| 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
IN THE YEAR 2012– CREATION OF THE SPORTELLO MOBILE PROCEDURE
A special procedure was developed that would be totally accessible in all aspects (including graphic design, colour and font size appropriate for the partially sighted). In order to set up a special archive, the details of all users assisted by the INPS social services department in Italy and belonging to the specific user categories envisaged were fed into the procedure i.e. elderly people over 85 years of age with disabilities and on benefits: home care benefit, special benefit (for the blind) or communication benefit (for the deaf). The personal details in the archive are updated every 20 days. The procedure was set up to constantly evolve, so as to allow partially sighted members of staff an increasing level of operational independence.
FEBRUARY 2013 - NATIONALLY DISTRIBUTED CIRCULAR . A Circular signed by the INPS’s Director General was sent out nationwide, a letter that established the opening of at least one Sportello Mobile help desk in every province of Italy, identifying – with the aid of a special template listing the employee’s full name and staff number – switchboard staff (almost entirely partially sighted employees) as operators and other employees (usually those responsible for customer relations) as system administrators, responsible for supporting members of staff with disabilities when solving the problems raised by users in more complex queries and those that involve a need for independence.
It should be stressed that the Circular launching the national roll-out was preceded by a period which lasted approximately two years, when the Sportello Mobile project for people with disabilities (already operational in the city of Rome, even if with different parameters) was rolled out on an entirely voluntary basis; this voluntary roll-out had offices in Savona, Sassari, L’Aquila, the Calabria region and Venice.
MARCH 2013 - THE TRAINING OF OPERATORS AND ADMINISTRATORS
Training was organised in two modules, one for operators and one for administrators, and took place at the same time in two classrooms: a specific module for operators, training them to use the procedure (user identification, the opening of a closure request fee procedure) and to use speech synthesis software and a specially designed module for administrators, which envisaged both training in the procedure and the development of useful skills when dealing with the type of users envisaged, both those working in-house and those among the general public, such as attentive listening skills, effective communication, interaction, how to handle the relationship between frustration and aggressive behaviour etc. using – among other things – psychometric self-evaluation tools
FEBRUARY/MARCH 2013 -HELP DESK LAUNCH. The INPS’s Central Management Organisation department, working in partnership with its IT Systems and Technology Central Management Dept, began monitoring how the project was rolled out, constantly assisting the offices involved in the work necessary to launch the project on a local level (sending out service activation letters, activity supervision etc).
Users were immediately able to enjoy the service’s benefits, especially as regards urgent CUD forms and other particularly urgent administrative procedures, such as the ICRICC statement (an annual statement that declares whether a person has been admitted to a public hospital at such and such a time, or not) which every INPS user on home care benefit must send in every year by April/May for the previous year or risk losing their home care benefit. This process is based on the principle that one person cannot enjoy two different kinds of financial support provided by the Italian state during the same period and, more specifically, either free admission to a public health centre or home care benefit (approximately €490 per month).
| 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
During the project start-up phase the INPS Central Organisation Department collaborated with the INPS Regional Directorate of Lazio.
During the subsequent phase of national implementation, the Central Organisation Department involved other INPS departments, each having respective competencies in the various activities relating to the project:
The Central Information and Technology Systems Department was responsible for developing the Mobile Helpdesk Procedure and administered both its implementation and regular periodic updates. It set up a database of users by extracting it from the INPS central database and updating it regularly. It is also collaborating on the technical tests necessary to provide the speech synthesis software to be used when the system is fully operative by blind and partially-sighted operators.
The Central Communications Department was responsible for drawing up the letter sent to users and devising the logo used for every Mobile Helpdesk initiative; it also oversaw the production of an information video about the aims of the project.
The Regional Departments held the training sessions organised for staff involved in the project. The sessions were taught by executives of the Central Organisation Department both for administrative staff and operators;
The Unione Italiana Ciechi e Ipovedenti (Italian Union of the Blind and Partially Sighted), an organisation which is external to INPS, regularly provided free advice with regard to issues of both a technical and organisational nature, offering helpful suggestions for the development of the Mobile Helpdesk Procedure and recommendations concerning the type of speech synthesis software to adopt as well as specific IT set-ups for blind and partially-sighted operators.
| 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
In order to implement the project, INPS used exclusively internal resources, without external funding either from other bodies or associations or from other administrations.
In addition to financial resources, INPS primarily mobilised human resources; these resources were chosen from a central group of the Central Organisation Department, which was responsible for coordination at the national level and teaching operators and administrators about the procedure. Other resources used included staff of the Central Information and Technology Systems Department and the Central Communications Department, which supported the initiative in their respective areas of competency.
On the national scale, resources from the Regional and Provincial Departments, following the geographical extension of the initiative under Provision no. 2451 of 7 February 2013 signed by the General Director.
The project’s impact in terms of costs connected with human resources is zero, as all personnel those involved are INPS employees, thus without entailing additional costs.
Two IT tools are connected to the Mobile Helpdesk:
• Firstly a dedicated software-based procedure was implemented. Its implementation was overseen by an external company, which is also responsible for updating and developing it.
The program handles all phases of the Mobile Helpdesk project, i.e. the mailing of security codes, as well as receiving subsequently dealing with requests;
• The other IT resource used regards speech synthesis, which is a tool for assisting blind and partially-sighted operators enabling them to work on the Mobile Helpdesk without difficulty, thanks to the versatility of the procedure.
The provision of the speech synthesis programs is currently being finalised.
Other costs relating to the initiative regard the mailing of security codes to users. The codes are sent using the Postel service (a mass mailing service provided by Poste Italiane), thus at a reduced postage rate.
Costs are as follows:
- Sending of security codes: €. 0,68 per user, less than the standard postage rate thanks to a special agreement between Poste Italiane and INPS
- The purchase of the screen reader speech synthesis program which INPS would have had to purchase in any case for its blind and partially-sighted operators in order to permit equality of opportunity in consulting and managing their administrative position. Inps already owns 50 licenses, to which others will be added in volume licensing.
- Development, updating and continuous improvement of the Mobile Helpdesk IT Procedure by DC SIT.
- Training was provided internally by INPS staff, with costs already included in the Central Training Department’s budget. A total of 32 days of training were provided. On each day of training, 2 or in some cases 3 distinct courses were held for different groups of operators and administrative staff and for subjects considered. The training costs met by the Central Training Department were approximately €. 40.000.
- The overall costs can be defined only when the project is fully implemented.
| 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
- Mailing of CUD form: several hundred citizens benefiting from the specific initiative were able to benefit from the mailing of the CUD form in real time without leaving their home and at absolutely no charge. Many local INPS managers also assigned telephone operators to work on the desks issuing CUD forms to general users, using various computerised INPS procedures. No specific data is available for these services; however, certainly no fewer than 30 users were served per day by each member of staff. The operators at the INPS Central Department were used on a rotation basis, after an appropriate, specific training course, to mail the CUD forms to pensioners residing abroad, who were notified through embassies of 3 telephone numbers specifically dedicated for the purpose.
- Professional development for operators: 200 operators were given the opportunity to undergo training for the Mobile Helpdesk and begin to put what they learned into practice, making their own personal contribution to the activities of their local office. It should also be stressed that a cordial, relaxed group spirit was created among operators attending the same training course, which certainly fosters work motivation, personal well-being, work identity and the feeling of belonging to an important welfare institution with a decisive role in the life of the nation such as INPS. This series of factors, naturally, are closely tied to the welfare of the organisation, with a reduction in the number of working days lost through absence and the creation of a positive climate of relations which inevitably has a major impact on the service provided to users.
- Users served: the user type identified as beneficiaries of the project initially regarded approximately 650,000 elderly users aged over eighty-five with severe disabilities and entitled to mobility allowance, allowance for special needs and communication allowance (for hearing-impaired users. These users’ profiles were activated through the mailing of an information letter containing their personal security code, enabling them to access the INPS services provided by their local office by calling the Mobile Helpdesk. The codes were mailed in a gradual manner in order to prevent operators from being overloaded and to allow the project to develop in a harmonised, controlled way throughout the nation. To date:
• a total of approximately 270,000 security codes have been sent;
• approximately 3,000 requests have been received, 99% of which have been dealt with and filed.
| 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The monitoring system is computerised and managed by the same procedure as the Mobile Helpdesk. Indeed, the programme management software, for personnel with System Administrator privileges (granted only to the central group of the Central Organisation Department), enables verification of all activities connected with the project.
The following activities are constantly monitored:
- mailing of letters: the number of security codes is monitored as they are sent both using the automated postal service (Postel) and manually. The automatic system uses mass mailing (up to 100 letters for each batch), while the manual procedure can handle a single letter if the need arises, following which the letter is mailed by hand. These activities can be quantified during the process using a specific command;
- requests received: for each Mobile Helpdesk module it is possible to monitor all requests received, both those currently being processed and those which have already been dealt with and filed;
- Requests received can also be monitored according to their specific type;
- The procedure makes it possible to monitor active users and users whose profiles are not yet active;
- the set-ups for the various modules of the Mobile Helpdesk on INPS premises.
The central administrator, as much as the local one, monitors Mobile Helpdesk activities at weekly intervals, and if incongruities are found, contacts the relevant regional personnel and works with them in order to solve any problems that may be encountered.
The monitoring performed by the central administrator makes it possible to evaluate the activity in terms of quality as well as quantity. Specifically, an opinion survey has been scheduled to be conducted at least once a year by contacting Mobile Helpdesk users selected at random by telephone in order to assess their degree of satisfaction with the service and to collect feedback on how it could be improved.
Another type of monitoring concerned the letter sent to users’ homes containing information about the service and the security code, and was conducted by a local INPS office. Users were asked at random while queuing to read the contents of the letter, repeat its meaning and to evaluate it for clarity, simplicity and effectiveness. Over 100 users were contacted and the letter was revised five times before the final version was produced. The letter also contained a QR CODE, enabling its contents to be read optically with the aid of smartphones and tablet computers.
| 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The most critical aspect concerned making all operators equally familiar with the Mobile Helpdesk procedure, in consideration of the fact that they have different levels of expertise in using speech synthesis.
This obstacle was overcome by implementing various strategies:
1) classes of similar skill levels were formed with regard to PCs with the use of speech synthesis;
2) a sighted operator was provided to shadow the operator concerned in order to enable her/him to achieve complete independence;
3) operators were given information about attending free courses organised by the association in Italia Onlus e Unione Italiana Ciechi e Ipovedenti (UICII, Italian Union of the Blind and Partially Sighted) for visually-impaired individuals wishing to learn how to use computers and speech synthesis programs.
A telephone number was set up with an expert trainer providing appropriate technical support.
Another major obstacle regarded extending the project to the whole of Italy. This required painstaking work, consisting of analyses, planning and dialogue with the various Central Departments concerned and with local offices in order to lay down solid foundations for the project.
We wish to stress that the Mobile Helpdesk initiative involved over 200 operators, most of them disabled, in around 140 local offices characterised by different organisational structures (in terms of staff numbers, type, place of competence, etc.) and a particularly fragile group of target beneficiaries.
All personnel received adequate training across the whole of Italy, and can count on the daily support of the central staff of the Central Organisation Department.
These synergies have made it possible to overcome the difficulties encountered and to achieve a good level of operational effectiveness.