Supported by 500,000 volunteers, more than 690,000 people work in the 25,064 facilities and services affiliated with Caritas in Germany. Together they help around 13 million people each year. This makes Caritas not only the biggest provider of social services in Germany, but also the largest employer nationwide.
Within the course of its digitalisation strategy, Caritas assessed its counselling activities. Their counsellors were already supported by a web-based tool, allowing people in need of assistance to connect with specialists online. The tool itself did not adhere to the latest data security standards and was equipped with a user interface which made it difficult for those seeking assistance and counsellors who wanted to help.
How to make counselling available in rural areas
Particularly in rural regions where the nearest counselling facility may be far away, Caritas wanted to utilise digital capabilities to connect more people in need with its counselling services. Being driven by their vision of blended counselling – allowing seamless transitions between online and onsite dialogues – Caritas asked us to redesign and rebuild their digital service.
We started the project by conducting research on both sides: those in need and counsellors ready to help. We learned that people approaching the counselling centers are often in severe distress. Whether they are dealing with grief, struggling with depression, fighting addiction, or facing financial doom, they are often not able to express themselves. Counsellors, therefore, have a great responsibility in helping those facing crisis, despair, and sometimes life-threatening situations.
We were thrilled when Caritas decided to make the software we developed open source.
Online dialogues made easy for help seekers and counsellors
The interface we developed is based on well-known messenger interaction patterns enriched by pre-formulated conversation starters. These allow us to channel help requests to an appropriate counselling expertise and enable synchronous and asynchronous communication with experts nationwide.
An automated routing algorithm ensures that help seekers can connect instantly with the matching expertise. For counsellors we removed all unnecessary clutter and automated documentation obligations. We took great care to protect the highly sensitive dialogues, using a multi-layer security concept including end-to-end encryption and a zero-data-emission paradigm.
Since starting the renewed service, counselling requests grew by 300% and today the application hosts around 80,000 counselling sessions per month. We were also thrilled when Caritas decided to go open source with the software we developed. We’re convinced that many other organisations will benefit from the thoughts and love we’ve put into it.