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NDIS Lessons from the Epic Fails

You learn more from your stuff ups than the things that go well. Luckily for Roland, after 30 years in the sector, he has more than one such learning to share.

By Roland Naufal

Updated 15 Apr 202429 Oct 2017

I reckon it’s true you learn more from your stuff ups than the things that go well and with close to 30 years experience in the disability sector I’ve been involved in a few.

My biggest was when as a disability CEO, I made a classic career suicide move.  It’s a story which I only share over a few drinks. Also right up there in the stuff up hall of fame was my role in the creation of Disability Information Victoria (DIV).

Nearly 20 years ago, the Victorian Government came up with the idea of a one stop, online disability information service.  They put out a tender for a service that would be based on a hooley dooley database of all things disability and provide up to date disability information and referrals for all comers. It would also be a disability ‘information clearinghouse’ that would finally address all the problems we had of too little information, too much overlap in information services and too many people falling through the gaps when they really needed assistance or were in crisis (sound familiar?).

Back then I was working at Vision Australia (then known as the Association for the Blind) and I led the tender response. I threw everything I had at the tender, did a huge amount of research and development work, covered all bases and came up with the concept of Disability Information Victoria (DIV).

We won the tender. Then we set DIV up with huge investments in staff, developing the database and cutting edge technology. Then we did lots of promotion.

Then no-one rang (well, very few people).

So, we tried loads of different techniques to increase traffic to DIV.

Still no-one really rang. 

We had staff sitting around underutilised (always a very negative thing) and the phones sitting mostly silent. It’s stretching the memory and I had left Vision Australia by then, but I think DIV only lasted a few lonely years before it was shut down by the Victorian Government.

So, what did I learn?

People get information from different sources for different things. Yep, sounds like the bleeding obvious.

Maybe, but am I the only who is concerned when disability organisations try to promote their services in shopping centres with sandwich boards, balloons and ugly t-shirts? Do they think people who are busy buying consumer products or groceries really want to engage and learn about disability?  A very few maybe, but it’s usually a massive waste of resources for all involved and it's annoying for many busy shoppers.  And really? Is this the image we want to project of a disability support organisation in the 21st Century?

I often ask workshop audiences the question: how would you find a new dentist? The overwhelming majority of people say: through a friend, a relative or a personal contact. We just do not randomly google or ring when it involves finding someone who causes pain in our mouths (who we need to trust). So why on earth if we are looking for services that are involved with some of the most vulnerable and important people in our lives would we randomly ring an information service?  We most often do not.

So, what are the lessons for NDIS in 2017 from my epic fail?

Having the ‘right information’ is not enough. Even asking people how they prefer to find or receive information is not enough (they are not likely to know what they will do in a crisis or when searching for information they do not often seek).  Better to study peoples’ information gathering behaviour to see what actually works.  Frontline staff can be really helpful here, as they will often know better than anyone how the people they work with learn and make decisions.

Information services and your NDIS marketing need to focus on organic word of mouth and online word of mouth.  Forget the billboards and the ad campaigns and focus on where people already go to get information about disability.  Work with the networks that already support people with disability and their families and don’t forget Support Coordinators & LACs. Recognise that your staff are often the first point of call for people seeking information, and referral. Educate staff about the NDIS and value this part of their work.  

Whether you are seeking to provide information through ILC funding grants or attract your NDIS target market you need to find effective ways of reaching the people who need to be reached.


Roland Naufal

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