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  • Could taking Service Directories mainstream be a step towards improving our social care service?

    By Paul Tomlinson, Managing Director of IEG4 

    It was a hotly debated topic in the recent election and the subject of focus in the Prime Ministers recent Queen’s Speech. Social care funding is under the microscope like never before.

    In her thought-provoking TedTalk, entitled ‘Social Services Are Broken. How Can We Fix Them?’, author Hilary Cottam summed up the problem. She stated that around £250,000 is spent, per family, each year on around 100,000 families within the UK.  However, the full £250,000 is not spent on delivering care services to the families themselves. Instead, it’s being consumed by running the support systems which have built-up around them.

    Her analysis suggests that 86% of a social worker’s effort is spent feeding information to meet the needs of those support systems. Leaving a maximum of 14% of the social worker’s time to gather information from the individual and build a relationship with them.

    In addition to that, social worker time is spent sifting through cases of those who may seek support, but who are, more likely than not, unable to meet the eligibility criteria.

    The costs and dynamics of this system are unsustainable. In an increasingly digital age, it’s simply unacceptable that the lion’s share of a social workers time has to be spent on data entry and admin. The balance of effort spent feeding information into the system versus customer-facing and relationship building time must be reversed. But how can this be achieved? And, how can the system be improved for social workers?

    Help your customers to help you 

    When customers first seek out social care support from their local authority, the first port of call is often their council’s website.

    However, finding an up-to-date and reliable view of support services in an area is more difficult than it needs to be. Fragmented service directories offer a confusing, and often, only a partial, view of what is actually available to people within an area. Service information can gradually go out of date as maintaining it across multiple directories is difficult to synchronise and the responsibility for doing so often unclear.

    By outsourcing time-consuming data-entry activities – such as entry of personal details to customers by providing them with effective digital solutions – you give them faster and more convenient access to what they see as improved services. You also give the power back to the customer as they can ensure their details are up to date and correct.

    The technology isn’t the issue, there has to be a wider vision

    The fragmentation of available services is not a technology challenge. With cloud-based computing, modern browsers and communications – an instant view of all services is already available to local authorities and more accessible than ever before.

    Collaboration is essential. Sharing the service directory across community stakeholders and making these services easy to find as part of the council’s mainstream offer is vital. Even if the services are not provided by the council, they need to lead the way in order for others to follow.

    Providing a focal point for support services, and simple tools to locate them, will help the council’s hard-pressed staff to keep on top of service availability. These very same tools can be made public, in order to engage with many more staff and citizens.

    Whilst many people who are responsible for the care of elderly parents, or children with special needs, might not themselves be eligible for council support services, the people they support may be. Publishing easy to find and trusted services enables self-help and reduces unnecessary contact with the council.

    Alleviating the pressure with a digital Service Directory

    Councils are perceived as one of the ‘go to’ organisations for citizens to find out what services are available in an area, even though those services may not actually be provided by them.

    They have an important role as a trusted focal point, and digital solutions can provide a central place online where users could easily access information without having to ask their social care provider. Empowering staff and public alike.

    For example, IEG4’s OneVu Customer Engagement Portal provides access to all mainstream services offered by a council. It can be used to present information to one social worker to help them in their role, or it could help thousands of citizens to find services relevant to them or those they care for.

    Choosing the right provider 

    By implementing a customer engagement platform on local authority websites, we will see improved access for citizens via a single log-in portal, which can support a wide range of services within the single platform – taking service directories for social services mainstream.

    By working with the right provider, who has the knowledge and expertise to help find the right solution for your organisation, this can be quick to achieve. It can also be cost-effective by reducing call-handling volumes, freeing up time for social workers to focus on the tasks that really matter, such as spending more one-on-one time with people and building those all-important relationships.

    Further to this, the right customer engagement portal will help people navigate to the relevant services earlier, which not only reduces escalations and crises, but also has the potential to alleviate the pressure on our social care system which can only be seen as beneficial to all stakeholders.

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