People of Public Service is our insight series where we highlight leaders, frontline staff and everyone in between that's meeting the changing needs of communities in innovative ways.

We spoke to Aleksandra Černiauskienė, Advisor to the Vilnius Administration to hear her experience of the city’s social care digital transformation and the importance of engaging communities in change. The digital innovation support for Vilnius and other European capital cities is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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I’ve worked in both the public and private sectors, in very different roles. My career has taken me to sales, property and even the Head of the Economy department in a municipality. Working in the public sector is incredibly different and having that experience behind me has certainly been valuable. I believe there’s a lot to borrow from private organisations around processes and the speed at which things can be done. That’s what this project has been about, making sure citizens are at the heart of the service, getting the help they need quickly.

The public sector uses complex and legislative language, our social workers balance a lot of responsibilities and there can often be long wait times due to demand. There’s no single source of information that explains what social care is supposed to look like and how citizens are supposed to apply for different types of support.

Citizens don’t need to worry about who individual providers are and the differences between what they offer, they simply need to know how we can help them.

It was a pleasure to be a part of this transformation project, it's been a great challenge and part of that has been working across different departments. We had staff from social care, IT and of course, administration. As part of this blended team, I also suggested we invite two social care workers to join us on our journey in creating a truly user-centred service.

Communities as advocates for change

Together, we focused on home care. Our older generation needs to live independently or with relatives as long as possible for their mental health, quality of life and happiness. Sometimes all a person needs is help travelling to the doctor's office or equipment to make everyday tasks easy. Many people realise after buying expensive pieces of equipment that we can help with financial support.

During this project, we were still responding to the COVID-19 crisis. I worried we wouldn’t be able to reach people, but as we’ve seen in the past 18 months, anything is possible. I'm delighted we got in touch with so many interesting groups across Vilnius.

It’s important for us to get diverse opinions from different people if we really want to make the city a better place to live.

I spoke to many different people in our community about this topic and their lived experiences. Hearing the real stories of citizens, carers, doctors and even social care specialists working in our hospitals have been crucial as they all do different roles, but they all cooperate to provide one unified service for our elderly.

Personally, I'm really happy to have developed a wider point of view during this project. Engaging with our public servants has really helped with that. I can’t wait to improve more processes across our authority because I now know who to communicate with to see the whole picture.

Building relationships with citizens

When I first started this project, it was a challenge talking directly to people using the service and asking them what they want. Some in our team initially felt shy and even slightly worried we’d get negative feedback, but I was so excited to talk to our citizens, and they were thankful we involved them. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and their experiences on a human level.

It’s important to remember that even negative feedback can be positive, it helps us learn our weaknesses.

Although not as simple as we’d hoped, we used the radio, social media and even newspapers to make sure we were reaching a large demographic. And that wider communication proved essential. We need to communicate when we’re setting standards for services, that much has always been clear to me. It doesn't matter what we think as an authority, people need change and their opinions are the ones that count.

Before launching our solutions we ran testing sessions, involving the people we'd spoken to along the way. It didn’t matter what kind of role someone played, whether they were receiving the service or providing it. Each person brought their own experiences and knowledge to make this work a success. We launched simple tools including a cost calculator and equipment catalogue, which have both made such a difference to helping people get support quickly.

Citizens using our services are reaching out for help. It’s up to us to make the process as user-friendly as possible, manage expectations and ensure they’re talking to the staff who can support them.

Financial challenges can be a sensitive issue in Vilnius. Designing these tools for people to self-serve and find the information they need themselves has been wonderful. This is one part of the project I’m really proud of, we did a great job. I know our citizens now have a better understanding of our service and what we can support them with, I’m so thankful I had a part in that.

Creating change together

Some see communities as groups of individuals who belong to an organisation. For me, the meaning comes from my childhood. When we were young, children would travel to watch their parents play volleyball, we’d spend time together and families would look after one another. People build our communities, they're the heart of a place.

I don’t see community as an organisation. To me, community is the people around you, the people who care for you.

Our citizens and public service staff have had great input on this project as well as many others that are underway. They're truly helping us shape our place for the better. Even something as simple as planting a tree in a local park. A sign that says it was planted by the community carries a great symbol, it brings us together and that’s really wonderful.

I'm proud to say we helped the citizens involved in this process believe in change. We became one unified team seeking to make the service better not just for our staff, but for our communities. Each person that had a role to play in this project, has created an impact. I’m delighted our citizens know we're continuing this work and they're eager to help across other services.

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