Re-designing staff volunteering

In November we kicked off a project with a group of staff from the Future Forum to explore how we could encourage more staff to take part in volunteering in the borough. As well as an opportunity to develop something that would make a real difference to our community, it was a chance for this group of staff to put into practice some of the theory they’d heard around design and agile. Our project team also included a member of staff from Bexley Voluntary Services Council.

The Council already has a volunteering policy that enables staff to take 2 days special leave per year for volunteering, matched with their own time. However, our research showed that very few staff were aware if this policy, and even less were making use of it.

Through user research we also found out more about the type of volunteering opportunities staff were looking for (ad hoc and one-off days rather than regular commitments) and their preference to be part of a group and structured programme. We also found out more about the needs of the voluntary sector and what impact a successful employee supported volunteering scheme could have for them.

We quickly agreed that with a few tweaks to make it easier to understand and follow, our policy was fit for purpose but we needed some new mechanisms to help staff make the leap from reading the policy to booking the leave and doing an activity.

We developed design principles to guide us in the development of this mechanism:

  • Keep it simple
  • Built to last
  • Able to grow and flourish
  • Fits the bill for community and Council
  • Making the most of our people as assets – unlocking untapped excellence
  • Maximising value for all
  • Open to all
  • Flexibility and choice for volunteers

After brainstorming a broad range of ideas, we narrowed down to a few to prototype including:

  • An end to end process for staff to take part in nature conservation volunteering – from publicising the day and signing up, to getting manager approval, to the activities of the day itself and the follow-up
  • Skills-sharing / mentoring between senior managers at the Council and their counterparts in local voluntary organisations
  • A calendar of volunteering opportunities to give staff ideas about how they could use their volunteering leave

These will be backed by a communications campaign to highlight volunteering to staff and remind them of the policy, to be launched in April. Other ideas developed in the brainstorming sessions which need more resource to get off the ground have also been pitched to our Design and Innovation Board.

The project has followed the Double Diamond design methodology, run in agile-inspired sprints, and been documented on Trello. Through it we have exposed another cohort of staff to this way of working, as well as unlocking new ideas and focusing energy on an initiative that gives back to the community and to our staff.

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Volunteers undertaking conservation work at Lesnes Abbey Woods as part of our prototype