By Will Horwitz
A few years ago we started looking into how Newham’s local Jobcentre could run a better service for its users, many of whom were coming to us for advice when the service let them down.
We began with the principle that those who experience a problem understand it best, and asked service users and frontline staff about their experiences. It quickly became apparent that filling in forms correctly was a big challenge for users, many of whom spoke English as a second language. Seventy per cent of forms submitted were rejected first time around, meaning extra work for staff, and long delays (of six to eight weeks) before claimants received the benefits owed to them.
We identified a straightforward solution: recruit local volunteers who spoke appropriate languages to assist people in filling in their forms. We piloted the project, installing volunteers in the Jobcentre and matching them with people who were struggling with their forms. The results were spectacular – the rejection rate for forms fell from 70 per cent to one per cent. The waiting time for processing a claim fell from six-eight weeks to three-five days. We calculated that the pilot saved over a year of staff time. The centre’s performance shot up to become one of the best in the country. And, as an unintended but welcome consequence, 30 per cent of the volunteers who had been unemployed went on to get a job.
This is just one example of the success of our Everyday Innovators approach – working with frontline staff and service users to improve public services. It is based on thorough research with those who know best, people experiencing the problem. Community Links trains other organisations in the approach – if you’d like to find out how to achieve real change in your public services, download the brochure here, or contact Aaron Barbour on 020 7473 9666 (dd) and firstname.lastname@example.org