the outcomes that we hoped to achieve. At the moment we believe we are on our way to start achieving some of our short-term and medium term outcomes. With staff reporting:

As further development is now paused on the snapshot tool, we will be looking to set up an 8 – 10 week pilot that goes deeper into user research. Once these weeks are over, we should have enough information to help inform our beta backlog, and what to do next! Watch out for more talk of this on our blog.

Evidence Store:

Over the last month we have been building the API for the Evidence Store to work across some other tools e.g. Single View. All that good work is now finished and the API is ready to go. We will be looking to ensure that the new API:

  1. Saves time
  2. Reduces duplication
  3. Is easier for staff and residents to use

The API is now LAUNCHED. Enabling staff to request documents from Single View. This means staff can prepare for a conversation with a resident by reading all their case notes, mark any vulnerabilities and strengths and then request supporting documents needed for a benefit claim (and more) from the one place.

This will save staff a lot of time, and we will be doing some further benchmarking to make sure we are delivering the impact that we are aiming for. 

Self-service Tools + Shared Plan

You might be asking… Why are these things together? Well after the last few weeks, some of the work has been blended and we have found that having a ‘pre-assessment plan’ to give to a resident with easy to follow steps has proved extremely valuable

The pre-assessment Plan

The pre-assessment plan is taking the shared plan we have created, and allowing it to be created before the initial contact with a resident; either at the assessment stage or the first conversation. It helps them understand their housing options, and what they can do to prevent their own situation from getting worse.

After some initial testing:

Shared Plans created and sent to 12 residents

7 out of 12 residents completed actions in their plans (58%)

Of these 7, they completed 52 out of 67 actions set (78%)

Overall, 52 out of 100 actions set were completed (52%)

This shows some great success, helping manage expectations and also allowing us to understand that residents will engage with these tools. Over the next phase we will be providing training for customer services to use this in their work. 

Multi-disciplinary shared plan

Another use of the shared plan has been one that is created with different teams and professionals across the council. We believe by breaking down silos, the council can offer a resident better outcomes and a consistent approach. We now have 4 of these plans, owned by the Benefits and Housing Needs service and working with partners.

Over the next 8 weeks we’re running an experiment to see if using the Shared Plan with residents who are in the most complex situations will save staff time and result in better outcomes for residents.

  1. Does this save staff time in casework (moving from email chains, responding to enquiries)?
  2. Does this improve the experience for staff (working together to solve a problem, making progress towards an outcome)?
  3. Does this improve the experience for residents (transparency, clarity, sense of ownership)?
  4. Does this result in better outcomes for residents (case resolved sooner, staff confidence in the outcome)?
What does it all mean?

Now that you have been following our journey over 13 sprints. What do all of these things mean together? How do they help a customer on the one journey?

Over the last year we have been working with the Benefits and Housing Needs service to design and build a service that we are proud of and confident in delivering. A service which is easily understood, fair, accessible and beneficial to our residents. 

A service that is joined-up and can expand the good work already happening, and deliver the best outcome for a resident. Over the last week we have been capturing stories of how these tools work together, to achieve our vision.

There is a lot more work to do, but this past year we have seen staff change the way they work, help build the future they want to see and hopefully make all their day-to-days a little better.

As always, stay tuned for more.

That’s all folks! Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 03/09/20.

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 Re-design Project – Sprint Notes 12: Sharing is caring

Those of you that have been following these sprints notes will notice that one of the main themes that underpins the work we are doing is sharing information more effectively, so that we can create better outcomes for staff and residents. With this in mind (and because we care) we are happy to share with you the latest updates on…

Understanding Vulnerability:

Last time, you might remember we had designed what our Vulnerability and Strengths snapshot should look like based on previous research with staff. The good news is we have now finished building the prototype and have a number of staff throughout the service testing it.

At this week’s Show & Share David spoke about his experience of using the snapshot tool.

It was great to have David share his experience of using the tool. He also provided some very valuable feedback around how we can improve the tool moving forward.

How to improve it:

  • Use council-wide: could be useful information for other teams and services to see
  • More clarity on whether this is vulnerabilities of whole family (or lead applicant)
  • Pull vulnerabilities information from existing systems (e.g. UHW) where it already exists

Why this is useful:

  • Help us all have an instant general understanding of a client’s vulnerabilities from a single system (e.g. Housing Reg and Lettings teams before putting forward of a property)

On top of this we are starting to chat to other staff about their experiences. Here is some of the highlights:

  1. Staff appreciate the simplicity and ease of use, but need support to build it into their day to day processes.

“It’s getting into the routine of doing it really. I’m not sure that we will always remember – but that’s our problem!”

  1. Staff see the potential for this to improve the way they work with residents to resolve their situation.

“I think it gives a good snapshot in a moment in time… giving that picture will speed up communication and calls with the client”

  1. Staff who have less resident contact don’t always feel it’s appropriate to open up a discussion around vulnerability.

“I’m not dealing with them at the start of their claims so it’s a bit tricky to probe too deep into their personal issues they may be facing”

Thank you again to all the staff who have volunteered to be part of testing so far. Over the next month we will be working to achieve:

  • Accessible to all staff in Benefits & Housing Needs and Customer Services (via Single View for continued testing)
  • Impact measured (service, user and return on investment) 
  • Be ready for a service assessment to scale to live
Evidence Store:

What is an Evidence Store? If you are a follower of the Sprint Notes… you may remember something called the ‘Doc Upload’ Tool. Well, we have renamed it and are starting to build a much larger and more stable platform for residents and staff to use.

Over the last month we have been building the API for the Evidence Store to work across some other tools e.g. Single View. All that good work is now finished and the API is ready to go. We will be looking to ensure that the new API:

  • Saves time
  • Reduces duplication
  • Is easier for staff and residents to use

Of course, it is a little hard to test a ‘techie’ thing like an ‘API’. So we are building some tests, time trials and light-weight prototypes to do this. Updates to follow in future Sprint Notes.

Our vision for Evidence Store is to provide officers with a seamless end-to-end experience from requesting documents, to reviewing and signing them off. Below are some screenshots of what the experience will look like for officers – approving and tracking the documents have been uploaded. The customers own unique ‘store’!

What are we doing next?

  • Benchmarking how long things take now, so we can see if this new way is an improvement
  • Starting to test the new process of uploading documents from Doc Upload into Single View
  • Uncovering insights from current usage of Doc Upload to inform the next steps of the Evidence Store 
Self-service Tools

Over the last month we have been working on articulating our future resident journey via a number of self-service tools. 

We have been prototyping all of these individual tools. Trying to work out if they are feasible and what sort of impact they will have on a resident and on the service. In this edition we will be mainly talking about ‘Taking steps toward finding a property’ and ‘Understanding my housing options’.

We will be taking these two ideas into testing. Then we hope to find out how the tools help residents understand their housing options and assist with looking for a privately rented property.

Shared Plan

It has been a few weeks since we last updated you on the progress of the Shared Plan. We’ve been doing a lot of testing, and interviews with both staff and residents around how they find using a ‘Shared Plan’ vs a ‘Personal Housing Plan’.

Our main aims of the research were: 

  • Understand how officers currently conduct assessments and create PHPs, and how the Shared Plan might work within this process
  • To conduct usability testing to help us improve the experience

Below is just a snippet of what we are finding out.

With this in mind… we are going to start work on some new experiments.

Testing a standardised pre-assessment plan with residents at approach:

  • Will it help reinforce the message that they will be required to complete actions during their journey?
  • Will it help manage their expectations and help people come better prepared?
  • Can we free up time during the assessment to focus on actions to address their situation?

Can’t wait to share what we find!

That’s all folks! Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 22/07/20.

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 10: A Real Corker!

Zing, zing, zing! Once again, more and more ideas are being created and tested by the team. We also want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the service staff who are doing great work; constantly delivering amazing outcomes for residents especially with demand increasing. 

We have now been working ‘remotely’ for 4 months. A long time, it all seems normal now, but so weird not to see any of the teams faces. Our team has definitely felt pressures and a variety of emotions over the last few weeks. It is great to be surrounded by such a supportive team on this project, and even find time to have some fun! A bit of a different sprint note this week. (Don’t worry updates are still here!)

What have we learnt from working remotely?

Building, and sustaining, a team can be difficult when things go belly up. Most of the team were extremely used to working in offices; with people. Testing new things, workshopping ideas and collaborating on code and design. It has taken some adjusting too! 

We have learnt a few things ….:

  • Make sure you have easy communication channels to ask any questions or share progress
  • User Research is a whole new beast, especially when a service faces increased demand during a pandemic 
  • Ways of working it’s easy to change if you are open to it
  • ‘Fun’ can bring the team closer together

We are sure there are so many more we can list – and perhaps we will start going through them in our Sprint Notes moving forward; but first, fun!

What kind of fun are we having?

Not engaging in social interactions or activities can really take its toll. This applies in delivery teams as well. How can you work with someone you never really talk to? How do you get to know people over just meetings?

Forced fun, obviously. 

A few weeks ago we forced the team to have some fun through a ‘Team Challenge’, bringing the competition back into the mix. Involving a drawing competition, a completely ridiculous scavenger hunt, an excel masterpiece and a tie-breaker maze. As you can from the pictures, the team got pretty competitive. It was great to get to know people at a more social level, and continue to build those connections needed to deliver amazing work.

Of course, working remotely also means you can just wander over to someone and ask them random questions or spark off general thoughts. Interestingly… Developers and Designers don’t really get each other sometimes. Who knew?! A lot of questions and, maybe, misunderstanding occurred when we all jumped to working remotely. 

Running a ‘Lean Coffee’ can really help here. Why not just bring everyone together, get them to post their questions and then take turns as a group to discuss them for 3 – 5 minutes. Allowing everyone to learn at the same time from each other. These quick 30 minute sessions has allowed the team to understand what everyone does, and how they are currently doing it. Easy!

Now… onto the main event!

Understanding Vulnerability:

As you know we are working on building a bigger picture of the resident’s situation when they contact any part of the service. 

Last time we showed you some prototypes we are testing with the service. We learnt a lot about the best way to visualise the information, and we are now feeding this into a platform that the service uses every day. Bringing together our knowledge bank of resources and next steps to deliver the best outcomes for residents.

Although we have it ‘designed’ we now have to go build it and make sure it all works. So, what’s next?

  • Test the tool with staff: Does surfacing vulnerability and assets in Single View add value for staff and residents?
  • Build ‘suggested next steps’ based on vulnerabilities / assets
  • …and link the tool to the guidance for having quality conversations, and knowledge bank

Going to be a very exciting two weeks! 

Evidence Store:

What is an Evidence Store? If you are a follower of the Sprint Notes… you may remember something called the ‘Doc Upload’ Tool. That’s right, we have renamed it and are starting to build a much larger and more stable platform for residents and staff to use.

Introducing the Evidence Store… 

  • A simple, fast way for staff and customers to upload and manage evidence documents, improving efficiency and user experience.
  • Once uploaded, staff will have the ability to easily manage the documents and attach to a resident’s case.

So, why are we now creating the evidence store?

  • Currently evidence documents are stored in a number of different systems (UHW, Comino, Jigsaw) which leads to confusion about which documents are held for a customer.
  • Documents are often duplicated across multiple systems to try and solve the discoverability issue but this leads to more work for officers.
  • We believe that being able to store the documents in one place and to add and view them via Single View will mean that there is less duplication and that documents are easier to find.
  • We believe we will be able to prevent officers asking customers for documents we already have.

Naturally, we needed to start the work off with a discovery into the technology – making sure it is feasible that we can even do it! 

What is the plan then? Well… 

  • Go and build the reusable evidence store API!
  • Integrate it with the existing “customer document uploads” project
  • Add integration to Single View to improve the document upload experience for officers
  • Test and see if it adds value, then explore other places where it makes sense to integrate

Keep your eyes on this one – it is going to be spicy.

Self-service Tools

In case you have forgotten: How might we design interactive web-based tools for residents to help themselves, to reduce demand and save staff time?

Well, over the last month we have run a number of workshops with staff (yes, all remote!).  Working out where the gaps are in the self-service process and starting to imagine what tools may fill these. At the last Show & Share we got the service to vote on a number of ideas to help us prioritise what we should look at first.

The top 3 ideas:

  • Self-service Plan: with steps, links and resources for finding a private rental property
  • Automated SMS Reminders: to nudge residents along their self service journey
  • One bank of resources: for all the useful tools, links and services to share

All these ideas though, have many parts to them. So we want to try out some prototypes that could form parts of them. Like calculating what you can afford and finding a private rented property. 

Over the next sprint we will be testing these tools with staff. As well as testing designs with residents; working out what works for them. Looking forward to sharing back what we learn!

That’s all folks! Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 24/06/20.

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 9: The sun has got it’s hat on!

Another lightning, sunny two weeks have passed with the team. A sprint focussing on building and testing – like always we suppose! We won’t lie, it is very hard to stay inside and do work whilst the sun is shining. But we managed to do quite a bit from testing two prototypes around Understanding Vulnerability and finished our MVP for a Shared Plan. This is of course just some of the work and thinking that has gone on. Keep reading to find out more 👀.

Understanding Vulnerability

Understanding Vulnerability is a pivotal step in our future process. Enabling us to create a bigger picture of a resident; bringing together their vulnerabilities and their strengths. Taking our learning from our crowd-sourced knowledge bank we made two prototypes in the hopes to learn;

  • What’s your experience asking wider Qs to build a picture of the resident’s situation?
  • How do you feel about capturing vulnerabilities and assets?
  • How do you feel about taking an additional step if you identify someone is vulnerable?
  • What support can we give you to work in this way?

A number of staff from the Benefits and Housing Needs service and Customer Services have been testing this for just a week and already we have learnt a lot. Thank you to all those involved! Through using the tool and open questions; the officers testing were able to get an understanding of the customers’ vulnerabilities and strengths. Helping to provide a better support solution and how to best link up with other services.

We are taking this learning and starting to develop ideas for the future:

  • The prompts for actions are a good start
  • Moving towards asking good, open questions… people often want to share but don’t know they can with you
  • Could we have different officers we can refer to who know what services are available in the community?
  • Expand the COVID multidisciplinary team set up to work for this – could flag when someone has multiple vulnerabilities

We are very excited about continuing this work, to create a product that fits into existing processes and is shown in Single View. Stayed tuned to see what that will look like.

Shared Plan

Sometimes the sun does get in the way; especially when partnered with a few bank holidays! The team had a great shorter sprint to build and make sure we had the best product to start testing. Of course, there are many parts to the shared plan – all in which are quite technical! 

Everytime we build something, we are constantly amazed about the passion and speed of our development and design team. Some of the most talented people, who are doing amazing work behind the scenes to have real impact. 👏 Watch out for an interview with them in the next Sprint Notes!

Over these last two weeks they managed to take the product from almost nothing into something incredible. See below what it looks like for the service officer and for the resident. 

The service officer view of the Shared Plan
The Resident view of their collaborated shared plan

We are super super excited to start testing this, and getting it into the hands of both residents and officers this sprint. Come back next time to find how it went and what is next. 

SMS Tool & Document Upload

The SMS tool continues to be on absolute fire. Messages being sent everywhere! You may remember last time we had 180 texts per week. Now we are almost nearing 300 texts per week! It is incredible to see the tool being used so much and widely across the service. You may be asking yourselves… what is it actually being used for? Well here you go!

  • Majority of messages are confirmation of accomodation (especially hotels) / appointment bookings (to see a place / meet in the HSC)
  • Under the age of 40 are more likely to reply
  • Quick communication:
    • Get an email address
    • Get a document
    • Ask questions related to timing of appointments / actions
  • When more ‘casual’ language is used, the resident responds more!

We will be doing a bit deeper research this sprint to understand if payments are being made after being nudged, as well as if evidence is being provided when asked for. 

Which is an amazing segway into… The Doc Upload tool! We are starting to plan how we make this a central part of the service process; which means rebranding to The Evidence Store. Legit now! Next week we will have a wider update on what this means and what the future holds for the tool. See you then!

Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 27/05/2020.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 8: Reflect, Sync, Go!

After an incredible Show & Share with over 100 people, and a number of stories being shared, the team were very energised to get started and plan our next phase of work. As we have moved with pace over the last few weeks, it became apparent that we needed to take a breath and ensure we are laying sustainable foundations.

What we are going to deliver over the next 2 months
SMS Tool & Document Upload

The SMS tool continues to get some great feedback from the service, and numbers are ever increasing in the amount of texts being sent to residents. At this very moment the service is sending an average of; 180 texts per week. With 30% of residents engaging and replying to a message.

“I’m using it a lot and in light of what’s going on at the moment. [It] is a superb tool in getting documents from the claimants quicker” Benefits and Housing Needs Officer

As above, the tool is proving itself effective in checking in with residents and nudging them to complete actions and provide information quicker.

We have continued to test the Doc Upload Tool! The tool allows a resident to take a picture of the required evidence and share it with the service. Information uploaded by residents in testing has included Universal Credit documents and medical information. There have been more and more documents being uploaded, and we have learnt a lot about what needs to be in the next iteration.

“The uploader is a quicker way of accessing documents from our claimants… it would be great if there was some way to differentiate between which documents are for other officers” Benefits and Housing Needs Officer

Stay tuned as we start to implement some changes over the next two weeks to provide staff with a much improved experience. 

Shared Plan

The main focus of this sprint was to make sure the Shared Plan had a stable base to build off. During the last phase we were making very light prototypes so we could test and iterate rapidly. Now we have to lay the groundwork to make sure the Shared Plan meets privacy and data requirements, as well as making sure we have a proper process to squash bugs.

Therefore there was a lot of amazing work happening behind the scenes. Re-building the technology so the experience in the front is usable and polished. The team also started to turn the vision into a minimum viable version; prioritising the features that had to be there first and we hope to start testing the new design with staff over the coming week.

Understanding Vulnerability

If you remember a few sprint notes ago, we were talking about Understanding Vulnerability! If you have been wondering where those updates have gone… the team decided to pause the work to focus on iterating and scaling the SMS Tool and designing the Doc Upload tool due to the pressures of Covid-19. But we are happy to welcome the work back!

How does everything fit together? Just like this!

As a recap, we believe understanding a resident’s level of vulnerability at any contact will:

  • Stop things escalating
  • Understand what level of intervention is suitable
  • Free up time to work with those most in need

Over this next sprint we will be starting to take what we learnt before and designing the next version of our Understanding Vulnerability tool. We are very much looking forward to continuing this work and sharing it with you all.

Information and Evidence & Single View

As mentioned last time, we have now completed the work on the Information and Evidence and Single View tools. We just wanted to mention that the Information and Evidence tool can be found here. This tool is complemented with updated waiting times for those residents who are considering joining the register.

These two things together can support the Council to deliver consistent and accurate information to residents about their chances of getting a property through the housing register. They can use this information to set residents’ expectations; encourage residents to consider other options; and to self-source their own properties.

Big congratulations to the team for making this happen!

Want to know more?

Here is the link to our most recent Show & Share Session 13/05/2020.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.