“We believe the voices of children and young people in care need to be kept at the centre of all the decisions made about them. We are a totally independent non-governmental organisation that exists to amplify the voices of children in care and ensure that they are heard.” - VOYCE Whakarongo Mai mission statement.

VOYCE Whakarongo Mai is a not-for-profit organisation, designed by young people in care, for young people and children in care.

In 2019 it was poised to massively expand its outreach to all tamariki and rangatahi across Aotearoa’s care system, but needed a way to scale up its data and relationship management tools to enable that growth.

Working with Datacom, VOYCE introduced Dynamics 365 and other Microsoft tools to transform its entire operations and ultimately the organisation has implemented much more than a CRM platform – it’s a platform to create change for New Zealand youth.

The meaning behind the not-for-profit’s name, VOYCE - Whakarongo Mai, is ‘Voice of the Young and Care Experienced – Listen to me.’

It was established in 2017 to amplify the voices of the 5000+ children and young people that are currently in state care. Amidst the complexity of the state care system and the many adults coordinating children’s care, listening to young people is often overlooked, which adds to feelings of disempowerment.

Many of these young people have experienced trauma, have no permanent home to put down roots, or have been separated from loved ones. Finding community connection and being listened to is a life changing experience for many and can lead to a greater sense of control and confidence over the uncertainty of the situation.

To date VOYCE has been able to work alongside hundreds of young people and tamariki in similar situations to support them with achieving more positive outcomes.

The organisation works alongside many other likeminded organisations and service providers, such as the Ministry for Children, Oranga Tamariki, to provide independent one-on-one and systemic advocacy for the approximately 6,000 young people (aged 0–25 years) currently in care across Aotearoa, New Zealand, including those in the Youth Justice system. Kaiwhakamana (advocates) throughout the North and the South Islands of Aotearoa help tamariki (children) and rangatahi (youth) to be heard and supported in decisions made about their care. They also host regular tūhono (connection) events nationwide, creating fun and safe spaces for young people to be part of an inclusive community, while also supporting members of VOYCE’s Youth Council to build their leadership and advocacy skills – even how to use social media for change.

But when VOYCE first signed a data-sharing agreement with Oranga Tamariki in 2019 to enable advocates to identify and reach out to all young people in care, it needed help to understand exactly what data to gather and how to use it for greatest impact. With Kaiwhakamana spread out around the country, and spending a lot of time in the community with young people and their care networks, crucial parts of their practice such as record keeping and information sharing between teams were a challenge.

As an advocacy organisation, VOYCE also wanted to build a repository of evidence to back up calls for systemic change, making the best use of data to identify patterns, draw relevant insights and become an even stronger voice for the care community.

What it needed was a strong platform and framework for using it to ensure all relevant data was captured, shared and analysed – so it called on Datacom.

Creating a digital roadmap for growth

“While VOYCE started small, it was evident they were pushing for big outcomes - both at an individual level to positively influence the care experiences of the children they advocate for and to effect change in the wider care system,” says Ralf Wittgen, Datacom Customer Success Manager, Dynamics 365.

VOYCE started with only one employee in 2017. By 2019 this had grown to about 15 people, based in Auckland and Northland. Since then, it has grown to around 50 nationwide across 10 towns and cities – and counting. From the beginning, Datacom has worked with the team to help enable that growth, creating a digital roadmap to bring them on their transformation journey.

The prospect of working with Oranga Tamariki and being a social service, meant VOYCE needed a system that could comply with social and youth work practices and the Government’s strict privacy and governance requirements. These included the ability to track all interactions for funding purposes, abide by ethically informed practice standards and to increase visibility. Spreadsheets weren’t up to the job.

Datacom recommended Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 as the logical choice for its security, scalability and many applications – as a CRM to manage contact information and outreach as well as its data analytics capabilities through the Power Platform. Because it’s a cloud-based platform, it could grow alongside VOYCE as needed, saving money on expensive new systems as more and more contacts were added, and automated security updates meant compliance was simple.

VOYCE Whakarongo Mai – Amplifying your voices and standing with you

Making each interaction meaningful

That stood VOYCE in exceptionally good stead when it signed its data sharing agreement with Oranga Tamariki. Overnight, the number of young people in its system went from around 200 to more than 5,500 – every child in state care across Aotearoa. But that meant a lot more information to keep track of, ensuring relationships were maintained with young people and care networks and that all issues were followed up in a timely manner and outcomes recorded. It wasn’t enough simply to install a new software package – VOYCE’s teams needed to know how to get real value from it and manage their snowballing information.

In the words of Sarah Hoffmann, Insights Specialist at VOYCE: “Once we had that greater scale, we realised we needed to be able to pull more meaningful information from the system and refine complexities as the organisation evolved.”

To help VOYCE gather consistent information from advocates in the field, Datacom worked alongside Kaiwhakamana and the leadership team to engage everyone across the organisation on how to use the Dynamics 365 system and what sort of data were required.

Ralf suggested running a digital health score assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses in the Dynamics 365 adoption strategy and processes, and shadowing members of the team to uncover how they were finding or using the system in their day-to-day lives. This approach follows Datacom’s tried and tested Customer Success methodology, which looks beyond the technical nuts and bolts of an implementation project.

Once complete, the Datacom team analysed the findings to identify which areas to prioritise first and optimise the system for VOYCE’s needs.

“We suddenly had a lot of infrastructure we were only just beginning to understand. This ensured we focused on the things that really made a difference,” adds Gabriella Guy, Head of Training and Quality at VOYCE.

A community in one place

Now there’s complete visibility of every interaction with children, their carers as well as Voyce’s professional contact network. That makes it easy for VOYCE to reach out to every one of the thousands of young people in care and ensure every issue is followed up and dealt with.

Datacom has helped create the right data framework with a complete and meaningful record of all interactions, meaning VOYCE is now able to demonstrate the work it has done and the value created which allows greater accountability to its funders.

Having a well-functioning CRM also means VOYCE has been able to keep in touch with people who were previously in the system, who often become mentors, helpers and advocates for those who are treading the same path and are still in the system.

“Datacom was named as a finalist in our recent Microsoft New Zealand Partner Awards for good reason. This is an outstanding example of how our partners are not just selling a product, but going above and beyond to ensure their customers get the most value out of it to the benefit of their own stakeholders. To see Microsoft technology employed in a way that is changing the lives of young people across Aotearoa is truly special,” says Matt Bostwick, Partner Director at Microsoft New Zealand.

The implementation of the Dynamics 365 platform had unforeseen benefits too. Having a suite of cloud-based tools (including Teams) at their disposal while having multiple teams spread all across the motu and especially when lockdown hit, meant VOYCE was well equipped to keep working remotely. Team members were able to collaborate and communicate online, with easy access to all contact details in one centralised place.

“For us, Dynamics is more than just a platform to draw insights from. It’s also a place where we store notes from face-to-face contacts, a CRM and a practice management tool with a complete history of our relationships,” Sarah says.

A stronger voice for children in care

“As the organisation grows from year to year, we’re using technology more and more,” says Sarah. “VOYCE is a relationship-based organisation, but we’re dealing with people all across the country, so technology plays an extremely important part in that. And systemic advocacy can’t happen without it.”

As Gabriella explains: “We’ll work with one child who’s having an issue accessing his allowances – but if we notice 10 kids with the same issue we can now look at more systemic advocacy.”

Because the VOYCE team is now becoming more confident using the shared data platform it’s easier to generate these insights and spot patterns. That’s turning VOYCE from an organisation that reacts to issues to one that can proactively lobby policymakers for systemic changes that make a lasting difference to thousands of young people in the future.

“We’re very good at telling a compelling story, but now we’re gathering the data to back it up,” says Sarah. “There will be no need to rely on external data anymore in the future – we have the power to do it for ourselves.”

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