Service Design Fringe Festival: Lessons from creating digital services within a charity

An annual, volunteer-run event

Last month we hosted a session at the Service Design Fringe Festival. Our three brilliant speakers Natalie Blagrove from SafeLives, Rachael Townley from Action for Children and Andy Cremin from Sustrans shared insights from their own work then led the group in discussing more general tips and advice for charities building digital services.

We’ve structured these around the 10 digital design principles that we co-designed with over 50 charities and funders earlier this year.

Tips of what to do:

Start with user needs and keep them involved

  • Don’t make assumptions about people
  • What people say they want is very often not what they need or will use — or at least not in the way you expected! Understand their actual behaviours, not just their expressed desires
  • Tailor language to your users
  • Continue to engage and include your service users through different methods — you might start with in-depth interviews but further down the line use things like surveys or ad hoc feedback gathering
Understanding service users’ changing needs, behaviours and expectations is a vital part of the picture

Understand what’s out there first

  • Don’t build from scratch if you don’t need to

Take small steps and learn as you go

  • Keep people updated bit by bit as you go to help gain buy-in
  • Demonstrate learning and examples of what you can achieve by building prototypes
  • The service design process can really open up a can of worms — there may be a lot of simplifying to do when mission creep has happened
  • Communicating change in plans/goals/KPIs to the board and funders can be tough — starting conversations with the Board around digital design principles can help gain their support
We’ve created a checklist for Board conversations about digital design principles

Build the right team

  • Include your safeguarding team from the start as they can help you move mountains
  • Upskill your colleagues so they don’t become a blocker
  • Don’t hold unnecessary meetings — pencil them in and give people back their time if there’s actually not that much to discuss and you can actually update them via email

Build digital services, not websites

  • Sometimes tech isn’t the solution, or not for your end user at least — and that’s ok!
  • Following the service design methodology rather than assuming you’re building a digital product will help uncover what really meets the needs of your users throughout their journey through your service (tech may still help the behind-the-scenes run more smoothly)
Three phases of a digital service design project

Be inclusive

  • Include your stakeholders and gatekeepers in the process as well as service users
  • Respect the needs and sensitivities of your service users and don’t put them in difficult situations — if they don’t want to tell you their upsetting story again for the nth time, don’t make them
  • Organise treats for your users so that they get something out of the research process, e.g. a trip to London Dungeon for kids having to share their stories

Think about privacy and security

  • Only collect data when necessary and without over-burdening your users
  • Sometimes consent — or the lack of it — may need to drive your design decisions
The ODI’s Data Ethics Canvas is a useful tool to check your work against

Build for sustainability

  • Test your route to market with your users, as well as in the comfort of the office strategy session — it’ll need to be something that works for them as well as you
  • Bring in enough tech to make the system easier to use, but never just tech for tech’s sake
  • Your activity could help create the case for more/better investment in the charity’s work, beyond just the scope of your project

Collaborate and build partnerships

  • Find partners to help reach communities with different (perhaps unmet) needs, not just for wider reach but also greater diversity
  • Know who your gatekeepers are and engage them from the start

Be open

  • Map all your stakeholders then deploy radical openness and transparency, which helps gain buy-in from them
  • Show and communicate the relevance of what you’re doing in the way that best resonates with your audience
Open Charity is a regular event and blog sharing methods/learnings from charities adopting ‘open’ practices

Not a design principle, but clearly important, was gaining buy-in from colleagues, senior management and trustees. Questions and points raised included:

  • How to manage communicating change in plans/goals/KPIs to the board and funders?
  • Take each stakeholder one at a time and respond to whatever excites/engages them — some may be intuitive while others respond better to hard data
  • Make the argument about the future sustainability of your product/service as a way to get stakeholder support.

Finally, we asked each speaker for one piece of advice they’d give to others doing this, or something you wish they’d known at the start.

Their responses were:

  • This is about constant learning and changing
  • Rely on your team, and look after yourself — this can be tough!
  • Keep it simple.
Not just a way to create more effective services, but also to build understanding and support from colleagues

Keep an eye out for more events along a similar theme in 2019 — as organisations in the sector increase their capacity in digital service delivery, there will be more learnings to share and more opportunities for peer support. If you’re a digital charity person keen to connect with others, sign up to our Random Coffee Trials.