In this guest blog, George Eckton from Citizen's Advice Scotland writes about how they used Civtech to help them make big changes to their helpline systems with a No-Code approach.
At Citizen’s Advice Scotland, the Covid pandemic accelerated a trend we’d already been seeing: people need a choice of channels to access advice. For some people, there is still no substitute for face-to-face advice. But social distancing meant we had to work hard to improve what we could do with digital channels.
Building on our experience of launching the Scottish Citizen Advice Helpline (SCAH) service, we wanted to enable everyone wishing to use our services to be able to use a single access point to consistently reach the right local Citizen’s Advice Bureaux advisers. The complete reverse of a traditional call centre. This would not only ensure that people got advice from people local to them, but it would also enable us to deploy advisers at more local locations.
This matters because local advice is what makes the CAB network so special. Each bureau is its own independent charity, organised to best suit the needs of their local community. That local knowledge and intelligence gives people a much better service than a centralised, remote, call centre.
Why No-Code? Well in the first instance, we knew we couldn’t buy the solution off the shelf for our challenge, so we engaged with CivTech. The project was about how tech can help us create the best possible experience for people engaging with the Citizens Advice network but at the lowest cost and greatest benefit to Scotland.
No-Code is a slightly confusing name. It does involve code! But instead of crafting a new application from scratch, no-coders construct their own apps for clients by combining apps together like building blocks to create a new product. Coding in a way but at a larger level, with big blocks of code/app rather than individual lines. For example, you can use webflow to build a website up from options and design patterns rather than coding from scratch.
In CivTech terms, the key ‘product’ we are delivering in this project, other than a new inclusive helpline, is a No-Code process for accelerated digital transformation of the Citizens Advice network. Much of the work in this project is building on current applications and proving that the process in works in a live environment, and then finding ways to share its success with the wider network and whole voluntary sector.
We learnt we could deliver success quicker using No-Code. Working with Civtech and SIDE Labs, we have been able to deploy a state-of-the-art AI system on our helpline within three months, so that clients are directed to their most local and knowledgeable adviser.
Through user testing we have also enhanced the product in terms of its accessibility and use of AI voice systems to recognise Scottish accents. We have reduced costs significantly, not just for CAS but also for others who may want to use this system in Scotland.
We have learnt using the No-Code sprint approach how to make it easier for users and clients to participate in shaping the services that affect them. This more accessible No-Code development process means that citizens can have a more meaningful say in shaping their services.
The No-Code approach fits well with the voluntary sector’s principles, prioritising cost effectiveness and focussing on delivering client needs and aggregation of outcomes from the bottom-up, in line with local volunteers, volunteering for and within local communities.
No-Code offers significantly better value for money than standard software development by building on pre-existing solutions and customising them rather than building from the bottom up. We have delivered a system, more tailored to accents across Scotland, for a fraction of the price of a corporate system, and a wider process that has enabled us to achieve reduction in operating costs for this year. This design and solution process can work for charities big and small and we plan to publish a small playbook guide as part of our final CivTech challenge write up. We believe it can deliver solutions without the need for massive technical knowledge. It could be a game changer not just for Citizens Advice, but for the whole voluntary sector.