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by George Eckton
07 June 2022
Associate Feature: How Citizens Advice in Scotland is using tech for good

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Associate Feature: How Citizens Advice in Scotland is using tech for good

When you think of the Scottish Citizens Advice network, rightly you think of face to face advice in communities by volunteers for over 80 years, maybe not digital transformation and involvement in cutting edge innovations. 

Like many other charities, even before the pandemic we have faced many challenges, mainly through the fact that demand for our services outweighs supply. 

For the voluntary sector in particular, new approaches have been needed in these circumstances to digitally augment in-person services to enable us to see more people in an efficient and cost-effective way, especially given the lockdowns, social distancing and the current cost of living crisis. We have responded as a network on a number of fronts. 

Firstly, we have used technology innovation through the Scottish Government’s CivTech challenge to deliver local advice to people from their most local Citizens Advice Bureau. From an emergency response in the early weeks of the pandemic, when the Citizens Advice network set up a collective helpline staffed by CABs across the country. The emergency response used a call centre-based approach.

Local advice from local CABs is what makes our network so special. There’s no substitute for local knowledge, and it is something that can never be replicated by a remote, centralised, call centre approach.

Our challenge partners SIDE Labs used voice recognition technology as part of the project, which even allowed us to solve the long-standing issue of AI not recognising the Scottish accent. For such a major project, the process was swift because of our “no code” approach – we hatched the plan in October 2021 and deployed it in early February 2021. What this means is people seeking advice through a central phone number are now routed directly to their local CAB. 
It’s great news for citizens that they don’t have to choose between local advice and a central point of contact. 

The CivTech process has been so transformative for our network, we have submitted two further projects for this year. 

One will look at how we use data to deliver the best outcomes from our clients. We hold one of the largest data sets on societal issues outside the public sector in Scotland so we’re seeking to improve how we use our data by streamlining the case recording process for advisers, ensuring we have higher quality data to influence policy, and seek to predict and if possible, prevent, further negative outcomes for clients. 

We are also co-sponsoring alongside White Ribbon Scotland a challenge seeking to find a technological solution to connect a distributed network and volunteers to share best practice and advice. This type of inventory and project management solution could be a huge benefit to CABs but also whole voluntary sector in the future, to keep track of multiple commitments across service delivery, advocacy, business development and outreach, as well as share best practice within the network itself.

We have also worked at the cutting edge of natural language processing with Robert Gordon University and a Scottish SME Deepminer, to see whether it possible to train a machine to write or update our advice pages, enabling day to day jobs to be done automatically whilst giving capacity to our staff to write advice and guidance for our advisers and websites on more complex issues. The results so far have been exciting and potentially transformative.

We continue to innovate around our current services making the public advice site and CAB websites more accessible to those clients who have different abilities or requirements such as translation, chat functions and further accessibility options, such make booking a face to face appointment easier.

How we work has always developed with the times – our digital transformation journey is the latest stage in a history of helping people that goes back to the Second World War. We are always open to sharing and collaboration across Scotland, and would love to work with others to deliver tech for good and benefits to citizens. 

This article is sponsored by Citizens Advice Scotland.

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