Casework, the process of providing help to constituents who request assistance, is an important part of most public offices. In fact, elected officials have been doing this service for American citizens since the early days of the republic, according to a Congressional Research Service report. For instance, Representative John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary that he provided services to constituents, including managing applications for post office appointments and handling a correction of the date on a military pension certificate.
Today, caseworkers in a public office serve as liaisons between the constituent and the government, says Lisa Littler, deputy district director for North Carolina Congressman David Rouzer. They often work with state and federal agencies, helping citizens cut through red tape and get help with requests, from unemployment benefits to passport expedites.
Casework requests could also include helping fill out a government form, applying for federal or state benefits, applying for U.S. citizenship, or tracking down a misdirected benefits payment. These cases can range from mundane to rewarding, and every day is different. “You think you’ve heard it all until the next call,” Littler says.
While the job of casework might seem routine, more often Littler gets cases that require her to think outside of the box to solve problems for constituents. Read on to learn some best practices to tackle managing casework in your own office.
Keep Careful Records
With a high volume of cases, whether caused by natural disasters, the residual effects of the pandemic, or a surge in immigration, it’s critical to stay organized and keep a record of every interaction with a citizen or government agency.
Record everything that is relevant to each case: emails with the constituent, emails you’ve sent to the government agency, and other notes and files applicable to the case. “Make all your notes as you’re working, right in your case management software,” Littler recommends.
Littler also sets reminders of when to follow up with each party involved in the case. For example, if a government agency says they will get back to her on a particular day, she sets a calendar reminder for that day so she can follow up if she hasn’t heard back.
Another best practice is to label cases by the person in your office assigned to handle it. This makes it easy to see who may be overloaded with casework and when it’s necessary to rearrange or reassign cases to lighten the load.
Communicate With Constituents
Communicating with citizens and keeping them informed about the status of their cases helps them feel heard and reassures them their request has not fallen to the bottom of a pile of paperwork. Littler follows up by phone, email, or text with constituents every six weeks to provide updates on longstanding cases.
Long explanations she needs to convey are sent over email, while a quick phone call is Littler’s preferred method for sharing good news about a case. She tracks these communications in her casework management platform. “I work from somebody’s digital case record, just like if it was a file folder I pulled out to take notes on,” Littler says. “I’m always taking notes when I’m on the phone with the constituent and updating their record.”
Prioritize by Urgency
While all constituent requests are important, some cases rise to the top as more pressing than others. For example, a passport issue where a resident is traveling soon requires resolution sooner than more routine requests. Sometimes situations are even “life and death,” Littler says — for instance, when a citizen is in another country in the hospital and Littler is asked to contact the embassy for a welfare check.
These types of cases should be addressed before the more run-of-the-mill ones: constituents inquiring about the status of their case or ones who have been waiting too long to hear back about paperwork they filed, for example. Much of the job of casework is “soothing people’s fears,” Littler says, “and letting them know everything is on track.”
To stay on top of high-priority cases, a best practice is to label them accordingly. Label urgent, new, and pending cases so you can quickly see the status and know what needs your attention first.
Save Minutes Wherever Possible
For a caseworker, every minute is valuable, so it’s best to find ways to be efficient and shave minutes off your workflow. For example, Littler uses a headset so she doesn’t have to cradle the phone.
To work more quickly, use prewritten responses for constituent communications whenever possible. Using a casework management tool can automatically fill in government official information and provide a template with prewritten paragraphs to save time. “We tweak the template to fit the request, but we don’t reinvent the wheel for every response,” Littler says.
Report on Your Work
Creating weekly reports can demonstrate your value and show the most common requests your office receives. These reports should include the number of opened cases, the number of cases closed, and the number of pending cases. The report can also include a comparison of the same week in the previous year, or the previous several years — helpful, in Littler’s case, to demonstrate how exponentially casework has increased for her office since 2019. The report can also mention the top casework issue areas of the week — for example, passports, veterans affairs, and social security.
Power Casework Management With the Right Tools
While casework requires creative thinking, it also demands organization. With many cases to follow up on, constituents to contact, and government agencies to prod, a caseworker must juggle many balls in the course of a day. To stay on top of it all, “I preach using case management software,” Littler says. “That’s the only way you can manage all of it.”
Before case management software was available, Littler recalls using a paper calendar, folders, and sticky notes, which didn’t cut it for a high volume of cases. Now, her office uses Fireside, making case management more streamlined and efficient. “It’s a huge time saver,” Littler says. “You can handle more casework when you’re working smart.”
Casework’s reactionary, multi-way conversations with agencies, constituents, and staffers require an altogether different tool than the one-to-one conversations in the mailroom. Tools and processes should intuitively organize casework’s message threads and documents, otherwise, residents’ needs will slip through the cracks. With end-to-end communication and organizational tools, Fireside’s case management solution is the most comprehensive available. Learn more about how Fireside was built with government officials like you in mind, request a demo.