As you know, if you’ve been following me on Twitter, this week, I’ve been working at the front line of the Department – in a Job Centre in a challenging area in Scotland.
Banking readers: Job Centres are the UK goverment’s centres that help unemployed people find work. They are also the face to face contact points for administration of benefits that the govermment pays to people out of work.
Anyway, in my Job Centre, I’ve been working with the staff as they’ve dealt with a range of things, from bereavements to people with no money at all (as they’ve lost their benefit payments, and now may be sleeping out in the snow).
Did you know there are money illegal money lenders walking the streets, who forcibly take the money people on benefits get? They hover around outside and take away what people get to pay for food and shelter.
It is presently snowing here.
So you get all these people coming in who have nothing, who explain that they’ve “lost their money”, because they are worried what will happen to them if anyone from the Government knows they’ve dealt with an illegal financial service.
When you are sitting around after a crisis loan interview, hearing what is likely going on behind the face the customer has presented, the experience is extremely eye-opening. Staff were telling me about the (regular) times they’ve had to tap on the glass to wake up drug-affected people in interviews, for example.
Drug dealers and money lenders. Two financial traps for vulnerable people. You can imagine my wide-eyed response, having sat in my nice comfortable cocoon in London all this time.
But here is another thing I’ve found in this Job Centre, and it is something I’m not surprised about.
Staff build their own stuff to get around the limitations of systems we provide. There are Excel based spreadsheets which are used for diary management (“oh, I can’t have this open too long, otherwise no-one else will be able to make appointments”). There is email based workflow, where each step is a new inbox that gets manually monitored. And there’s any number of self-made data capturing things that are used for statistics and business reporting.
And all of it is stitched together with another technology: paper. They create their own forms, and their own paper based systems in order to supplement their jobs.
Consequently, the work is processed in a highly efficient way. I’d make a guess that each JobCentre does things slightly differently, depending on how good their custom additions to each of our centrally provided processes are.
If there was ever proof needed that decentralisation of the core is a good thing, then I’ve been immersed in it for the week so far.
I wonder what would happen if we put the appropriate end-user computing tools in the hands of these people and said “design the perfect Job Centre system”. My guess would be something good.