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Mobilising volunteers during COVID-19: An interview with Peopletoo

In March, NHSX launched TechForce19 in partnership with PUBLIC, AHSN and the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government. A month later, 18 companies were announced as winners of the TechForce19 program and began testing their digital solutions across the UK. In this interview we spoke to Kirsty Jordan, Services Developer at TechForce19 winner Peopletoo, to hear more about the company’s TechForce19 journey in partnership with Novoville, deploying the GetVolunteering platform.

What do you do at Peopletoo and why did you embark on this venture?

Peopletoo provide support to local government and health through the design and implementation of affordable and outcome focused services. We combine comprehensive understanding of frontline service delivery, with expertise in financial management, demand modelling, cultural change and best practice.

Our team has engineered several hundred transformation initiatives in the last decade, providing tailored recommendations and informing strategic decision-making across a range of public sector partners.

We partnered with Novoville to deliver this venture. Novoville is a market leader in in digital customer engagement, implementing SaaS and mobile technology in record time to support public sector organisations in engaging, serving and transacting with residents.

We embarked on the venture to bring together our complimentary skills of expertise in transformation across the public sector and technology innovation to create a product and approach that drives better outcomes for people and value for organisations. We set out to create a solution that supports with the immediate challenges of Covid-19, but more importantly enables organisations to build on the innovation and learning to develop sustainable approaches for the future.

How does your solution help the vulnerable and isolated?

One of the biggest challenges in the Covid-19 crisis is supporting vulnerable citizens. The impact of Covid-19 and associated social distancing rules has resulted in issues that impact people and public sector services now, but will increase demand for services over time, including social isolation, Mental Health issues, reduced mobility, increased burden on informal carers and reduced support for people with long term conditions. Volunteers and communities can provide vital intervention to reduce the impact. Whilst there has been a huge number of volunteers during Covid-19, in many areas they have not been strategically utilised to support all these issues and many areas have struggled to manage the demand and capacity.

GetVolunteering creates a sustainable approach to developing and retaining community capacity, creating a single ‘gateway’ bringing together organisations across a local area on to one platform. The innovative technology unifies disparate systems to generate efficiency gains including time savings and economies of scale and availability of data helps to evidence impact and develop a much more person-centered approach.

How has your company adapted to tackle Covid-19 related challenges?

We have been really fortunate to be able to work with both our existing clients and some new clients across the public sector to help them to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. We have provided our expertise and hands on support in tackling complex problems including responding to changing legislation, managing the external provider market, considering the future use of buildings and physical assets and managing increasing demand.

Across all of this work, we have seen increased use of technology as a key theme, with the GetVolunteering work being a key example. There is a real opportunity to build on the innovation and change seen over the past few months to create sustainable and resilient public services for the future.

Can you tell us more about how you’ve deployed your technology as part of the TechForce19 challenge?

The three week TechForce19 challenge was run with Kirklees Be-friending Partnership who have utilised the app to engage and communicate with their volunteer pool, through push messaging, surveys as consistent communications, as well as streamline collation of information about volunteering activity through easy to use forms and a simple cloud based dashboard. Extremely positive feedback was received, with all users rating the app 8/10 or above (86% said 9 or 10) and 93% saying the app was easy to use. The solution was found to have saved both volunteers and the organsiation significant amounts of time.

The solution is now being developed in several other organisations across local government and the NHS and will be utilised to support the whole volunteering process, from recruitment to retaining and managing volunteers. We are exploring how this can be used across local areas to bring together several organisations.

Have you learned any valuable lessons during this period of change and uncertainty?

It has been a time of huge learning, both for us and for our clients and partners across the public sector. There has been a real eye-opening to the possibilities of working differently and innovating rapidly. Change has been delivered in weeks that would in normal circumstances take months or even years. We are now working with many of our clients to build on the lessons learnt, embedding positive changes that have come from the Covid-19 response, including increased use of technology, better joint working across partners, creative and strengths based practice and reduced bureaucracy. There is no doubt that there will be a huge impact of Covid-19 on the financial and demand challenges faced by the public sector, meaning that harnessing this learning is even more vital.

Advice for GovTech founders?

Our advice would be to grab all the opportunities you can and to maximise them. The TechForce19 competition has been a brilliant catalyst for GetVolunteering, not only has it funded the pilot of the solution, the support received from all TechForce19 partners in terms of promoting the solution, providing advice and helping us to consider opportunities to scale up the product has been brilliant.

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