Transforming Community Welfare: From Fragmentation to Integration

by | Feb 9, 2023 | Community Voice

 The welfare market is broken… But not in the way you might think.

I’m not talking funding, or help on the ground. All of that works pretty well.

I’m talking about the WAY in which welfare programmes are run. It hasn’t changed in decades.

I find it continually fascinating that new sectors like fintech or SAAS – are getting huge investment in technology and innovation, whereas community welfare programmes, for those most in need in our society, have barely changed in years. It’s almost as if it’s becoming a forgotten sector.

Over the past 2 years, at We Are Digital, a tech-for-good welfare services provider, we’ve been on a journey of trying to understand what’s going on. We’ve travelled the UK meeting funders, delivery partners and users, and asked them a simple question: if things could work better, what would you change?

The answers have been pretty startling in how similar they have all been:

“There is so much duplication in what is a very fragmented market”

“Everyone is using different systems to help people – nothing is integrated”

“There is almost too much support out there – people don’t know where to go”

“Local delivery partners know their communities best, but we are bogged down in administration”

“Someone had to wait 5 days before being helped – the referral pathways were a nightmare”

“Everything was run on an Excel sheet. For a £1m programme!”

Amazingly, it doesn’t matter what the TYPE of community programme is, what the topic of support is. It could be anything. It could be debt advice. It could be digital skills support or mental health. The user journey, and the pain points that exist throughout, are seemingly identical regardless of what the person is supported with! It is amazingly agnostic.

Which got us thinking: has anyone ever looked at the WAY these things are run? The HOW not the WHAT? What if capacity in the sector, funding levels, and local community know-how was absolutely fine and not the issue here?

What if it was the methodology by which community interventions are run, that needs improving and overhauling? What if….the very product we are looking to build here, was the PROCESS??  

We Are Digital wants to solve this issue, and build the solution. We believe we have enough evidence now that it’s needed, it’s hugely impactful (if done properly), and it’s a massively scaleable proposition.

So what the hell are we talking about building I hear you cry!!

We want to build the first end-to-end platform for managing community programmes more efficiently. However this is no standalone tech platform where we simply ask “how many licenses do you need”? The tech platform is simple the enabler, the fuel; it powers the whole solution. But it is wrapped around by brilliant people: triage agents, bookers, project managers, data analysts, impact consultants, and an array of tens of thousands of amazing delivery organisations big and small all around the UK. It’s a living, breathing, live operational service wrapper around community work. It (software platform + people) literally manages these community services, in one place, as a central hub, for the first time end to end.

From the first referral in, through triage and booking, the support session given, to the end reporting, and everything in between. Imagine the NHS 111 service, but for welfare. Call one number, wherever you are and whatever your issue is – you get help. Underneath may be a hugely complex web of systems, tech, people and providers – but to the user: you just call one number.

It’s also hugely non-competitive. This is why we love the concept even more. We don’t need to, or want to, come into the welfare market and say “lets be another training provider or advice centre.” At the last count, there’s somewhere around 24,000 of these amazing organisations all over the UK, all shapes and sizes, doing amazing work. We don’t need to add to that.

What we DO think it needs, is for all of them to be brought together in a better way, end to end.

We call this: “wanting to build a better airport. We don’t want to fly the planes.” 

If we get this right, we think it helps everyone:

  1. Funders get far more efficiently run programmes, for less cost
  2. Delivery organisations, the ones who are hyper local and know their users the best, get far less administration (no triage, no referral finding, no reporting, no account management, no information gathering, no systems work) – they just do what they want to do: help people!
  3. Users get a much more impactful experience: they get seen quicker, at their point of need, for whatever their issue is. No more being pushed from pillar to post.

Let’s also clear up a few misnomers, from FAQs from the market!

Q: We don’t need another central system for everyone to use, we need local help.

A: Absolutely – this is not some self serve system, where we walk away. It’s a way of running a whole programme, live, operational every day, with real people running it. It’s simply a way of centralising and bringing together a community programme. But it only works through plugging in the local supply chain. So all the great work delivery organisations are doing, continues.

Q: Some people may not want to go through a system, they may want to walk into a local centre, or have a telephone call.

A: Exactly. Currently on most projects, these “channels” happen in silos, or only one channel is offered. Under our proposed platform, ALL channels are offered in one place: in-home support, phone support, remote video support and local centre support. Nothing is being displaced. It’s the other way around: it  ‘plugs in’ this localised help, with every channel, so users have the full choice. Your work continues as normal – it’s just tracked and managed in a more seamless way, so nothing is lost. 

Q: So many mapping projects have been done, and directories of local charities helping people – we don’t need another information source.

A: We’re not building an information directory, that needs to be constantly updated. We’re building something to be used on live, operational services in the community, that are open to users in need. Call up, get help, be booked into a local service, get tracked. It’s real, it’s live, it’s happening. This isn’t the Yellow Pages! 😊

Q: We as local community providers are the ones that know most what people want, we should be the ones helping people.

A: 100%. Our platform, and this new way of bringing together local services, ONLY works through a fantastic local supply chain of providers, big and small. We wouldn’t have a service without it. On every programme, we map the local area and bring all the organisations in. In fact, one of the big benefits is that we can fund, through these programmes, smaller delivery organisations for perhaps the first time, that may not have been involved before, but know their community best. 

Q: Aren’t there other organisations bringing things together like this, like the Good Things Foundation, with centres, devices and data?

A: No – their community model works differently. For centres they are a grants cascader to a network of centres, where those centres report back on e-learning sites like
Learn My Way. It is not a live, operational service where you can call a number to get help, and be booked into multiple channels, e.g. at home, in a community centre, or even a regulated debt advisor, to get connected to hardware or connectivity tracked end to end via one platform. Their model doesn’t work like that. People often have to go to a local centre to get a lot of the help. We are talking about pulling some elements of that together, with all the fantastic community partners and parts of the “system” to help people in need in a bigger, more elevated and joined up scale. This will then benefit more of the people we are all trying to serve, to make the customer journey as simple as possible for people who are most in need.

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People lead difficult lives. Whether it’s mental health issues, digital exclusion, unemployment, or money problems – everything is related and rarely will someone need one thing in isolation. If you multiply this out by geography, age, income, skill level and level of need, the welfare needs of the UK becomes a huge unending spiders-web of possibilities, very tailored to the end user, and hugely varied.

There is currently no system, platform, or way of working, in this sector, that can handle this. Nothing can handle users and programmes of that variety, in a single efficient way, anywhere in the UK. We want to build something that can, and build it for all of welfare.

Welfare deserves the same, if not more, innovation, investment and focus – that many other sectors have had.

To help us in this mission, we are about to close a large multi million pound investment round from the largest impact fund in Europe, who believes in our vision of bringing efficiency and impact to the welfare and community sector, worldwide.

We’ve also, in a small way, already done it. We run a lot of regional and large national community programmes across welfare already, in 40 regions of the UK. We couldn’t have done what we do without some form of this platform and way of working.

But it’s very much version 1.0. We think it’s done a lot to upend already the way in which things worked before. But we are just getting started. This investment is for version 2.0.

The possibilities are endless. Once we’ve brought everyone together, why can’t we keep plugging in? What does version 3.0 look like? Integration with case management systems? Tick. Digital skills centres want their diaries on our system? Tick. Fintech platforms can plug in to vastly speed up the time in which it takes for advisors to gather information on a user? Tick. We even know a provider that have an avatar video service to speed up triage!

These are all things we want to integrate with. They become the check-in desk, or private jet part of the airport. It really is more the merrier. 

If you’re a funder, and need something like this for your regional / community work – get in touch. If you’re a delivery partner, and want to reduce your administration, increase your funding, and focus on helping more people, not the managing of a service, get in touch. If you’re a user, wanting a better customer journey – get in touch. We want feedback from all areas of the sector, to ensure what we are developing, hits all the right notes. 

You can reach me on matt@we-are-digital.co.uk if you’d like to get involved, or hear more about our plans.

Who knows, maybe on a day in 2023, you’ll come into our new airport for a trip 😊

Written by Matthew Adam, CEO and Founder at We Are Digital