Safeguarding vulnerable residents from crisis

We designed a product to help maintenance contractors flag at-risk residents
illustration of elderly people in a house with a repairman arriving and waving outside

Origin provides affordable housing as well as related care and support services to their residents, many of whom are vulnerable due to learning disabilities, old age or other issues. 

A large number of residents are self sufficient, and others have long-term issues or sudden changes in circumstances that can put them at risk. Vulnerability presents a risk both to residents themselves, and to Origin as a business. Increasing awareness of risks, and thus the opportunity to prevent them is a key objective for Origin.

“It’s part of the job, seeing people who might be struggling, but it does come home with you.”


Understanding the system around repairs and maintenance 

We carried out a four-week discovery to understand the bigger picture. We started from a high-level diagram of the system for flagging and making repairs and the system of responding to potentially vulnerable residents. From those, we explored the business processes, organisational roles, technical systems and data flows involved.

Our team of user researchers and service designers worked together to shadow repair teams. They reviewed the end-to-end process, from making repairs to following up on potentially vulnerable residents. 

We also spent time with contact centre staff, who handle calls about repairs needed. We wanted to understand if they were in a position to spot vulnerabilities, but we learned that they were extremely constrained by the high volume of calls, and so had limited capacity to do more.

I’m an engineer, what’s my role here? 

Our observations helped us to understand the needs that repair teams might have of a reporting tool. For example, contractors could be assigned up to eight jobs per day, with lots of travelling in between, which gives them minimal time to complete reports.

Language barriers meant that communication between contractors and tenants was often limited. This meant verbal cues were unlikely to become a reliable way to identify vulnerability.

Promisingly, we saw that a method for repair teams to flag vulnerable residents already existed. Within the system they used to manage job requests, contractors were asked to complete a short survey after each job, to identify areas of concern. However, it wasn’t clear to them what would happen with that information, so they didn’t often use it.

“If I had somewhere to report it, I would. I come home and confide in my wife when I’ve seen something I think should be addressed.”

close up of a mobile phone screen showing a form to fill in to log issues on site visits
An example of a survey that contractors were asked to complete at each job. Questions were already asked about violence or threatening behaviour.

Understanding the technical processes

Alongside user research, we conducted a review into the technical and business processes behind identifying residents as vulnerable. We wanted to understand what already existed, and how data was stored and acted on.

​​We mapped key stakeholders involved at various points in the system of maintenance and support. This included call centre staff, neighbourhood support teams and IT. 

We also reviewed the definitions of vulnerability that were used by Origin to assess whether someone might require support. For example, a visual impairment or financial stress were seen to indicate vulnerability.

Hypothesis-driven prototypes

We produced a range of hypotheses about how vulnerable residents could be flagged. For example, by training contractors to recognise signs, and reassuring them that their concerns had been acted upon. We then developed prototypes to test these hypotheses with repair teams. 

We knew that the vulnerability-spotting tools needed to include visual prompts, and to interface with the existing repair teams’ software. 

We put an interactive prototype into contractors’ hands for a testing period of two weeks, and afterwards ran a feedback meeting with them to review how it could evolve.

image shows a person writing feedback on a paper print-out displaying prototype designs for a digital survey
A feedback workshop we ran with contractors to review the language, process and images used in the prototype.

Recommendations for the beta service

At the end of the alpha phase, we created a series of recommendations for developing the reporting service. We made the case that there was potential for it to be used across all of Origin Housing’s contracts, to maximise protection for residents. We made high-level technical recommendations on how the service could interface across contractors’ Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software systems.

Those recommendations became the foundation for the beta phase of the project, where we would explore the technical implementation of the service.

Moving into beta

During the beta phase, we developed our design into a solution that could be implemented. We:

  • ran a workshop to explore the technical build of the intermediary service – how it would integrate with the existing software and comply with GDPR
  • developed a solution architecture – to ensure the service could be used by multiple maintenance service providers, and the CRM software they used
  • defined rules for how survey data would be stored safely, and how responses would be followed up on
  • developed a name and branding for the referral service: ‘Beyond Fixing Homes’
  • developed vulnerability training for contractors into a series of deliverable modules. 
  • produced a service blueprint of Beyond Fixing Homes, which outlined the key stages of the service: from training contractors to the housing association following up on survey responses. 

Beyond Fixing Homes: a proven solution to identify vulnerable residents

image shows a mobile phone with the final version of the Beyond Fixing Homes service interface on the screen
Screens from the final version of the Beyond Fixing Homes service

Our testing of the prototype helped to provide evidence of how it met the hypotheses we had identified.

We had originally established that time was a key factor in the success of the survey. We found in our testing that it took on average 55 seconds to complete, which dropped in a later iteration to 30 seconds.

Four residents were identified as being vulnerable during the testing phase, who received further support as a result.

Contractors spoke highly of the service. Despite initial reservations, they saw the value in it. All contractors felt it could enable them to further help residents, and this led to a sense of greater satisfaction in their role.

The Beyond Fixing Homes service was later piloted in a longer term study with 20 contractors, and went on to become a key part of Origin’s work to support vulnerable people.