NCSS – Using Design Thinking to Drive the Digital Transformation in the Social Service Sector

Project Scope

At the start of 2020, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) launched the Tech Booster project to ramp up the digital transformation of social service agencies (SSAs) in Singapore. 

The programme aimed to alleviate challenges such as an aging workforce, competition for talent, and tightening manpower policies by enhancing the operational efficiency and productivity of existing staff through technology adoption. Under the programme, SSAs could apply for technologies that fall under 7 different domains: 
  1. Surveillance Technology
  2. Centre Management System
  3. Therapy Equipment
  4. Client-focused Equipment
  5. Workflow Enhancement
  6. Robotics & Automation
Design Sojourn was appointed to run 83 such projects within the sector. Design Sojourn worked closely with SSAs such as Voluntary Children’s Homes, Day Activity Centres, Welfare Homes, Adult Disability Homes, Halfway Houses, SPED schools (Special Needs Schools), and Student Care Centres.  
Each SSA experienced our unique brand of Design Thinking driven Digital Transformation and Change Management.  In this process, we focused deeply on the challenges SSAs faced and the needs of stakeholders delivering care on the ground.  Putting the human in the center of the equation we are able to then design technological use experiences that are both meaningful and sustainable.  We believe that humans should not be slaves to technology, but instead, technology should work for humans and help them get their jobs done.

The dedication, commitment and ability to really listen and understands the problem we are facing, helped us to find the right vendor for the project, after detailed analysis and alignment between us.

Each project began with workshops to first understand their challenges and needs faced, uncover root causes of their problems and assess the current digital environment. The team then conducted on-site field research to observe in greater detail these pain points and touch points, speaking to ground staff, shadowing processes and conducting time motion studies to get a complete picture of their current processes.

Often faced with shortage of manpower, it is not uncommon for staff to take on multiple roles, having to juggle caring for their clients, running the home/centre and handling paperwork. Research with the SSAs revealed ample areas for technology to alleviate workload and increase efficiency, especially in areas where repetitive, laborious tasks were involved such as surveillance, reporting, cleaning, and more.

Daily operations and care management such as medication dispensing are often done in hardcopy. This leads to a lot of time spent to record, check, and consolidate data on a daily basis.
Due to shortage of manpower and limited equipment, therapists are often a limited to how many clients they can see and how much they can cover in each session.

Surveillance is a vital aspect in SSAs to ensure the safety of both clients and residents. Using basic CCTV systems and due to shortage in manpower, current measures are more reactive rather than preventive in incident management. 

Design Sojourn provided each SSA with recommendations on technology choices to ensure a good match and worked with the SSAs to craft project management plans for effective implementation in later stages.  

Change Management frameworks and tools were introduced to give SSAs the necessary handles to bring about successful adoption of the technologies. These included clear implementation plans, change readiness surveys to ensure staff buy-in, training plans, and resistance management plans to address resistances and concerns expressed by staff. It was important to ensure that all users were on board the plans to implement the technologies for successful outcomes, and sustained adoption.

[Design Sojourn] has been very professional and systematic in how they facilitate and guide us through the entire journey. Any technology implementation requires a shift in the mindsets and behaviors of people, and it can be quite daunting at times. However, our journey has been made easier and enjoyable with Design Sojourn’s strengths in terms of their foresight, expertise in change management and sensitivity to the people side of change.

Technologies implemented benefited both staff and clients – from equipment that improved the quality and productivity of therapy to Client Management Systems that offered a centralised, digital platform for efficient case management and streamlined daily operations.

At the end of the implementation phase, check-ins and reviews were conducted to ensure successful adoption and that all stakeholders are satisfied with the technologies. As the SSAs shared their feedback and success stories in their organisations, each project’s learnings, plans and outcomes are also documented for future application and potential scaling to other programmes, to allow for further the digital transformation efforts in the social service sector


Status: On-going (January 2020 to present)
Competence: Ethnographic Research, Experience and Service Design, Change Management

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