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Hestia provides domestic abuse support services in London and the south east, including domestic abuse refuges and community-based support.

This Guide focuses on using Microsoft tools to help people make digital referrals to a service. It covers how to make useful forms. It also looks at how volunteers or staff can access the information securely.

Steps to creating digital referral forms and implementing them

You need to work out if digital referral will help people use your service or whether it will create an unnecessary barrier.

You should ask questions like:

  • Who makes the referral? The person who will use the service, a worker or someone else?

  • Are they comfortable using digital tools?

  • What is the service being offered? How complicated is it? Is it online? How easy is it to know how people benefit from it?

  • Who is delivering the service? How comfortable are they using online tools?

Fill in a simple digital form, with not too many questions can be a easy and helpful way to begin a referral. step in a referral journey. It can also make some services more efficient and effective.

Hestia set up a digital champion service during the pandemic. They knew that lots of the people they supported needed to increase their digital skills and confidence. They recruited a network of volunteers to help them learn.

The volunteers needed to know what the service users needed. They were interested in:

  • their goals and motivations for going online

  • their level of skills and confidence before working with their champion.

It was also important to Hestia that the volunteers did not have to deal with too much sensitive information. They needed service user data to remain secure throughout the process.

Ideally, Hestia staff wanted to be able to see which volunteers were working with who and gather data on the project. They wanted the volunteers to make the connections with the service users, without needing staff input.

Hestia planned that key workers would make the referrals. This meant a digital process would be useful - even though the service being provided is for people with low digital confidence. Later, they made it possible for service users with some digital skills to self-refer for further support.

You will need:

  • an online form

  • a spreadsheet, CRM or other tracking system that stores personal data securely and allows your team to see the inputs from the online form

You may want:

  • a process that automates some things between the online form and your tracking system, adding greater efficiency to the system or providing greater privacy

  • a reporting system that allows your team to add extra information as they deliver support

  • a reporting system that gives you data about the service outputs.

Hestia chose to use Microsoft Forms. Using Microsoft’s Power Automate tool, they connected Microsoft Forms with Microsoft Planner. Power Automate needed a technically confident team member to use it.

Staff at Hestia used Planner to assign volunteers to service users. The volunteers had access to Planner - and could use the information stored there to hold their first call with the service user. They could add information to Planner during that call, as they explored the digital learning goals together.

However, Planner also allowed all volunteers to see all information about every service user. Hestia thought this was an acceptable risk to get the service up and running - but they wanted to remove that risk eventually.

They have since changed the system so now the Microsoft Forms connect to Sharepoint. Sharepoint connects to Microsoft Teams. Using their Microsoft Teams logins, volunteers now only see data for the service users they are working with. Data privacy is improved.

To design a form well, you need to think about:

  • Who is filling in the form?

  • When and where are they doing it?

  • If they’re filling it in for someone else, how much information do they have about that person and/or how easy is it for them to convey what they know in a form?

If you want your forms to be quick and easy to fill in, try to use drop down lists or multiple choice boxes whenever you can. But remember that some people also like to have at least one free text box where they can explain things.

Hestia found that it was unhelpful to ask too much about the service users digital goals, skills and confidence in the referral form. So they designed questions that gave simple starting points. They asked service users to score how confident they felt in various areas. Then they encouraged volunteers to use the first call to find out more.

Plan training for anyone who will be contacting people using your tracking system. Remember that they may have different levels of digital skills and confidence. 

Think about the wider context of your project. Are there other things that you need to put in place for your team?

Hestia focused on making data as secure as possible. Their first step was making sure all their volunteers had Microsoft email addresses connected with the organisation. They trained the volunteers in how to use these email addresses and planners.

Though volunteers were there to provide digital skills support the people they were supporting often had other needs too. These sometimes included being in crisis or safeguarding issues. Hestia made sure the volunteers had email contact with the person who referred each service user. This gave them a place to get support for needs that were outside their digital champion role.

Hestia also spent time encouraging volunteers to update the tracking system with how digital skills development was going. This was important for Hestia’s reporting. It also helped the volunteers reflect on if they were making a difference.

They ran volunteer supervision sessions, and used feedback from these sessions to improve the service.

Further information

Handling Online referrals - see other guides on this site:

Working with domestic abuse survivors?
For more on this guide, speak to Cosimo Matteini, Digital Inclusion Coordinator at Hestia: [email protected]