The Action Response Applications Processing Unit (ARAPU) Potential aid recipients, or the intermediary charities repre- senting them, apply for funds using a standard form. These forms can be downloaded from the Internet or requested via a special help line. Sometimes the application will come directly from an individual community leader but more usually it will come via an intermediary charity that can help the applicant to complete the form. The applica- tion is sent to ARAPU, usually by fax or post (some were submitted online, but few communities have this facility).
ARAPU employs seven applications assessors with sup- port staff who are responsible for data entry, coding, filing and ‘completing’ (staff who prepare payment, or explain why no aid can be given). In addition, a board of non-paid trustees meets every Thursday, to approve the assessors’ decisions. The unit’s IT system maintained records of all transactions, providing an update on the number of applications received, approved, declined, and payments allocated. These reports identified that the unit received about 300 new applications per week and responded to about the same number (the unit operates a 35-hour week). But while the unit’s financial targets were being met, the trend indicated that cost per application was increasing. The target for the turnaround of an application, from receipt of application to response, was 20 days, and although this was not measured formally, it was generally assumed that turnaround time was longer than this. Accuracy had never been an issue as all files were thor- oughly assessed to ensure that all the relevant data was col- lected before the applications were processed. Productivity seemed high and there was always plenty of work waiting for processing at each section, with the exception that the ‘com- pleters’ were sometimes waiting for work to come from the committee on a Thursday. Susan had conducted an inspec- tion of all sections’ in-trays that had revealed a rather shock- ing total of about 2,000 files waiting within the process, not counting those waiting for further information.
Processing applications The processing of applications is a lengthy procedure requir- ing careful examination by applications assessors trained to make well-founded assessments in line with the charity ’s guidelines and values. Incoming applications are opened by one of the four ‘receipt’ clerks who check that all the neces- sary forms have been included in the application; the receipt clerks take about 10 minutes per application. These are then sent to the coding staff, in batches, twice a day. The five cod- ing clerks allocate a unique identifier to each application and
key the information on the application into the system. The coding stage takes about 20 minutes for each application. Files are then sent to the senior applications assessor’s sec- retary’s desk. As assessors become available, the secretary provides the next job in the line to the assessor.
About 100 of the cases seen by the assessors each week are put aside after only 10 minutes of ‘scanning’ because the information is ambiguous, so further information is needed. The assessor returns these files to the secretaries, who write to the applicant (usually via the intermediate charity) request- ing additional information, and return the file to the ‘receipt’ clerks who ‘store’ the file until the further information even- tually arrives (usually between one and eight weeks). When it does arrive, the file enters the process and progresses through the same stages again. Of the applications that require no fur- ther information, around half (150) are accepted and half (150) declined. On average, those applications that were not ‘recy- cled’ took around 60 minutes to assess.
All the applications, whether approved or declined, are stored prior to ratification. Every Thursday the Committee of Trustees meets formally to approve the applications asses- sors’ decisions. The committee’s role is to sample the deci- sions to ensure that the guidelines of the charity are upheld. In addition the committee will review any particularly unu- sual cases highlighted by the applications assessors. Once approved by the committee, the files are then taken to the completion officers. There are three ‘decline’ officers whose main responsibility is to compile a suitable response to the applicant, pointing out why the application failed and offer- ing, if possible, to provide helpful advice. An experienced declines officer takes about 30 minutes to finalize the file and write a suitable letter. Successful files are passed to the four ‘payment’ officers where again the file is completed, letters (mainly standard letters) are created and payment instruc- tions are given to the bank. This usually takes around 50 min- utes, including dealing with any queries from the bank about payment details. Finally the paperwork itself is sent, with the rest of the file, to two ‘dispatch’ clerks who complete the doc- uments and mail them to the applicant. The dispatch activity takes, on average, 10 minutes for each application.
The feeling among the staff was generally good. When Susan consulted the team members, they said their work was clear and routine, but their life was made difficult by charities that rang in expecting them to be able to tell them the status of an application they had submitted. It could take staff hours, sometimes days, to find any individual file. Indeed two of the ‘receipt’ clerks now were working almost full-time on this activity. They also said that charities fre- quently complained that decision making seemed slow.