A Digital Upgrade – Stage 01
Our path to finding the solution for better and easier communication with beneficiaries is winding and long, and not without potholes. Just last week we had to veto the platforms SIDElabs presented to us, and start the search all over again.
Whilst looking for solutions we have consulted organisations working with similar groups of beneficiaries to understand more about how other organisations are utilising automated texting and learn what the perfect method of communication would look like to different stakeholders. Personal contact: be it a text message or a phone call, was identified as the best method of communication, and the big fear was that people would not read automated messages which would ultimately result in losing connection with service users.
Amidst the fears of this week which we now know are shared with colleagues from different organisations, there were also some positives! Our digital partner SIDElabs have come across TutorBird- automated reminders of activities for beneficiaries and their carers (for those who are under 18). We were eager to trial out automated messaging to see if our fears are warranted, and were thrilled to see that we could modulate the text message content to make it more personal. We have decided to trial Tutorbird with beneficiaries attending three of our activities over the next two weeks – Art Club, a Youth ESOL class, and Women’s Yoga group, who will all receive automated text messages an hour before each activity. It’s a little scary to put our fate in the hands of an automated system, but we’re trusting the process and hope by moving away from what we know, we’ll find better solutions for the future!
We also were curious to trial automated reminders for the foster carers and key workers of our under-18 beneficiaries, which we often are unable to do because of time constraints but think will increase the number of young people joining our services. From the two youth groups that we are piloting, we contacted 6 carers in each group’s call list: 3 of those young people who are actively engaging in our activities and 3 of those who have not come to the class recently. All carers whom we had a chance to speak to with were eager to receive reminders during this trial period and said they think that it will be helpful to remind young people about activities. This will be easier for the foster carers of young people, who prefer to be contacted by mobile, than the key workers of young people living in semi-independent accommodation who are contactable only through an office number or email address. We will be following up with the carers after our trial of two weeks to see if they found it helpful.
Looking at new solutions helps us to understand our needs much better- through brief conversations about Tutorbird with our team we realised that we’re worried about adding another parallel platform to the CARAS system. We already use Office 365, Gmail, and Lamplight (our CRM), and the thought of one more addition is unnerving to the team, particularly uploading new beneficiaries to the platform on a constant basis. Despite these fears, we’re open to new possibilities and are eager to see whether automated messages through Tutorbird are advantageous!
After our initial meeting with SIDElabs, we were so excited about the thought of less time spent sending reminders about our activities, and more time spent contemplating on and implementing new activities and groups that are meaningful in lockdown London! One week later, SIDElabs presented us with 4 calendar and appointment systems which they’d shortlisted: Eventbrite, Bookwhen, Facebook, and Loxio.
Whilst these platforms provide systems through which beneficiaries can sign up to our activities, they had big downsides for us. Firstly, free registration would allow anyone and everyone to sign up for our services, which meant that the small programs that we are currently running would potentially face increase strain from those who fall outside of our eligibility criteria – to be living in South London, and had a refugee background. We’ve seen over the past six months a big increase in referrals from across London, well outside our usual geographical scope of referral, and an open system would inhibit our ability to ensure that our services continue to be directed to groups often unable to access mainstream services – adult refugees and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The open sign-up systems offered by each of the shortlisted platforms also bypass the intake meeting that we do with each new beneficiary – a step that is crucial for us to welcome individuals into the CARAS community and also identify important and urgent casework concerns which allow our casework team to act rapidly. Whilst these platforms allow beneficiaries to have a single landing site where they can see and sign up for all of the CARAS activities, they ultimately weren’t in line with our needs. Through discussion, we also noted that the importance of email address and email use would be a barrier for many of our beneficiaries, particularly the young people we work with, who often don’t have or regularly use email.
On to the next! We’ve taken lessons from our foray into Eventbrite, Loxio, and Bookwhen, but know that ultimately we will need a more complex system – one that has a master calendar for all our activities, which we can change freely, and allows users to be linked to events, automatically sending out an invitation and reminder text messages to make life as easy as possible for those we serve. Ideally, this would be built into our current CRM software but SIDElabs pointed out how tricky it is to link event software with Whatsapp, the primary app we use for corresponding with our beneficiaries, so we’re excited to see how we can correspond and innovate around that problem.