A remote service with a human touch

Using the Covid emergency to improve future services
a young woman standing in front of her new home

Helping vulnerable young people start life independently has far-reaching effects

When care leavers and homeless young people reach adulthood they are at a high risk of debt, eviction and homelessness. They start living independently earlier than their peers, often lack essential life skills and experience, and don’t have strong family networks to support them. 

 A lot of resources are ploughed into housing care leavers and homeless young people temporarily. And the costs to these young people are high and far-reaching. Homeless people die, on average, 30 years earlier than the general population. 

There’s also a huge financial cost. Social landlords pay £8,000 per eviction, and for each person who returns to homelessness, it costs the government £26,000 per year.


An image of two boards covered in post it notes used during a workshop. One mapping current services, one the projected services in a year's time.
Workshops were conducted remotely using online whiteboards

Testing hypotheses to define the challenge

We did some exploratory research to define the problem that needed solving.  We started by reviewing Settle’s programme materials, speaking to Settle staff and mapping stakeholders. We also looked at how other organisations had shifted to remote delivery. 

From this, we created a set of 7 hypotheses to test:

  • Learning from other organisations’ pivot to digital will provide solutions to most of the problems Settle are facing.
  • Substantial improvements can be made by reviewing Settle’s service through the lens of service design principles.
  • Not all the problems Settle’s users are currently having with the service can be resolved through a digital solution. 
  • The best way to ensure the success of a digitised service is to make it as close to face-to-face interactions as possible.
  • For digital services to be successful, infrastructure (e.g. connectivity, data usage, download speed) and environment/external forces (e.g. digital literacy/familiarity/training/motivation changes) are as critical as the availability of the digital service.
  • Digital services will result in less time to complete interactions, an improved user experience for young people and Settle’s clients, fewer pain points experienced in the service blueprint, and data not being lost.

6 key areas to focus on getting right remotely

We then moved on to descriptive research with young people, staff and partners. This was aimed at understanding how the current programme works in more depth, its strengths and challenges, and what young people’s key needs are.  

This led us to develop a set of insights in 6 areas:

  • 1 The Essence of Settle - what makes Settle different
  • 2 Communication of what Settle offers
  • 3 Referrals process
  • 4 Geography
  • 5 Session content and materials
  • 6 Communication preferences

How might we…

We workshopped together to check our understanding and synthesise problem areas into ‘How Might We?’ questions. We then brainstormed solutions to these and assessed the ideas for desirability, feasibility, and viability in the short and medium-term. 

Following that, we worked up a selection into recommendations that could be taken forward and created a full deck of findings, recommendations and a user journey map synthesising the research. 

Throughout the process, we worked in the open with Settle, sharing emerging findings and insights at weekly Show and Tells and jointly deciding on areas to dive deeper into.

“We don’t want to become a call centre”

Rich Grahame | CEO and Co-Founder | Settle

Digital isn’t always remote, remote isn’t always digital

Our initial brief was to help Settle shift to digital.  Unpacking this revealed that Covid had already forced Settle to shift, but that the shift was to remote, not necessarily digital.  This nuance was significant – not all remote services need to be digital, and not all digital services need to be remote. 

By changing the focus to looking at shifting to remote we were able to explore where digital products and services were most appropriate and where they weren’t. 

Interviews revealed that the most important characteristics that defined Settle were the human connection between staff and young people, and the flexibility provided in meeting young people’s needs.  

We could then explore how to prioritise resources to streamline some key processes. This enabled the service to be as flexible and personal as possible, using digital resources where appropriate and freed up staff time to focus on maintaining that human relationship.  

We hadn’t considered the benefits of remote service delivery. Some young people actually preferred not to discuss certain topics face to face, and meeting via phone gives greater flexibility to the young person and less travel time for Settle staff.  

Making programme materials accessible and independent of staff (whether in a book or an electronic resource) enables young people to access them whenever they need them. For some young people a digital resource works best, for others, it may be a handbook. 

an iPhone showing a Whatsapp message from someone at Settle, sent to a service user about choosing their programme officer
Young people could be sent details of their Programme Officer prior to their first meeting. This allows them to feel more prepared, consulted and in control.

Building a flexible, human-centred service to reach more young people

Settle have been delivering a fully remote service during the pandemic. They’ve had an increased number of referrals for the service we were helping them to develop, enabling them to reach more young people outside of London who need their support. 

Demand for Settle’s services has increased and they are finding ways to adapt their service to the needs of each person they support, which is one of the strengths of their human-centred approach. They’re working on a video and printed book to introduce the programme to young people and have started a referral feedback survey. 

It’s a remarkable amount to achieve in any year, let alone 2020. We’ll be sharing updates on Settle’s work with young people, during and in the aftermath of Covid-19 as we get them.