The future of advice: what role for technology?

Those of you that read this blog will know I’m an advocate for how voluntary organisations can use technology. To coin a phrase, disrupt or be disrupted. I’m also aware that its not the solution to everything for everyone. In the case of advice-giving organisations – subject to significant reductions in public funding, dealing with complex cases, often with the digitally excluded – you might argue that greater use of technology is barely a thumb in a dyke riddled with holes.

Maybe: but anyone remember that at one point we had to be encouraged to use the telephone? I think technology is part of the solution – so I’m glad were helping the Low Commission think about this issue, as the guest blog below, from Sara Ogilvie, explains.

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The Low Commission on the Future of Advice and Legal Support was launched in December 2012. The Commission’s aim is to develop a strategy for advice on social welfare law issues – asylum and immigration, community care, debt, education, employment, and housing. The Commission will consult on emerging recommendations in September and will publish its final report in December 2013.

Support and Legal Advice

The advice sector is currently undergoing a period of real challenge. Funding for legal advice from central government under the legal aid scheme will all but disappear completely as of 1 April 2012. Combined with cuts in local authority funding and an apparent increase in need for advice services due to factors such as austerity and welfare reform, there is a real risk that many who need advice and support on social welfare law issues will no longer be able to access it.

Advice and technology

Against this background, the Commission is exploring the role of technology in helping to support and advise those with social welfare law problems.  New technology is often seen primarily as a way of saving money, but it is also an essential tool in improving how we work. In the advice field, there is a debate to be had about where to draw the line between use of new technology and face-to-face approaches. We are clear that this debate must not just be about the economic case for making better use of new technology, but also must be about the potential of new technology to provide better, and possibly more, information and advice in more accessible ways than traditional approaches.

In order to develop forward looking and practical recommendations, the Commission wants to hear how technology can be used to improve the delivery and administration of advice and at the same time to understand the barriers faced by advice organisations in using technology.

The Roundtable

We think that one way of learning about the potential of technology in advice is to hear about how technology is used in other sectors and explore the scope for transferring the learning into advice. To assist us, the NCVO is convening a roundtable on 26 March, bringing together representatives from the advice sector with those with experience of using technology. In a half-day session, we hope to discuss :

* New and future technology and its implications of these developments for the advice sector

* Specific ways of making better use of technology in the advice sector

* Challenges involved in introducing new approaches into the advice sector and how best to overcome them.

Can you help?

In advance of the event, we’re hoping to begin to gather information we can use in our discussion of the three points listed above. We would like to hear from  those working in the sector, as well as from those with experience of using technology to improve or deliver their services. Over on www.lowcommission.org.uk/Blog, Patrick Nash from Connect Assist has set out a few ways in which he has helped organisations to make an increased use of technology. If you have a similar experience of using technology to improve services then we’d love to hear from you too. If you have any ideas that you are able to share with us before the event, please contact sogilvie@lag.org.uk

Sara Ogilvie

Karl Wilding’s blog

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, leads NCVO's volunteering, policy, research and campaigning work in the UK and internationally. With lead responsibility for shaping the external environment for the voluntary sector, he blogs about the big issues facing voluntary organisations.

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