Social services agencies are long-accustomed to operating in a complex and fast-changing environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has doubled down on those challenges. Social services agencies now find themselves on the front line dealing with the impacts created by the severe economic impacts COVID-19 creates. These range from whole new support programs to addressing sudden and intense spikes in unemployment.
The power of three: Safe, equitable and effective
In my previous blog, I looked at how COVID-19 changes the context for social services agencies. In this ‘never normal’ environment, agencies have to both do different things and do them differently. But they also need to make sure that key principles guide their actions, so that they can achieve safety, equity and effectiveness in the services and support they provide.
Digital stream becomes a torrent
The shift towards digital delivery that was clearly evident before the pandemic has now become an imperative that all agencies must act on. Of course, technology is foundational to digital services. But the human element should never be forgotten. Virtual experiences need to come with a human element and harness digital delivery to create seamless, productive and trusted interactions.
For example, virtual visits between social service staff and citizens can be delivered via video conferencing. But for the experience to make a positive impact, it has to offer more than just a conventional video call. Self-service scheduling, reminders and notifications should put the citizen in charge. They should be able to get answers to simple queries via virtual assistants, making the service user-friendly and freeing up people to focus on more complex matters. Secure exchange of documents and other information also needs to be built in, so citizens feel confident that the information they provide remains private and protected. And that’s fundamental to creating the trust required to help citizens migrate to digital channels.
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Virtual experiences need to come with a human element and harness digital delivery to create seamless, productive and trusted interactions.
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Security is one element of trust, but it’s far from the only criteria. Many services have been made available via digital channels well before COVID-19. But people were reluctant to use them. Trusting a service means being able to rely on it. Simple measures such as having to sign on only once, easy data input and communications that keep applicants up to date all seem obvious, but they can go a long way to building citizens’ confidence and trust.
The trust between citizens and the agencies supporting them is crucial. But trust also has to flow between different agencies tasked with solving social challenges. The pandemic has served to highlight inequalities that manifest themselves in multiple ways. Addressing them depends on agencies and other partners – public and private sector - working effectively together to create solutions that achieve the best possible outcomes. And that, in turn, requires trust between partners to share data and resources in order to secure shared objectives.
During the pandemic, social services agencies have shown incredible resolve and innovation to deliver on their mission in uniquely difficult circumstances. As we emerge, there’s a chance to build on the lessons learned and move further and faster ahead to outmanoeuvre future uncertainty. It’s an opportunity that all agencies should take.
I’d be very interested to hear from you about the unique challenges your agency has faced and the steps that you have taken to address them.
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