Q & A with Liz Sewell FIEP, Director, the GRoW Programme
What is the GRoW App and what made you decide to invest in your own app?
Liz: The GRoW app is essentially like our own facebook app but just for our participants on the GRoW Programme. We introduced our own app to help build up a two-way, open dialogue with our participants where we could offer more support and they could feel better supported by having everything they need from us at the touch of a button on their smart phone.
The thinking behind it was that GRoW has always had a community feel to it, people may have been referred from their childrens centre or children’s school and felt part of a group already and then joined our GRoW community. When the pandemic hit and the first lockdown was upon us things changed and people who were coming to us were no longer being referred from settings where groups were already established. We had quickly transferred all of our services to digital and many of our new customers were coming alone, without any support networks. We felt more than ever that our participants needed to feel part of our community and we needed to find new and improved ways to engage with them. This is how the GRoW App came to fruition.
Has having the app changed the way you work with your clients – do you engage via the app in addition to or instead of what you were doing before?
Liz: Lockdown was the reason we had to rethink the way we offered all our services. What could have been a catastrophe turned into an opportunity. We had a model which we thought worked but lockdown made us re-evaluate that and we now have a model that is more inclusive.
The GRoW App is very easy to use, it looks a lot like Facebook so it is immediately recognisable to people as something that is familiar. It doesn’t need any training to use and offers high quality interaction with people.
It has improved the way we interact because participants can access good quality content as soon as they download the app which means they can quickly get involved in what we have to offer. I was speaking to a new client recently who was conflicted about what to do; she has a young child, wants to work but felt she didn’t have the necessary understanding of technology to be able to use the app. As soon as she downloaded it she relaxed as she could see clearly all the events and activities we had to offer in one place and it allowed her very quickly to see what we could do for her and how she could benefit.
The app has helped us become more inclusive. Through lockdown I had initially worried that going digital would make us less inclusive but it has had the opposite effect. Our participants with young children are much more able to use our service now as they don’t have the restrictions around school drop off and pick up times and people who can’t or don’t want to travel can make much more use of our services now. Because it is an app as opposed to anything else people who don’t use other technology are happy to use it because they are used to using technology on their phones.
How is the GRoW app being used?
Liz: One of the most popular ways it is being used is for booking our events. It gives people the ability to find out information when they want it rather than when we tell them about it. It means they can easily pre-plan their schedule, see what’s coming up and what they want to do. They can join meetings like our weekly Coffee Mornings directly from links in the app which means they don’t have to keep information separately or check emails. Everything is in one place.
The app also has folders and groups so you can keep resources in one place that participants can easily access. For example, if someone has an interview they can quickly read our interview tips to brush up and practice before they go. When we hold events we add our training resources to folders or specific groups in the app. It really adds value to the training because you can send information straight away and it is there in one place for everyone to see.
What difference is it making with your clients and do you see an uptake in engagement?
Liz: Yes definitely. It is encouraging people to attend events because they receive regular reminders and are sent posts and notifications through the week as well as motivational messages to keep people engaged.
It’s also great for building community spirit. We held a number of picnics through the Summer where we met up with our participants and their children in the park. We all had a fantastic time and we posted all the photos and the lovely artworks that the children produced on the app. It was great to share all the positive news and photos from the day and everyone was liking the posts and commenting. It adds a sort of energy to what we are doing because it means every event we do has a much longer lifespan as we can continue to engage afterwards and get real value from it.
Connecting through the app is also like part of an activity. If we were just emailing it wouldn’t be the same. When other people comment or like a post it encourages others to do the same and get involved. People can see things happening and we almost always end up with more people attending our events than those who initially signed up. We have always had good retention rates and this has remained since we went online.
I also think the app is good for the Belina GRoW Advisers as they can easily see which clients are engaging and quickly send them information they might be interested in. It increases client motivation when you can action things so much faster.
What sort of feedback have you had from clients about the app and do they like it?
Liz: They do like it and they do use it. They say it’s really easy to use. Peoples interactions with their phone is a very personal thing and once you have an app on your phone it is very much your app and you use it how you want to use it. Such as with Facebook and Twitter, some people use it just to keep up to date with what’s going on and some people use it to have a voice and share. Witht he GRoW app some people use it more than others and the people who do use it say they get a lot out of it. Nobody has said they don’t want to use it or download it which I think is a very positive thing.
Why should GRoW participants who do not have the app download it?
Liz: Because it enables you to get involved with what we are doing and feel part of a community. Through the app we are able to deliver much more support to people than those who do not have it. We can keep you updated about new events, jobs, resources, advice and last minute information you might want to know about that will either help you prepare to get a job or improve the job or earning power you have or enhance your life in some way through training or new knowledge, skills or learning you can access. There really are no negatives to having our app, just positives!