Alex Johnson is the CEO of Reviving the Heart of the West End (RHWE), a charity that supports people who are often a long way from the labour market, in their journey towards the world of work or setting up their own business. RHWE has been using SIGNAL for 2 years. Here she shares her experience of getting started with SIGNAL, how it is benefitting RHWE and how it has become more appropriate than ever in this latest phase of the Pandemic

Casting your mind back to when you first came across SIGNAL what were your initial thoughts (i.e. the good, bad and the ugly)?

I loved how visual it was: for example, we work with lots of people for whom English is their second language and could see how the pictures would really help describe each of the indicators.  I was excited at the prospect of being able to see things from the person’s rather than the organisation’s perspective.

I also asked myself a number of questions: would it work well as an engagement tool; would it be easy to communicate the benefit of SIGNAL to people; would it be perceived as ‘yet another questionnaire’?

I could see that if we introduced SIGNAL that it had the power to be a transformational tool rather than a transactional, tick-box exercise, but, how disruptive would it be? There was a good chance that not everyone would come along for the ride and therefore we might have to prepare for the fall-out!  And we would need to be prepared for it to shine a light on the reality behind the ‘talk’ of being a person-centred organisation

What made you decide to invest in a Signal pilot?

When organisations describe their impact, it’s often dominated by headline numbers, for example ‘89% of our clients secured employment’.  I was determined not to go down that route, particularly as we were setting out our stall to be a ‘person-centred organisation. I had therefore been on the hunt for a social impact measurement tool for some time, but up to this point, I hadn’t seen anything that would let us take a 360-degree look at someone’s life and see it through their eyes.  SIGNAL seemed to offer this.  I could also see that the only way to address the questions I had about how it would work in the organisation was by actually trying it out through a Pilot.

Where did you initially start using it, and how & when did you find the 'sweet-spot for its use in your organisation?

The question was, where do we start?

We had to try SIGNAL in a number of different settings before we found a place where it started to gain traction because at the outset we simply didn’t know what the magic ingredients were that would make it work for our organisation.  It’s one thing to ‘buy-into' the methodology and understand it in principle, but it’s quite another to start using it with real people.  The important thing was that we treated the pilot as a period of learning and reflection.  My mantra at the time was - If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.

What emerged from this ‘trial and error’, was an understanding of good practice in relation to our organisation.  For example, some spaces within the building were more conducive to making people feel comfortable than others; it took longer for some facilitators to gain confidence in using it than it did others; it seemed to work better on some programmes than in others – though it’s important to note that as we got more expert at using SIGNAL, we found that we could use it successfully across a widening range of activities.

We knew we had found the sweet spot when a particular facilitator had completed about half a dozen surveys where she’d experienced a consistency in the quality of the experience both on her and her client’s part.  Now we had something to build on, based on real evidence of what was working and why.

 

When and why did you roll out to other areas in your organisation? 

Having seen how SIGNAL landed in different parts of the organisation we could reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and then build on the areas where we could see positive results.  This gave us the base from which to build.  We have developed a strategy for embedding SIGNAL across all the programmes we run.  For example, now we have a SIGNAL Champion who supports the staff team to develop good practice and we use SIGNAL case notes to inform team meetings to help us be responsive to people’s needs.

The reason we were keen to roll it out is because the pilot period had shown us how helpful it was when people felt in control so that they could set their own priorities. SIGNAL gave us the means to listen.  Going forward we would be able to focus on the needs of each person and to stop labelling them as being part of this or that cohort.  Focusing on and understanding their individual circumstances more clearly would mean we could adopt a more flexible and agile response in all the programmes we run.

How would you sum up your pilot period?  

It was a period in which we experimented and tried things out.  We had a lot of contact with the SIGNAL team who made sure we were comfortable about how to use certain features to their best effect, such as recording priorities and keeping case notes.  Prior to us using SIGNAL, very occasionally, in client case notes, the phrase ‘No Further Action’ was used.  The pilot period successfully addressed the various questions I’d posed about whether it would work well as an engagement tool, and the upshot is that we recognise that there are no circumstances where ‘No Further Action’ should apply!

What has your organisation now gained from moving from a pilot to a mainstream user?

SIGNAL has enabled us to be proactive and responsive. Our mindset is to now look ahead by addressing real issues in real-time, rather than making plans based on evaluating what we have done in the past.  We no longer wait until the end of the funding cycle to communicate with our funders.

We have spotted themes and trends: a good example is where SIGNAL enabled us to understand that in a particular area in the West End of Newcastle people were struggling with fuel poverty. Having responded red to ‘access to gas & electricity we were able to understand our participants required financial well-being support with specific help with budgeting, to tackle this fuel poverty issue. It was a barrier that needed to be overcome before people could progress along their pathway to employment

 

Picture how you see the methodology adding value to your work as you assist your community moving from pandemic to a new paradigm.

We’re living in a world that is facing so many challenges; it feels like everyone is being consulted to death, both individuals and Charities.  In amongst all that, there appears to be a genuine shift on the part of funders to properly understand the needs of people and communities.  More than ever we have to articulate our connection with real people in real communities.

We find that SIGNAL adds value all the way through the organisation, from how you work with people to how you craft a funding bid, to how you develop your communications and marketing strategy.  We are able to show that we are seeing the world through the lens of the individual and the household rather than just through the lens of the organisation.  It gives us the opportunity to react quickly and in real-time to meet real needs and to not lose the moment.  We have always had the ambition to work in this way, but Covid has intensified the urgency of developing person-centred approaches.

 

Any tips for existing users who are just starting their pilot or are having to reset their use of SIGNAL following the last 18 months?

Quality is more important than quantity: start small and build your confidence.  You will learn a lot from just a few surveys.

Make sure that all parts of the organisation are aware that in the pilot phase it’s all about learning: how SIGNAL works, and where it best fits.

Encourage facilitators to feedback their experience and observations in an open, sharing environment.  And this extends to sharing your feedback with the SIGNAL team.  We were in close touch throughout the pilot period and that really helped.  Having an open dialogue was the key to us developing our SIGNAL ‘good practice’.

When it comes to identifying priorities, remember that often it’s only the person themselves that can remove a particular barrier – it’s not always about what the organisation can do.

Remember there is more than one way to facilitate SIGNAL – for example, face-to-face, via video link, via remote login and, in appropriate circumstances, in small group settings.

 

What else could SIGNAL have done to help? 

 

It would have been great if we had known more about how other organisations were using SIGNAL, for example via a regular Newsletter with case studies and examples of good practice.  Here in Newcastle, we feel part of a community of organisations using SIGNAL, but it would be great to hear more about what is happening in other parts of the country

 

We hope that this Partner Perspective has been useful.  We’re very keen to hear from more of our partners, so please contact us if there is anything you would like to share that you think could contribute to the continuous development of good practice!

Please get in touch at contact@clearsignal.org