At a time of ever-rising demand, London’s Haringey Council found an effective, affordable way to provide better adult social care services and improve the teamwork and morale of its front-line social workers.
Every day, thousands of people rely on councils in England for housing support and other essential services. But funding constraints and inefficiencies are putting service capacities under significant strain. Haringey Council in North London was one of those local authorities struggling to deal with requests in the face of shrinking budgets. Additionally, its social workers simply weren’t able to spend their time in the most effective way to best serve those in their communities. It asked for PwC to help its employees, resulting in quick, measurable and lasting improvements.
Together, Haringey Council and PwC took a chance on a new approach, at the heart of which was a new digital application – PerformPlus – built in conjunction with the social workers themselves. Coupled with a performance coaching programme, it delivered an outstanding outcome for the Council, the social workers and, more importantly, the people of Haringey.
Over a few short months, a digital whiteboard app was developed with the help of a design team and social workers themselves, and then deployed to more than 100 staff providing social care services. Social workers learned to use the app while also adopting new ways of working – in a matter of weeks. This helped to develop a greater sense of teamwork and freed up time for social workers to focus on more complex client needs.
One year later, the digital app continues to be widely used, allowing Haringey Council to provide more tailored support to clients while also saving more than £1 million on third-party services. After the arrival of COVID-19, the app has also been adopted by other councils looking to find more effective, cost-efficient and user-friendly ways of working remotely. The technology built for Haringey has paved the way for enabling similar change elsewhere, and the programme has since been replicated for other councils, creating a positive impact on social care provision.
Adult social care services were under stress in the London Borough of Haringey. An ageing population meant rising demand for services, but years of budget constraints made it harder for Haringey Council to deliver those services. These included home-based care, housing, support for people with disabilities and dealing with issues of abuse.
Social workers on the front line also faced challenges: with most of their time spent out in the field, they felt isolated and less of a team. This hurt morale and also made it difficult to get answers from colleagues quickly while working to solve client problems. All of these issues affected the Council’s ability to provide clients with prompt and effective services.
Looking to better meet clients’ and social workers’ needs, Haringey Council wanted a solution that worked quickly, delivered measurable improvements and created lasting new capabilities.
Haringey Council and PwC took a chance on a new approach: a digital team app for social workers based on a whiteboard system, previously developed by PwC. That system had successfully improved service delivery and teamwork in a council contact centre, and earned highly favourable reviews from staff. But it hadn’t been previously applied outside the office.
A design firm was enlisted to create the digital app, PerformPlus, in collaboration with over 100 social workers who would be using the tool. Over just 14 weeks, social workers and designers worked together to identify top requirements for users, create the app, deploy and fine-tune it through regular testing, feedback and iteration.
The goal was to embed real change in how social workers collaborated and provided services in the field. This meant creating a digital whiteboard through which social workers could ‘huddle’ with one another daily, ask for answers to questions and visually track team activities and performance. Another critical element was providing a way for users to celebrate successes – from a team member’s birthday to someone achieving a performance target. This helped to build morale and camaraderie across the organisation. To speed adoption, it was also important that the app be simple to use from either a smartphone or a laptop.
Throughout the transformation, social workers received daily coaching to encourage them to use the app, experiment with it and make suggestions for continued refinements. These daily coaching sessions were a real driver of change.
The PerformPlus app project delivered on all of Haringey Council’s objectives. It proved its effectiveness quickly – in a little over three months. It freed up time for social workers to focus greater attention on complex cases with the most need, improving outcomes for clients. This also reduced the need to pursue more expensive third-party services, which saved the council more than £1 million in costs.
The digital app has helped build a sense of teamwork among social workers, improving morale. And it’s had a lasting impact on how staff work. More than a year later, over 90% of social workers use the tool daily. And the app’s success led other councils, such as Lambeth and Harrow, to adopt the tool when COVID-19 and lockdowns forced a rapid switch to remote working and additional workloads.
The greatest challenge in rolling out Haringey’s digital app was that such an approach had never been taken before: this would be the first time trying out the whiteboard system in a digital environment and PwC had previously led such short-term projects only in the private sector. This meant the entire programme was essentially a proof of concept from the start.
Another challenge was that the project required social workers to do two things at once: to learn and adopt a new technology while also changing their daily behaviour and ways of working. This required daily coaching as well as close interaction with the product development team.
The success of this programme depended on the established, trusted relationship between Haringey Council and PwC, and the Council’s willingness to take a chance on investing in its people as well as technology to improve client outcomes.
It also demonstrated the importance of close alignment and regular communication between developers, coaches/trainers and end users (in this case, social workers). This has now been built into the PerformPlus methodology.
This programme also showed there is a predictable adoption curve that users experience over 14 weeks. After some resistance in the first two weeks, team members begin enjoying the training between the third and seventh weeks. There is then a slump between weeks eight and 10 when people become tired and impatient to see results. By week 11, performance starts to improve and acceptance grows as more team members realise the benefits of new ways of working.
The PerformPlus system has produced lasting and long-term benefits for Haringey. Social workers report that they feel more like part of a team, and they have more time to provide tailored services to clients with the most complex problems. It has also proven key for enabling hybrid working in the council. This has not only improved services to adults in the community but has resulted in the Council saving more than £1 million on third-party services. The success of the programme has also led other councils to adopt PerformPlus, and the work has led to similar programmes wider in the public sector.
“I’ve been doing this job 20 years nearly now and it’s by far the best project I’ve been involved in. To have something that was designed for throughput to work in a quality environment for social workers, and to free up 20% of social worker time – the most valuable and most highly sought resources within the Council – was fabulous… They used that time to focus on the most complex cases, with those people getting more of the tailored support that they need – which is actually the cheapest support as well. So the Council is saving money by spending less with third parties. They’re not giving generic support that doesn’t work for someone. They’re giving tailored support, better care and making savings.”