How can low-threshold advisory services be made more accessible?

How can we make low-treshold services more accessible? This has been the focus of the “Avoin ovi palveluihin” project in the City of Helsinki over the past three years. The project, which translates to “open door to services,” has been under my management. This project is funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and aims to develop information, advisory, and guidance services for people with an immigrant background. Similar projects were initiated across Finland in the fall of 2020.

The City of Helsinki offers a wide range of public advisory services with an inclusive approach, meaning there is no separate service system for people with different backgrounds. However, we recognized that certain target groups were underrepresented in many services due to a lack of awareness about the service system and how it functions. As a result, we set out to find ways to make the services more accessible.

We began with a survey and proceeded with a service design project. Service advisors and foreign language speakers residing in Helsinki participated in group interviews conducted in English, Estonian, Arabic, and Chinese. Some were interviewed individually, and elderly foreign language speakers were also involved. The data collected from workers, townspeople, and workshops revealed the need for building more accessible advisory services.

Helsinki neuvoo – Helsinki Advises
As a result, we launched the operating model, called “Helsinki neuvoo,” which translates to “Helsinki Advises.” This model comprises four key components:

1.  Redirecting:
The main idea behind the operating model is that customers are always directed to the appropriate service, even if they initially approach the wrong one. Every service point takes responsibility for explaining the service system and guiding customers on their next steps. While we strive to assist customers with their questions, there are situations where only specific services can provide legal answers. For such cases, there are established practices for effective and sensitive redirection.

2.    Use of translation services:
The survey and interview data revealed that services had different approaches when an advisor and customer didn’t share the same language. Utilizing translation services enhances the ability of vulnerable individuals to operate independently. A professional interpreter ensures that questions and answers are accurately understood. Fortunately, online interpreting services are now available within minutes.

3.  Multidisciplinary cooperation:
Cooperating across disciplines is more effective in reaching new customers. This cooperation can involve pop-up advisory sessions or visiting each other’s services. Additionally, we launched the Helsinki neuvoo social media account to reach people and provide information about the city’s advisory services.

4. Wiki for advisors:
Service advisors deal with a large amount of information. While many services had their own databanks, we found it more effective to consolidate this information. Hence, we established the Helsinki neuvoo wiki for Helsinki city’s advisory workers. Each service is responsible for updating their own information on the wiki. Using the same wiki streamlines information searches, saves updating time, and ensures information accuracy.

Implementing the model to a large organization

The operating model has been implemented in 13 services, with over a thousand employees trained to use it. Efforts have been made to ensure its sustainability and integration into orientation programs and local strategies. For instance, now there are two online self-study training modules available for advisors.
One of the pioneering units in adopting this operating model was Senior info. A notable concrete improvement within their service was starting to use interpreters with customers.

“The operating model motivated the use of interpreting services, which has increased our reliability with foreign-language speakers” says a service councillor Lisa Sirén from Senior info. Sirén also elaborates that discussion on using interpreters has also increased collaboration with foreign language-speaking communities.” When we reach out to people, we can now tell about possibility of interpreting services, resulting in an increase in our contacts. “

Looking ahead
The project will continue until August 2024, allowing for the development of stronger structures for the operating model’s future. With upcoming changes in the service system, including the renewal of the integration law and reforms in social and health services, the project’s work provides a solid foundation for the reorganization of advisory services for immigrants in the City of Helsinki.

have started with new challenges starting a new job concerning participation of elderly citizens in Helsinki city. I look forward, what the new work has to offer, and I leave Helsinki neuvoo operating model into my team-mates’ good hands.

Written by Marja Säikkä