The organizational systems you have in place are important to provide effective benefits access supports.
A Client Management System (CMS) can help staff manage long-term relationships with clients. It also helps when multiple staff are engaging with a client. In the context of benefits access, client management systems help staff to provide the right supports at the right time and avoid duplicating previous supports or requests for information. It can help staff track the client’s goals, past staff engagement, action plans, and progress. Depending on the needs and size of your organization, a CMS be a simple Excel spreadsheet, or a customized application.
Accessing benefits can be a complex, multi-step process. A CMS can help staff pinpoint where individual clients are in their journey and support them in their immediate next steps.
Other considerations for a CMS
- If sharing information with a Community of Practice or across branches of your organization, a database where shared statistics can be captured helps to communicate to funders the deeper need and impact and to help talk about the situation in broader terms.
- If possible, systems should be flexible and adaptable to capture all funders required information. Ideally the system should be able to be tailored by the organization to add new information when required.
- Sometimes a CMS will have limitations and information will also need to be collected using an excel spreadsheet.
- Some organizations assign an ID number to remove identifying names from the database
It is important to understand the impact of your benefits access service as this will help you identify best practices and areas for improvement and will be useful when reporting to funders. Systems for collecting data and measuring impact can include client surveys, focus groups with staff members, or follow-up interviews with clients, depending on the resources your organization has available.
Prosper Canada’s Indicators for Financial Empowerment resource provides a great starting point for standardized Continuous Improvement Systems.
Continuous Improvement Systems
Access to benefits work is a practice that requires ongoing learning, reflection, and adaptation. Staff at all levels will develop perspectives on what is working, and what is not. A continuous improvement system can help to ensure improvements take place. It can include formal channels for staff to log suggestions, creating time and space for staff to identify and pursue process improvements, and regular team retrospectives to share experiences and reflect on potential changes. There can also be incentives or recognition for championing effective changes, as well as efforts to build an internal culture of continuous improvement.
It is important to recognize that as you do benefit access work, your understanding of how to do the work well will increase, but that it requires conscious effort and management support to enable this new understanding to lead to positive changes in client experience and outcomes.
Other considerations for data and impact collection
Most systems measure the impact of access to benefits in the short term, such as what new benefits were received, or how much income was added to the household. It is harder to gain medium and long-term data on issues such as stress reduction or quality of life. If possible, consider ways to conduct pre and post assessments for the mid to longer term.
Referrals are critical to accessing benefits, as many organizations do not provide all the supports an individual may need. However, it is easy for clients to get lost in the transitions between service providers or between organizations. A clear referral process or system can help clients overcome the barriers they may experience when being referred.
An effective referral system should have the following components:
- A list of referral organizations that includes contact information and details on the services provided distributed to all staff so that referrals do not depend on an individual staff person’s network. This list needs to be kept up-to-date to remain effective.
- A process to help the client connect with the referred agency to ensure a successful transition. This could include calling the referral contact with the client, joining them at their first meeting, or asking the referred agency to confirm when the client has made contact.
- A feedback mechanism to assess whether the referrals made are appropriate and useful could involve checking with the client and the referral agency whenever possible to ask if the referral process or relationship can be improved in any way. This can be done via an online survey, email, or phone.
Many organizations provide telephone, online or in-person options for clients but find that online or in-person are most effective as documents can be viewed together. Online services can reduce barriers for some clients who may struggle to access in-person supports but should not be offered exclusively as in-person supports remain the lowest barrier option for many other clients.
There are pros and cons to providing services online
- Online service works well for clients for which coming into the office can be a barrier (time, cost, childcare supports needed, etc.).
- It can be difficult to talk about finances in person, for some it is more comfortable to do so from home and online.
- Some organizations find that online service reduces the number of no-shows compared to what they experience when booking in-person appointments. Otherwise, weather conditions, lack of childcare and other issues can increase the occurrence of no-shows.
- Online supports allow the front-line worker and the client to a share screen and move through the form while filing it out together. This also allows everyone to confirm in real time that the information is accurate and that the process is done correctly.
- If providing workshops on benefits and taxes, recorded sessions allow clients to choose when they engage with the content on their own time.
- Not everyone has access to the technology needed to communicate online.
- In some remote regions people do not have access to internet or it is very unreliable or expensive.
- Some clients (for example, seniors) have low digital literacy and find online navigation difficult or frustrating. In some instances, staff have spent a lot of time on the phone explaining how to open an email for a video meeting, which reduces the amount of time they have to discuss tax information.
- When you share a screen, you see a very tiny picture of person so it can be hard to determine their body language and facial expressions. It is easier to build trust when delivering service in- person, however it is possible online as well.
- Often clients say they don’t feel as supported online or via telephone as they do when meeting face to face.
- It can be exhausting for staff to work entirely online, due to screen fatigue. It is important to build in time in-between appointments and to ensure that staff have opportunities to take breaks for self-care.
If you offer service and support online, consider the following
- If you have capacity and the expertise, offer workshops to help clients increase their digital literacy, or refer them to other organizations that offer this programming.
- See if there is any support in your community to help clients access the technology they need. Check out reBOOT Canada.
- Consider offering courses or workshops for clients to learn more about how to navigate benefit applications online. You can also offer workshops on how to use the Benefit wayfinder and demonstrate how it works.
- Some organizations provide digital training for staff so they can better help clients with online navigation.