London Borough of Barking and Dagenham helps save countless lives with a dedicated portal for isolated and vulnerable residents
A residents' COVID-19 assistance portal built using the GOSS Digital Platform has helped Barking and Dagenham council identify and provide help to its most isolated and vulnerable residents in record time.
A former LGC Council of the Year and regarded as a leader in resident participation and engagement by several think tanks, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham is responsible for council services across nearly 14 square miles of greater London.
The Challenge: Safeguarding its residents during a global pandemic
When faced with a public emergency on the scale of COVID-19, few local authorities - if any - will have been fully prepared for what's faced them. But the innovative ways that councils have responded to the pandemic are among the many success stories to come out of the crisis.
Indeed, Barking and Dagenham found itself in a situation where it had to prioritise preserving life and public health using the resources it had at its disposal: several unique community organisations with well-established volunteer networks keen to engage and help their community.
The challenge was how to create and assign tasks to the council's community partners for community organisations to action - without putting unnecessary pressure on already busy staff. The council was also concerned that the escalating health crisis would overwhelm its contact centre - preventing its most vulnerable residents from getting access to vital services.
Council leaders quickly realised that without an immediate solution, many of its most isolated and vulnerable residents would take unnecessary risks - or worse still - go without food and support.
Barking and Dagenham council needed a proven solution that could help it quickly deploy a new COVID-19 support portal on its website for those in need, and gather data on the army of volunteers tasked with providing that lifeline.
The portal also needed to integrate with GOV.UK Pay - enabling residents to pay for vital food parcels online and helping to reduce the council's contact centre workload.
The Solution: Reliable, customisable forms that are quick to create and deploy
Barking and Dagenham Council had a pre-existing relationship with GOSS, using the GOSS Digital Platform for many of its website's forms, content, and self-serve capabilities. So, when council department leaders came together to look for an appropriate COVID-19 response, GOSS was the natural choice.
Maxine Brown, Customer Experience & Digital Improvement Manager at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham explains: "With the sudden lockdown and isolation of many of our most vulnerable residents, time was of the essence. My team worked to design and deliver a case management solution in-house suited to our residents needs with the technical tools we already had and the GOSS Platform sat at the heart of the resultant case management system. We already rely on GOSS for many existing council services, so building the COVID-19 portal using GOSS was the obvious way forward".
The digital team wasted no time in building a process map, working with the council's in-house developers and GOSS to plan how Barking and Dagenham Council would quickly build and deploy the portal, while also ensuring it addressed specific needs.
The first stage was to deploy the portal; with one half of it focused on serving vulnerable people who couldn't leave the house, and the other to initially gather data on volunteers who would be tasked with delivering groceries, walking pets, or helping to reduce loneliness and mental health issues brought on by the crisis.
The team quickly designed the application in the GOSS Platform, using its integration capabilities to seamlessly connect the online service to a bespoke case management system (CMS).
In addition, location display and case progress tracking capabilities were deployed - essential tools for volunteers who need to quickly locate addresses and update jobs as completed. "Most residents are used to the council's website workflow, so building the CMS and forms using GOSS templates meant it was one less thing to worry about when integrating data and payments to back end systems", says Brown.
The council also wanted to ensure help wouldn't be delayed due to unreliable payment processing. By integrating with GOV.UK Pay, the new portal now makes it easy to see which residents have paid for food parcels, and issue refunds if necessary with a single click - removing a vast amount of potential admin.
The agile digital team at Barking and Dagenham started with an MVP designed and deployed within 4 days and then iterated from there; "We're using resident feedback to make constant improvements and iterations to the portal. Simple drag and drop functionality - including the ability to write custom code if necessary - means we can quickly respond to feedback or guidance updates", says Brown.
The Results: A pandemic support portal that helps thousands of residents
The human impact of Barking and Dagenham Council's efforts is stark. In the first two months of going live, more than 350 volunteers registered to use the portal. In addition, 1,700 residents registered for assistance, of which more than 200 successfully paid for food parcels using the portal.
What's more, the portal has had a significant impact on internal council services. Not only has it eased the additional pressure on teams who still have their normal jobs to perform, but it's also helped to prevent the council's contact centre from experiencing additional, unnecessary workloads during the crisis.
Brown explains the reality of the impact: "To say the portal we launched with GOSS has exceeded our expectations is an understatement. At the start of the pandemic, everyone in the council assumed the worst. But thanks to the administration time it's saved, we've been able to focus our attentions on more important tasks."
Barking and Dagenham's COVID-19 support portal has been so well received by council employees and residents, council leaders are now looking at ways they can extend its capabilities across other services.
"The portal has helped significantly reduce the time spent on administration. So, as we look to managing the next phase of our pandemic response, we're confident we have a robust and adaptable platform in place that's capable of providing the right support for our community", says Brown.