Civic Activism Awards - Advice NI
Ushahidi Crowdmaping is just one of the many Civic Activism Tools being used in this project.

Civic Activism Awards - Advice NI

04 August 2015

Advice NI will be using their Civic Activism Award to deliver their Reaching the Hard to Reach: Capturing the Impact of Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland project.

They'll be working in coalition with Gingerbread NI, East Belfast Independent Advice Centre, NICVA and Omagh Independent Advice Services.

Advice NI are a Belfast-based independent advice organization that specializes in helping people with taxes, benefits, debt problems, consumer rights and employment. They help people across Northern Ireland and use traditional and innovative platforms to provide services to vulnerable, hard to reach and marginalized social groups.

Last year Advice NI dealt with over 5000 clients presenting with £62 million of debt, and a further 25,000 older people in need of help with their benefit entitlements, resulting in an additional £7 million in benefits being claimed.

One powerful example of their advocacy and ability to bring about positive change is a recent lobby effort on behalf on lone parents who were having issues around tax credit compliance due to undisclosed partners. Advice NI collated evidence from their clients and produced a report and presented it to senior staff at the agency, which subsequently led to a change in HMRC policy.

With their Civic Activism award from the Trust, Advice NI and its partners will examine those people most likely to be impacted by welfare reform in order to understand their experiences and hear their fears. This will give an otherwise vulnerable population a voice, but it will also bring transparency to this complex but crucial issue that will greatly impact many lives.

The project will focus in particular on people living in deprived areas who are reliant upon social security, families with children who may be subject to the benefit cap, people with disabilities, lone parents under 25 claiming Universal Credit, and people who may be subject to the bedroom tax – all of whom could face changes that will impact their benefits and financial situation.

Advice NI will use the information gathered to lobby and influence key decision-makers with responsibility for aspects of welfare reform, with the aim of mitigating the potential negative impacts for the most vulnerable members of the community.

In order to do so, Advice NI will deploy a series of tools from the Civic Activism Toolkit, including crowdmapping, citizen reporting, crowd-wise and citizen report cards.

The Ushahidi Crowdmapping Platform, software that literally puts people’s voices on a map, will enable Advice NI to gather geospatial data that will track the impact of Welfare Reform and identify hotspots across NI where people are being affected.

The Citizen Report Card tool -surveys that enables citizens to assess their experiences of public services – will be used via an online platform to enable individuals with experience of going through the process of welfare reform to record their experiences.

Digital Fact Checking will be incorporated on the Advice NI website, allowing the general public to submit and ask questions, access an archive of previous answers and flag up false or misleading information. Advice NI will have a panel of experts responding and submitting information onto the platform.

The Crowd Wise tool will be used in a number of small group discussions. Through the other elements of the project Advice NI will bring to the table a number of issues/policy statements which will then be discussed, votes taken and then prioritised and agreed. They will then make use of interactive real time voting tools during the group discussions to help facilitate the decision making process.

Incorporating Citizen Reporting, Advice NI will run a number of #campaigns (hashtag campaigns) on specific welfare reform impacts highlighted through other strands of the project.  These campaigns will enable real time discussion of issues, sharing of information and mapping of impact.

Advice NI estimates that it will secure participation from 3,000 people directly affected by changes to several welfare programmes. The target was set with the understanding that many of the people being surveyed are socially excluded and may be digitally excluded as well.

Advice NI plays a key social policy role in Northern Ireland, engaging both with disadvantaged populations at the grassroots level and with key policy and decision makers at the government level, acting both as a conduit of information and as an advocate for people who otherwise lack access to systems of power. In this capacity, Advice NI and their partners will be able to maximize the use of innovative technologies and practices to further their goal of bridging social and digital divides.

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