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Why your calls with the Revenue and Water departments are friendlier

Living Cities' accelerator has helped Philadelphia innovate services for impoverished citizens. October 24, 2016 Category: FeaturedResultsShort

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included a link to an unfinished version of the Living Cities report. It has been updated. Edit 10/31 @ 12:30 p.m.
When researchers at International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) analyzed an number of public assistance programs in Philadelphia last year, they took note of the greeting for the Department of Revenue’s call center.

“What property are you calling about?”

ISTSS recommended the department revise the greeting to make callers feel more comfortable while making a call about tax issues. It’s an example of trauma-informed service — a prevalent practice in fields like mental health and the justice system, where service recipients are most likely to suffer from poverty and injustice.

Thanks to partnerships developed during Living CitiesCity Accelerator initiative, staffers at Philadelphia’s Revenue and Water departments have been trained in trauma-informed service by the Scattergood FoundationTraining started in early 2016 and was completed by July.

It’s one outcome reported recently by Equal Measure. The nonprofit is responsible for evaluating the initiative, launched in 2014 to help cities introduce innovation to services for low-income residents. The team from the Philadelphia cohort focused on reducing barriers to enrollment in public benefits, which Equal Measure reported was “under-utilized by some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable residents,” through BenePhilly.

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Equal Measure recently published a two-year brief on Living Cities with Governing magazine. The trauma-informed training is one of a handful of noteworthy outcomes in Philadelphia reported so far, including:

  • Cross-department collaboration — Equal Measure reported “deeper collaboration” across government offices. Some examples include an effort to map out residents who are eligible for benefits they are not currently enrolled in and the introduction of “human-centered design and trauma-informed customer service” across departments.
  • Community engagement — “Sharing outcomes” of new efforts with community stakeholders by doing “roadshows.”
  • Accelerator Fund — The Philadelphia team is reportedly toying with the idea of developing a fund to seed “small-scale innovation experiments” in city government.

Considering a quarter of the city’s population lives in poverty, it will be interesting to see if that trauma-informed training spills over to other city departments and public offices.

Project

Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia

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