Advancing the Frontier: Interactive Assistance

AdviceNow has developed a further tool to assist social security claimants. In the jargon-heavy language of the field, this is a ‘Work Capacity Assessment Mandatory Reconsideration Tool’. It is a development of previous material by AdviceNow in the same field. It is also a gloss on an official government document from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which is a 20 page questionnaire with 94 questions. And, seen in a wider context, the tool shines light on two elements of internet provision. First, and this is the point taken up below, it is an illustration of a development in advice provision from a static to a more dynamic form. Secondly, and this is not pursued here, it provides a bit of a challenge for government because, if this approach is helpful (and there is little doubt that it will be) why does not the government snitch the idea and incorporate more detail into its document? After all, it is clear that it considers length and complexity to be no obstacle to applicants.

Interactivity is one of the ‘frontier’ areas of development in the use of technology and access to justice.This is where organisations around the world in all sorts of fields are making interesting advances. Instead of information being provided in a static form, it is deployed dynamically to assist a user to complete a task. So, seen analytically, the user encounters three elements:

  • the addressing of a specific task rather than the simple provision of information – which might simply be the completion of a statement outlining their position or, more usefully, the completion of a relevant document;
  • the automated identification for the user by the system of specific and relevant information that assists in the completion of the task;
  • the incorporation of this information from the user in a final document that advances their position.

It is the development beyond the completion of a document with effectively yes/no answers to a document completed with guidance towards relevant information that marks the frontier.

It is easiest to see what this is all about by taking an example. Forgive the detail but this is necessary to see the point.

This is the Department of Work and Pensions questionnaire:

Part 3: Eating or drinking

Only answer Yes to the following questions, if you can do the activity safely, to an acceptable standard, as often as you need to and in a reasonable length of time.

92 Can you get food or drink to your mouth without help or being prompted by another person?

No

Yes

It varies

93 Can you chew and swallow food or drink without help or being prompted by another person?

No

Yes

It varies

94 If you have answered No or It varies, tell us about how you eat or drink and why you might need help.

And this is how AdviceNow glosses these questions in order to draw out the detail which may be suffered by the user:

Chewing or swallowing food or drink.

  • You cannot chew or swallow food or drink
  • You cannot chew or swallow food or drink without repeatedly stopping, experiencing breathlessness or severe discomfort
  • You cannot chew or swallow food or drink without needing somebody with you to repeatedly and regularly prompt or remind you
  • You fail to chew or swallow food or drink, or fail to do so without needing somebody with you to regularly prompt or remind you, because of a severe disorder of mood or behaviour
  • None of the above

Conveying food or drink to your mouth.

You cannot get food or drink to your own mouth without physical help from someone else

You cannot get food or drink to your own mouth without repeatedly stopping, experiencing breathlessness or severe discomfort

You cannot get food or drink to your own mouth without needing somebody with you to regularly prompt or remind you

You fail to get food or drink to your own mouth without receiving either physical help from somebody else or needing somebody with you to regularly prompt or remind you, because of a severe disorder of mood or behaviour

None of the above

So, all this is pretty detailed. But, it is important detail. As AdviceNow says, ‘We know that the DWP make unfair decisions very frequently, and we want to help you to challenge them and get the ESA and Universal Credit you are entitled to. Most claimants have to ask the DWP to look at their decision again (called a ‘mandatory reconsideration’) before you can appeal.’ Their tool shows how guided questions can lead a user into presenting a more detailed and relevant case directed at important issues which are not highlighted even with the 93 questions allowed by the department.

But, more widely, the tool – which is designed both for users themselves and advisers – shows how experience and knowledge can be marshalled into interactive assistance to complete a necessary task. If the internet is to make any serious contribution to assisting people to obtain and defend their rights then this sort of assistance for both advisers and users will be essential.

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