Asker Welfare Lab
The Asker Welfare Lab is a lab guided by the principle: "No decision about me, shall be taken without me."
Asker Welfare Lab is a concept for service delivery, solely centered on the citizen, in which all relevant municipal services, together with external partners of collaboration, invest together, aiming to raise the living standards, thereby bettering the quality of life of each individual and family in the program. All the services do still have one common factor - the citizen. Their sole reason for existing is to deliver benefit for citizens in different stages of life.
Asker Welfare Lab is a concept for service delivery, solely centered on the citizen, in which all relevant municipal services, together with external partners of collaboration, invest together, aiming to raise the living standards, thereby bettering the quality of life of each individual and family in the program. The municipal part of the investment is closely monitored through a new form of reporting, focusing on the realization of benefits. It all started in 2013.
Asker municipality was asked to be a part of a project, piloting service design as a method of reshaping the social housing services. The project owner was The Norwegian Centre of Design and Architecture (DOGA), and the project was funded by the Norwegian State Housing Bank. LiveWork Studio was engaged as the partner delivering the service design methodology. The purpose of the project was to create a new directon for the social housing services, and create the “Housing Office of the future”. Based on the knowledge obtained from dialogue with both citizens and municipal workers in the first phase of the project (Gathering Insights), it became obvious that the initial scope of the project was too narrow. The citizens with complex housing- and living conditions/situations, expressed that they oftentimes did not get their needs met in a sufficient way. The municipal workers, on their side expressed that they did not get to perform their jobs in an adequately purposeful manner.
Based on these insights, the project took a different perspective, and chose to adjust its goals and project plan drastically. The services of the future are to be the citizens' services, where the main rule is to be that “No decision about me is to be made without me”. Based on this background, a totally new concept for service delivery was developed, challenging the traditional “public sector mindset”. Most businesses with a wide variety of product lines are "silo-based". This is also true of the public sector. A municipality delivers services "from the cradle to the grave", and the services in themselves are oftentimes so different, that they have little in common, if you scrutinize them one by one. There are few common traits between mowing lawns, administering medicine and teaching someone algebra.
All the services do still have one common factor - the citizen. Their sole reason for existing is to deliver benefit for citizens in different stages of life. If we forget this, the services are endangered of being designed and delivered in a fragmentary fashion, thus delivering lesser value. This is especially difficult for the citizens receiving the most services, often being the citizens with the most difficulties in their lives, adding to the complexity of their life situations instead of adequately helping them sort out their lives. Often, the remedy sought is crossservice- meetings, arenas gathering several service providers in an attempt to coordinate service delivery and alleviate the situation for the citizen. Such arenas might not always hit the mark, giving citizens the experience of being the underdog among all the municipal “service experts”. We know that if we are to obtain lasting results, we will have to work with all the pillars of welfare; work, health, education and housing, simultaneously. The following hypothesis was therefore developed: “What if the municipality starts thinking like an investor, investing in people, instead of just being a case worker, pushing people and paper around?” With this “investment thinking” as a starting point, the model for the service concept “Asker Welfare Lab” was developed.
In the first phase of the project, the concept was created, based on the following principles:
1 – Taking the risk of early investment to get the socioeconomic benefits in the long term.
2 – Creating a better experience for the citizen.
3 – Planning long-term courses where the municipality is coordinated as one unit.
4 – Looking at/Considering the citizen as a “co-investor”, actively contributing to her own future.
Inspired by the investment thinking, a new department was established within the municipality in the fall of 2014, called “Citizen Square”.
This “spin-off” from the first phase of the project, became a small-scale test of some of its principles. Its purpose was to ensure coordination for citizens with complex needs and life situations. Here, citizens with comprehensive needs get a thorough mapping of their life situation, through just one conversation with Citizen Square. They experience having just one case worker across several services, and receive simultaneous and coordinated services. The organization model, physical design of offices and areas for meeting the citizens, along with the methods for working, were all inspired by, and built upon several of the principles from the service concept Asker Welfare Lab, that was now entering its second phase of development, involving a broader set of services and participants.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
We had already tried creating arenas across services/silos, and other traditional ways of "organizing our way to a solution", but here the main difference lay in the mindset - that of an investor. Firstly, an investor has got something to invest - this meant empowering the frontline with real authority and budgetary mandates. Secondly, an investor carefully chooses what to invest in - meaning gathering a wider resource pool, researching deeper into possibilities and barriers surrounding the citizen and their network, together with the citizen. Thirdly, the objects of investment experience an increased value when being invested in - this means helping the citizen find their own "assets" and strengths to co-invest with the wider Investment Team.
Seeing how this empowered the frontline workers, gathered the right stakeholders and established a different experience of accountability within the citizens themselves has so far been quite mind-boggling. At the core of The Welfare Lab is the before mentioned Investment Team. It has gotten an extended mandate with authority to make decisions, also those that earlier had to go "further up the ladder", because they had to do with budgets. The investment team can consist of people from i.e. health clinics, kindergartens and schools, but also "Special Services for Children, Youth and Families", Child Welfare Services, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, Citizen Square, "Services for Mental Health and Substance Abuse", "Services for Work, Leisure and Relief", and "Dept. of Global Public Health and Integration". These teams receive specialized training in the investment thinking and are, together with the citizens, mapping needs, formulating concrete goals and finding the accurate measures both short and long term. The overall goal is to create long-term sustainable life situations for the citizens. Another goal is that the investment teams also contain representatives from outside of the municipal organization, such as the voluntary sector, private businesses, the family's own networks etc., so that the resources both within and around the family are seen as a whole and pooled in conjunction with the municipal resources. Here, the mindset of co-creation is very central. There are also many ways for citizens to reach the Investment Team, and a central factor here is the before mentioned Citizen Square. In fact, all the municipal services might now be the "door" to reach the Welfare Lab.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Project deliveries: Asker Welfare Lab has in phase 2 tested the model with at least 20-30 citizens/families. The living conditions and quality of life have been measured before and after the encounter with the Investment Team. The employees involved are experiencing that they can make investments at an early stage for the best of the citizen, and that they have access to the necessary resources to make a real change. The models for measuring effect/outcome are developed, and the module "Measuring effect going from "counting cases" to "encountering people"" has been tested.
The investment thinking is further developed in a wider municipal context. Solutions and measures are created through cooperation with the voluntary sector, private businesses and the Asker-community as a whole. More practical tools to support the process have also been developed, to help in the process with the families. Some examples are a "Conversation Tablecloth" to use during the initial survey, meeting the family, and also information leaflets for the inhabitants.
The concept of Asker Welfare Lab is now in the process of being developed into a comprehensive model for public service delivery. These days, Asker municipality is working to continue with a 3rd phase of the project, further developing the model, gathering insights and experiences, and identifying key performance indicators needed to scale and spread the model both internally and externally.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Asker Welfare Lab is a cooperation between the two municipal sectors for Upbringing and Health and Welfare in Asker municipality and one of the projects in the municipal strategic portfolio of innovation and development projects. This brings it to the constant scrutiny and follow-up of both the mayor and councilman. All the levels of organization in both sectors are involved, from the directors to the caseworkers, so it is both administratively and politically anchored in every level of the organization. This is very important. External partners providing funds for the project have been the Norwegian State Housing Bank, the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs and the County Governor. The investment model has been developed in cooperation with LiveWork Studio and SoCentral. LiveWork Studios is still involved, supporting the project with service design methods to secure that the project still has a citizen-centric model in every way.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The initial idea came from the Norwegian Housing Bank, and funding came from various sources as shown in the section above, even though the scope and deliveries from the project were widened and altered. The concept behind the Welfare Lab is developed through service design methods, in live interaction with the citizens. The insights gathered, paired with input from a real "hardcore" investor, challenging the model, form, together with the experiences from the municipal workers, the foundation for the service delivery concept, and shows that all of it is based on real, live interaction with the users. We would like to stress the importance of the service design method as a means of achieving our results in both phases of the project. In addition to this, we are cooperating with PwC to assist us in creating a model of functioning KPIs and together with the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities measure outcomes. This will most likely be based on the Skandia-model.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The piloting phase ended in the spring of 2017, and results are now being processed. We have gathered quotes, both from citizens and municipal workers, to show some of the experienced effects, but cannot show them here, due to character constraints. The quotes show that the participants, regardless of who they are, experience value from participating. A further list of benefits being reaped so far, shows that it is effective that people from different services work together. The participation of 2nd line services from a regional or state level is crucial for the families' goals to be met, and to create the long term sustainability. Cooperating with the voluntary sector makes the solutions overall better, especially when representatives from sports clubs and community centrals have participated in the Investment Teams with the families.
This has created windows of opportunity for the families that extend what the municipality alone could fathom. The supplement from voluntary measures has been crucial in meeting the goals for the families. Coordinated planning shows great effectiveness and makes it possible to deliver an experience of "coordinated simultaneity" to the family. The empowering of employees is also of great importance for the long term planning and execution of measures. This creates an agile approach to problem solving and propels the process forward. The "budgetary empowerment" has so far shown not to increase the use of resources, but put them to better and more coordinated use. There is also saved time from common planning and the time for casework is more efficiently used. There has also been applied a new way of reporting effect, where the emphasis is on the "flow" of the citizen towards a more sustainable life situation. This is measured through self reporting from the families before their participation in the Welfare Lab, and a new report being made after participating in the program. The set of KPIs seems to be functioning well.
Challenges and Failures
Firstly, the service designers gave us a little "start", going first to the citizens for their point of view, then asking whether these insights matched our views. This is not always how people are used to work, but the effects were so great that we are now arranging several courses in service design methodology for municipal workers all over the municipality. We have gone from "being insecure about checking with the citizens" to "being insecure if we have not checked with the citizens first".
Conditions for Success
Leadership and the possibility to make mistakes and learn quickly from them. Funding from outside sources is also fundamental to be able to free up the necessary competent workers to be able to pilot new practices. It is not enough to implement best practices, when the real need lies in creating the next practice.
This innovation has great potential to being spread to other areas of both public, private and voluntary service delivery, being based on a general practice of work - namely service design. The insights gathered can easily be generalized into a body of knowledge that can be implemented across public service delivery. That is emphasized by the fact that this project is chosen both as a National Learning Project in Norway, being closely scrutinized by six national Directorates, and one of three projects that this year got Asker municipality the national Innovation Award from the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation. It has also been awarded a Best Practice Certificate from EPSA 2017, to be delivered in Maastricht in November.
We have already found that there is a much larger potential in cooperating with the voluntary sector, private businesses, social entrepreneurs. This is both a challenging and rewarding work, that we see the need to develop further.