Improving your helpline tech – three tips from The Developer Society

Annika Howard
Steve Hawkes -The Developer Society - Improving your helpline tech

With an increasing number of service users choosing digital options for support, as well as a growing need to measure and demonstrate impact, helplines are having to adapt and up their tech game.

We were joined by The Developer Society’s Steve Hawkes who hosted a seminar session, at our Annual Conference, which got participants thinking about tech, data and developers.

Here are the key takeaways we noted from Steve's session:

1. Don’t just think “tech will save us”

It’s not easy in the charity and specifically helpline sector. The tech landscape is complex, and helplines often have limited access to expertise in this area.

Projects can be resource-intensive and expensive. It’s important to get it right because the outcomes of any system can impact the service.

Many tech projects fail due to a misalignment of values, goals or process. That’s why it’s vital to do the ground work and invest time and resources to really understand and visualise what you want and need.

2. Use data to inform your decisions

There are many different tools and programs that you can use to look at and interpret your data. However, don’t just look at your data, look at data from your competitors, make sure of open source licences and spaces too.

Make sure that you have dashboards set up that can track and capture data about your service.

Use tools like analytics so that you can see when people are visiting your website, where they are, and how they are accessing it.

Having this kind of information will help you to understand what your service users need and where you can focus your efforts. It will help you to make informed decisions. Our strength is in numbers.

Adopt an agile and iterative approach, this will allow you to minimise risk, because you can change, adapt and create as you go rather than being tied into a complete framework that you may find doesn’t meet your needs when it’s put into practice.

3. Find some friendly developers

Spend the day with developers – they love data! Hack days are a great way to do this.

Use sites like to find existing tech meetups with good attendance then go and visit and see if there's interest to work together.

Make sure that you have safe to use data, that's ready to go, in an open format (like CSV or an open API etc) and clear objectives or questions you'd like answered.

You’ll have a much better chance of success if you are able to present an interesting problem to solve. That’s what developers love to do. It’s a great way to engage them and increase your chances of getting them involved.

Feedback from Helplines Partnership members

"At a time of increasing demand for helplines, charities need to look at ways of helping people to self-serve digitally. This is something we've been doing at Unlock for a while but we're constantly working to adapt to the needs of the people that contact us. Steve's session was a useful insight into some of the ways that helplines can do this."
Christopher StaceyUnlock

Useful resources

Steve shared some useful prototyping tools for helplines working on new tech projects:

  • Typeform – questions, multi-choice, outcome routes/triage. API-CRM compatible
  • Zapier – Automation framework. Triggers action, links APIs to Google Sheets
  • Google apps/Google docs – Data storage tool
  • Metabase – visualisation of data sources powered by Google Sheets (displays stats through charts)

Thank you to Steve for hosting the seminar at the 2019 Helplines Partnership Conference.

You can find out more about the Developer Society, a fully not for profit co-op digital agency, and its work on their website.

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