NOW Group

NOW Group

Buying Some Time

NOW Group is a NI-wide social enterprise that supports people with barriers to employment and learning, helping them to change their lives and make a positive impact on society.

Through a wide range of services and activities the NOW Group is striving to create a society where people with all levels of learning abilities live, work and socialise as valued citizens. A Limited Company with charitable status, NOW Group has been operating since 2001, providing quality training and employment services for local people with differing levels of learning abilities. Training opportunities range from personal financial management to industry standard catering qualifications. Alongside training, NOW supports its clients into volunteering and employment through a dedicated support service.

NOW Group measures its impact through social value and quantitative metrics, for example in 2014 / 2015 the work of the NOW Group saved the tax payer £128,139 through a reduced need for day care places, and generated a saving of £20,013 in Benefits. It was able to create these savings by working with 278 people to gain qualifications in a range of vocational and life skill subjects, and subsequently supporting them into paid employment (32 people) and voluntary work (24 people). 

For The Techies in Residence Programme NOW Group worked with Ciaran Murray, Director of Derry based Creative Metrics, a digital design agency.

Just a Minute

A key aim of NOW Group is helping to engage those with varying levels of learning abilities to become contributing and independent members of society; one tool which has been developed to support this aim is the JAM Card. The JAM Card (an abbreviation of ‘Just a Minute’) is a credit card sized information card that people with learning disabilities/difficulties can carry and use to alert staff in retail outlets, public/private transport providers and other areas of public life that the card-holder needs ‘Just a Minute’ of patience and time to successfully complete an interaction.

Businesses and service providers are able to display the JAM Card logo, so that their customers know that if they need to take ‘Just a Minute’ staff will be supportive of them. Currently there are 4,000 cards in circulation, with a wide range of businesses’ signed up as registered supporters, including Translink and Tesco. To date the cards have been used by clients aged 16-65, however the majority of younger clients now use their mobile phones to help them with everyday transactions and as such it became clear that integrating the card with mobile phone use would create a smoother user experience for those clients.

The challenge

The JAM Card successfully acts as a discreet way of letting people know that the user needs “just a minute”.  However, whilst the card has been successful in its initial realization- a number of functionality issues have been identified, and it was hoped that these issues could be solved with the help of a Techie in residence. Namely the functionality issues included not being able to measure the use and impact of the card, and not being able to gather data to prove the value of the card to service providers.

As community engagement manager at the NOW Group, Jayne McStaye works on the front line, and comes to face to face with clients on a daily basis, through this experience she saw a move towards mobile communication amongst NOW’s client base. As such Jayne felt it was important that NOW moved with the times and developed a digital tool that would build on the JAM Card and create a more user friendly and appealing experience. Sounding out the idea of developing a digital tool, NOW attended the 2015 Social Innovation Camp, hosted by the Building Change Trust, having won the hackathon Jayne and her colleagues felt empowered to push their digital idea, and take it to the next level by participating in The Techies in Residence project, with the following ask:

How can NOW Project turn this into a more dynamic application that has an added use for the organisation or the users? This is an open-ended problem- how can technology be added to an already successful product, and how can additional tech benefits be identified?

What can be done to expand and build upon the JAM Card in its current guise and turn it from a simple card used by people with communication difficulties into something that can help NOW Project collect and mine data

The Process

At an initial bootcamp session Jayne meet Ciaran Murray (Owner of Creative Metrics) and found that his ideas really fitted with the direction NOW wanted to take the JAM Card in.

The relationship between the VSCE and Techie was particularly strong in this case study. Jayne commened “The Techies in Residence Project has really outshone all our expectations, and the project has really evolved over the course of the Ciaran’s work with us. We expected someone would take the concept and go away, work on it, and deliver us a working prototype. But we were so lucky, because our Techy really bought into our work, and was really driven to create an outstanding prototype, it was clear he was powered on by a real social consciousness. We weren’t just another client, Ciaran really cared about both creating something that would help improve the daily lives of our clients”.

Due to geographic distances, it was agreed at an early stage that Ciaran would work remotely, and would keep in touch via email, and milestone meetings. This was something that worked well for both Ciaran and Jayne. With both commenting that having meet each other at the bootcamp session, they had struck up a good rapport and were able to have banter over email, and this positive and friendly working relationship was key to the success of The Techies in Residence project.

Jayne joked that she thinks NOW picked the least techie member of the team to manage this project, so that she would have to learn some digital skills. Whether this was true or not, it definitely worked, Jayne has went from a self confessed luddite to a keen techie, who has started attending a code club, and is now pushing the digital agenda within the organisation more widely. Organisational buy in was at the heart of NOW’s involvement, two board members come from a digital background, and Chief Executive Maeve Monaghan is a keen Twitter user. For Jayne having buy in from across the organisation really allowed her to justify the time and resources needed for NOW to fully commit to this development journey.

Going forward NOW is keen to implement the learnings from their Techies in Residence journey across all seven areas of their work. Jayne said with genuine delight, that she was surprised at how easy it is to come up with solutions to real world problems when you invite new perspectives into an organisation. This solution focussed thinking is something that she is keen to filter through the organisation. Indeed Jayne has already started to compile a list of challenges that could be solved by a technological solution. This knowledge of what’s possible is a really strong lasting legacy of The Techies in Residence Project. “Everyone talks about data, but I was never really sure what we were meant to do with all this data, now I know what’s possible, and, that knowledge is already allowing me to streamline some of our daily tasks, and has allowed us to start an organisation wide conversation about investing in digital solutions, to streamline our work flow”. With this in mind, NOW are now in the process of developing a small innovation fund, which staff can apply to, to develop solutions to the everyday challenges they face in their daily workflow.

The opportunities that data presents organisations such as NOW is often overlooked, and Techies in Residence has helped NOW to recognise the value of data in terms of social impact, but also the financial value of data, which could potentially help to create a self sustaining funding model for the JAM Card App. By allowing users to check into venues, and to rate service, NOW can feed this data into the disability awareness training it already offers businesses, such business specific data, helps demonstrate that the value of the fee charged for such training. The user feedback data will allow businesses to develop their offer to this client base, track data to ensure that support is available at peak times and reward staff for excellent customer service. The business model of the JAM Card is that the service user never pays, but instead, businesses’ pay through training fees.

For Ciaran the clear draw to this project was simple “I love problems, this seemed like a great problem, and was one that I wanted to solve… I normally work B2B so the opportunity, and admittedly the funding, to allow me to take time away from my normal client work really appealed”

“I really enjoyed working on this project, I got on really well with Jayne – who was much less demanding than a normal private client! This was really important, as it allowed ideas to creep in, it permitted creativity and flexibility, it was refreshing to work towards a prototype rather than a strictly defined client brief”

“In my old age, I feel like I’m done with the hamster wheel, projects like this don’t come up often, so I was delighted when this one came my way”

“This is the kind of project you’re always waiting for – it’s been a real gem to work on”

Project Outcomes

As a result of The Techies in Residence funding, NOW Group have a working prototype and strong ambitions for further developments. The prototype records data in the cloud including location, usage type and user information, meaning that in the future a digital dashboard can be created to allow NOW to analyse this data with ease. Other potential features include News feed and the ability to customise the JAM Card message to the needs of individual users.

The prototype will allow NOW to pilot the app with service users, and therefore further refine the user experience while seeking additional funding to develop the app further. Future ambitions including developing a geo location capability, which would allow for greater data collection, and also allow NOW to provide businesses with targeted marketing opportunities – which would help to provide the income needed to manage the JAM Card App going forward.

Lessons Learnt

  • It is important for both the technical and VSCE partner to be open to learning from the other. The role of the technical partner is not to come into a VSCE and solve all their problems; instead, success is based on an on going dialogue and reciprocal learning. This reciprocal relationship is very important and helps to distinguish The Techies in Residence Programme from a traditional client / agency relationship.
  • A reciprocal time commitment is important – the success of this project is the result of both the VCSE and technical partner investing equal amounts of time, energy and enthusiasm into the journey.
  • The emphasis on process learning, and developing digital skills and competencies rather than an end product, helped both partners to experiment, be creative and take risks. The freedom to be creative ultimately resulted in a stronger project outcome – a working prototype, with increased functionality than was stated in the original project spec.
  • People work with people – and the positive relationship between the techie and VCSE was central to the success of the project. Having an opportunity for both partners to meet before a match is made is crucial to ensuring a positive working relationship and quality project outcome for all participants. 

Further Information:

NOW Group

Creative Metrics


Posted on

May 2, 2018

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