Australia’s community legal workers have an essential job. They work with some of the most disadvantaged and isolated members of Australian society to provide more than just legal advice; they act as the interface between the legal system and the community, making the legal process easier to navigate and helping to build trust and confidence on all sides. Lawyers work alongside social and community workers to ensure that advice and counsel is delivered with a full understanding of the people they support. To help scale their impact within limited budgets, they regularly integrate and train student volunteers and interns.
As with many non-profits, limited budget (compounded by an uncertain political funding environment) means IT capability has taken a backseat for several years. Inefficient processes are allowed to continue because management focus on delivering client-facing work, and resource constraints often prevent organisations understanding how to quickly move to new digital technologies.
Staff in community legal services can be spread across huge geographies; at the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS), 250 staff are spread across more than 25 offices around New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (some of these regional offices may have just a single employee); at Legal Aid Queensland, 400 staff work out of 14 offices across the state, serving an area 3 times the size of Texas.
Legacy IT systems compound problems of isolation; systems are usually not mobile accessible (and sometimes restricted to staff in head-office), so senior staff struggle to effectively communicate with regional workers except via email. And manual business processes sometimes mean that waiting days for the postal system is a key part of getting administrative work completed. Coupled with sometimes difficult work, poor systems and processes and physical isolation can lead regional staff to become disengaged, leading to high staff turnover.
To help address these issues, Engage Squared worked with non-profit community legal services to help them plan out a series of technical activities that can transform the way they and their staff work. At the Aboriginal Legal Service, we started with a staff portal, blending our IP on top of modern communication sites within SharePoint Online. We added rich features using PowerApps and helped to build internal communities on Yammer.
The new ALS Intranet has proven to be transformational, introducing mobile-first capabilities to connect teams in different locations using Office 365. It allows the ALS to properly celebrate the successes they and the residents are achieving as a whole and to share vital information from prior experience.
Clearly defined user journeys were mapped out during the design phase to ensure they were building for the needs of staff. Each individual has a personalised view they can change to suit their specific need in the field. Service delivery guidelines remain on the homepage for everyone so they’re always front of mind. As mobile teams travel, they have quick access to all the information they need to get the best possible result on their mobile device. They’re also better connected to the corporate leadership team, so they feel their support and hear about what’s being achieved at that level as well.
Regional offices are in control of their own information, sharing critical operational information like court dates, alongside success stories from their communities, featuring prominent locals, lawyers and indigenous staff.
Information from the community can more easily flow back to head office to inform legal and policy work and improve internal processes. Importantly, the new system brings practice areas from across offices together, helping to improve knowledge sharing and more quickly resolve issues. Community outcomes are shared up through the channels.