by George Eckton, CAS Director of Advice Services.
This article was first published in the Herald on 13 June 2022.
Exactly one year ago in this column CAS outlined how we wanted to use technology, through the Scottish Government’s CivTech challenge, to make sure people accessing the CAB network through a single entry point would get through to their closest Citizens Advice Bureau.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, with social distancing limiting physical access to CABs, we had set up an emergency helpline staffed by advisers across Scotland. This centralised “call centre” was a remarkable achievement in so short a time. However it did not reflect what makes the CAB network truly special, which is the fact that our advice is delivered by someone who is local to the client and really knows their community. That’s something a centralised call centre model can never replicate. Our Civtech project has been about rectifying that.
Given the size and reach of our network, and the need for quality solutions at low cost, we chose a “no-code” cost solution for our CivTech challenge: customising existing technology, rather than building a program from scratch. This meant that the process of setting up the new system was swift – we hatched the plan in October 2021 and deployed it in early February 2022
Our challenge partners SIDE Labs used an artificial intelligence (AI) system and voice recognition technology, which even allowed us to solve the long-standing issue of AI not recognising the Scottish accent!
What this means is that people seeking advice through a central phone number are now routed directly to their local CAB. That might not seem a big deal, but it has the potential to be transformative in terms of ensuring people get the very best impartial, free and confidential advice that the CAB network is justifiably proud of. We were thrilled last month to be nominated for a Digital Leaders award for the project.
The cost of living crisis means we are seeing rising demand. While the last year has seen significant progress in our ability to help people in a way that best suits their needs, the further waves of demand mean we need to use technology to help keep up. That’s why we are taking part in two further CivTech challenges this year.
One will look at how we use data to deliver the best outcomes from our clients, streamlining the case recording process for advisers, ensuring we have higher quality data to influence policymakers, and seeking to predict - and if possible, prevent - further negative outcomes for our clients.
We hold one of the biggest data sets on societal issues outside of the public sector in Scotland, so our potential to use data for good is massive.
We are also co-sponsoring, alongside White Ribbon Scotland, a challenge to share best practice across networks. This type of project management could be a huge benefit to CABs but also to others in the voluntary sector, enabling them to keep track of multiple commitments across service delivery, advocacy, business development and outreach, as well as sharing best practice within the network itself.
We’d encourage any organisation that thinks they can help us deliver these solutions to put themselves forward and help ensure our CABs can deliver the best possible service to people across Scotland.