cover illustrationMaximising the Role of Outreach in Client Engagement

Dewson S, Davis S, Casebourne J
Research Report DWPRR 326, Department for Work and Pensions, March 2006

a study commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions

This report presents the findings from the research into ‘Maximising the Role of Outreach in Client Engagement’ for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Outreach has been used as a mechanism to deliver elements of welfare-to-work services in local community settings and this research set out to determine what makes for effective outreach provision, and conversely, to look at the factors that serve to inhibit successful outreach services.

Method of approach

This research had two main strands:

  • a literature review
  • a series of interviews with policy personnel, local stakeholders and outreach poject managers.

The literature review drew on evidence from the UK, US and international sources while the interviews were undertaken with individuals who have experience of managing or running outreach projects (largely) in the context of UK welfare-to-work services.

Defining outreach

‘Outreach’ is a term that is often used but rarely defined. It applies to many policy fields, including education and health services, and essentially entails services being taken out from their normative and mainstream institutional settings and being provided in local community settings. In the welfare-to-work arena, outreach services are used to:

  • engage customers
  • deliver welfare-to-work services in local settings and environments.

Outreach services may also be defined as those that draw on partnerships and networks with other service providers to deliver and promote welfare-to-work services in local communities.

Outreach services can be employed to raise the profile of (more mainstream) services and inform potential customers of the provision and help that is available to them. Outreach services can also be used to reach and engage specific customer groups and those who do not tend to use mainstream services, ie those people who are ‘harder to reach’. Outreach provision can then be used as a means of delivering welfare-to-work services to these customers, away from mainstream settings and in more informal and relaxed surroundings.

Scope of outreach

Outreach activities aimed at engaging new customers include: leaflets and newsletters; billboard and bus advertising; stalls and displays in local venues (eg libraries, community centres, markets etc.); marketing products and ‘goodies’; open days; and sponsored events. These products and events are used to maintain the profile of services and to encourage customers to take up (outreach) provision.

The type of services provided on an outreach basis include: regular one-to-one meetings with key workers or personal advisers; advice on in-work benefits and tax credits; overcoming barriers to work; referals to other agencies; help with jobsearch and CV preparation; helping with the costs of childcare and transport; and ongoing, in-work support. Outreach provision is able to offer a full advisory service to customers in similar ways to Jobcentre Plus, the main differences being:

  • services are provided closer to home
  • they are usually voluntary and it is not usually mandatory for customers to participate; customers do not encounter sanctions if they opt not to take part
  • outreach providers may be different from mainstream (Jobcentre Plus) providers.

Outreach may be delivered in different ways. It may be delivered in a specific, separate site (the satellite model), for example, a high street shop, or they may use another organisation’s premises (the peripatetic model), such as a room in a community centre. Outreach staff may go out into the community and engage with customers outside any organisational settings (the detached outreach model), for example in shopping centres or mosques, or they may visit people in their own homes (the domicillary model).

Provision of outreach

Outreach services are provided by many different organisations, and the key players in welfare-to-work outreach service provision are Jobcentre Plus and its contractors, local authorities and other community organisations. Some providers believe it is important to distance themselves from Jobcentre Plus and statutory provision to overcome negative perceptions and suspicions of these central agencies and so outreach services are often marketed quite separately from the mainstream. What is key to outreach provision though, regardless of the agency or organisation providing it, and on which there is much consensus, is the attributes and skills of outreach workers. Outreach staff need to:

  • be enthusiastic, friendly and outgoing
  • have a passion for the job
  • have empathy towards the customer group(s)
  • share some characteristics with the customer group, eg age, gender, ethnic group, community background
  • have good communication and organisational skills
  • be flexible and prepared to work out of hours.

Qualifications are much less important than the personal characteristics, attitudes and personalities of outreach workers. If people do not want to do outreach work, they will not make good outreach workers. In addition, effective outreach staff need to have a clear understanding of the local labour market, benefits and tax credits etc. to really help people back into employment.

Assessing outreach

Assessing the outcomes from outreach is difficult. Outcomes from outreach take longer to achieve as customers are harder to reach and thus, by definition, usually harder to help. These customers are normally disengaged from mainstream services and require some time and investment to build trust and confidence in the service. Once engaged, customers often require lengthy interventions to overcome barriers to work and, consequently, quick wins from outreach per se are rare.

Outreach services are often peripheral activities and provision is patchy. This makes arriving at any reliable aggregate measure of success from outreach impossible to calculate. However, evidence from the literature review and from project managers and stakeholders suggests that outreach is effective at attracting non-traditional customers into welfare-to-work services. Many projects assert that they are achieving job outcomes for these harder-to-help customers over and above their targets. Moreover, these customers are making gains in soft outcomes all the time, for example, improving their confidence and motivation.

The main reasons why outreach services are effective is that they are provided in more informal circumstances and settings which encourage and inspire greater participation. Moreover, the provision is delivered in ‘flexible and friendly’ ways, not least because participation is usually voluntary and provision is less stringently geared to meeting targets. Outreach staff are able to work for longer with customers to overcome barriers and to achieve quality and sustainable outcomes. Importantly, services that are delivered in the community are perceived to be provided by, and for, the community.

Outreach services may be negatively affected or constrained if: they lack clear goals; lack support from mainstream organisations; lack capacity and/or funds to deliver; face(overly burdensome) outcome-related funding pressures which encourage ‘creaming’; and experience difficulties working in partnership with other (local) agencies.

Conclusions

In the current policy climate, outreach services certainly seem to have a role in customer engagement, in the ‘local areas’ agenda, and in promoting greater partnership working within local communities. The main conclusions coming from this study are that outreach services can be, and indeed seem to be, effective. More effort is required though to understand more fully, and systematically, who does make use of outreach services and what their outcomes from this type of intervention are. Some robust assessment of the additionality of outreach services and their complementing of mainstream provision may then be possible.

Maximising the Role of Outreach in Client Engagement, Dewson S, Davis S, Casebourne J. Research Report DWPRR 326, Department for Work and Pensions, 2006.
ISBN: 978-1-84123-975-0. PDF Download only: £free

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