A taste for tech. After harnessing AI, Citizens Advice Scotland is embarking on its next digital programme
Fresh from deploying an artificial intelligence solution to improve national call-handling capabilities, Citizens Advice Scotland is about to embark on its next round of digital augmentation.
The national network of 59 bureaux is launching a new data-driven innovation programme to radically enhance its internal systems, with the goal of deriving new insights into the data it holds – delivering improved advice and advocacy outcomes for the tens of thousands of Scots who rely on its impartial and friendly services every year.
The free and confidential advice service currently uses a bespoke case management system, which although robust, can be viewed by advisers as an unnecessary administrative burden at a time when they are working hard to support an increasing number of clients with cost of living issues. While mandatory data fields are always completed, discretionary fields are often left blank, meaning that the national advocacy team at CAS is restricted in the analysis it can carry out on the experiences of its users and wider societal trends. This is information that is vital for the organisation’s work in influencing and shaping government policy.
So, buoyed by the success of implementing its AI solution in February this year, enabling the automated helpline to now recognise the Scots accent – directing callers to their local services – CAS is working once again with CivTech, the Scottish Government’s national innovation accelerator. This time, though, it is seeking help with not-one-but-two ‘challenges’ to bring further ‘tech for good’ benefits to its own organisation and also as co-sponsor with White Ribbon Scotland, a charity that seeks to reduce violence against women.
As the main sponsor of the first challenge, CAS hopes to identify and then work with a tech partner to fast-track product development on a deployable solution by the end of January next year, which will start to transform the way advisers engage with data.
Polly Tolley, director of impact at Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), explained: “The work we did through CivTech last year – working with SIDE Labs on the highly innovative, ‘no-code’ PolyAI solution – was an eye-opening experience for us as an organisation.
“By taking a fresh approach to our call handling system we were able to introduce novel and innovative technology, significantly improving the client experience and maintaining our core values around local service delivery.”
She added: “With CivTech 7, our main sponsor challenge is all about data. Our data is a highly valuable asset, and the network has taken great steps in recent years in collecting and presenting it. We know that it is a unique selling point we have for policymakers in terms of achieving influencing success on behalf of citizens. Improving this area would be another significant step forward in the digital transformation of our service and ensuring we can meet the twin goals of our network of both advocacy and advice.”
The second challenge is a more organisational one. CAS is working with White Ribbon Scotland – a national charity that works to try and address violence against women. CAS, which has its own extensive network, is working alongside WRS to source a system that can provide greater connectivity between their own local organisations, volunteer and community groups doing the work on the ground. The objective is to use technology to improve its organisational and operational effectiveness, and to better evidence the work it does.
David Thompson, campaign director for White Ribbon Scotland, said: “Essentially, we need to be looking at a project management and volunteer management solution. In addition to that, we need to streamline the actions that we’ve taken on board, so we know what the timescales are for those actions, and we get reminders that keep us on track for all the different projects that we’re running. That in turn will allow us to provide good support to local community projects.”
George Eckton, director of advice services at Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), said: “When we’ve tried spreadsheet solutions before, they’ve ended up effectively being just big to-do lists, which is not the interaction that we need. This is about some wider thinking and general exploration with us about what we do; it’s exciting to think that we might find a technological solution enables interaction between people, stores institutional memory and is technologically administered and kept clean so it can be searched quickly and accurately.”
The system would ideally record information of value to the organisations large and small that can be shared through its network. It would also check progress on the projects overseen by WRS, and allow for resource sharing between regional and local groups so best practice information could be stored centrally and accessed by the network as appropriate.
Questions for the CAS and CAS/WRS CivTech 7 Challenges can be submitted by 4pm on Tuesday 21 June, with a closing date for interested parties of midday, Tuesday 28 June.
For further details visit the CivTech 7 Challenges website.