Designing our practice

The principles we work by

Growing a design studio at Good Things Foundation has given the team an opportunity for us to think deeply about how we work and how we practice design for the specific problems we are trying to solve. This meant looking at three things:

  1. How design thinking builds on and complements the existing deep research and data experience within the team
  2. What the problems that only we can solve are and how we maximise the opportunities to tackle those problems
  3. How we develop a practice of design that allows us to do 1 and 2, and means we are continually learning and improving what we do

Over the past few months we’ve developed these overarching principles to guide the way we work as a team. We’ve developed these together. They’ve gone through many iterations. Some mean more to some members of the team than others but we all agree that there is a need for each one. The following principles have each been written by a different team member.

We wrote a haiku alongside each one for fun — judge away.

Be credible and ethical

We’re driven by learning and understanding more from different perspectives. We want to affect social change. We approach our work as a team who share the same ethos - that we are all responsible. We always challenge ourselves to look beyond our assumptions and see the story behind the data. We use our range of skills to creatively to sense check each other’s practice. We don’t speak for people but rather support them to speak for themselves. We don’t believe we have the answer but we are committed to continually refining our work and building upon our experiences and knowledge.

Be responsible / Challenge assumptions to learn / Refine our practice

Focus on relationships

We believe power is created when people come together to make things happen. The support we deliver has an impact because we focus on the relationships in and around our services rather than thinking of those services as one-time transactions. Staff in centres prioritise relationships with their learners. They know that just walking into an Online Centre is a big step for some people. Centres don’t limit how long someone stay and they provide informal support alongside structured services for as long as a learner needs it. We support and protect that emphasis on relationships to address the power dynamic in the way we fund centres. Relationships work best when they are equal which is why we don’t use learners’ experiences to promote ourselves but work with them to create tangible value.

Person enters room / ‘It is a mess, but welcome’ / They return each week.

Understand underlying behaviour

We look beyond immediate causes to understand the many different factors underlying behaviour: personal and social, cultural and economic. We are conscious of the assumptions we might make. We look beyond those that others might have made. We’re open and honest with people, which helps to make them be the same with us. We’re not experts in any particular subject, but in the art of collecting, collating and interpreting the lived experience of people we work with.

Look beyond the surface / Be open to create openness / Tidy up the mess

Design with people, not for them

We design with the people we support. This means that we work with them to understand their needs and then co-design ways to satisfy them. We believe that people know their lives better than us and they should have the biggest input into things that affect them. Our work is best when we support others to make things happen. We are always looking for new ways to encourage people to take control and make changes for themselves and their communities.

Design with, not for / we find out the user need / co-design for all

Focus on improving not proving

We reflect on and evaluate our work with a view to changing what we do for the better or suggesting how others could do things differently. We understand the need to show we’ve reached targets but we don’t let this stand in the way of making recommendations based on objective evidence first and foremost. We believe in putting these recommendations into action. And then testing them again.

So have we done it? / Not what we thought we wanted / But here’s what to do

Do it now!

We have the privilege of working with lots of different people, from all walks of life, with different stories. We get to know different communities, we invest time in finding out more about issues and we collaborate with the people invested in those issues. It could be easy for these experiences and stories to be forgotten or lost, or worse still be a niggle at the back of your mind that builds over time and stays trapped and complicated. So at the earliest opportunity, we take the time to capture our thoughts, the bare bones of an idea; to download those fantastic photos or contact that person who might be able to share further insights. Just as importantly, we share our work with other people quickly and early, to see what they think and make sure we’re on the right path. Then we can either push whatever it is to one side, or make a plan of what to do with it next.

I learnt lots today / Don’t know where to start with it / Make it real, write it

Value the process

All of our work takes time and thinking. The services and products we provide wouldn’t exist without that time and thinking — the workshops we run, the research we carry out, the show & tells that help us to better understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and the time we spend listening to our centres and learners. All of this holds as much value as the end deliverable. Sometimes that process is about letting go a little, being playful with ideas and having fun. We value our processes and continually revisit them at the start of new projects to ensure we’re always challenging and stretching ourselves to be better and deliver more useful, usable and used services and products.

Share what we’re doing / Not just that already done / Value all our effort

Embrace radical transparency

We work in the open and we’re honest about failure. We share our assumptions and biases upfront because we know these can be a barrier to doing really great work. Our work is a team effort where everyone contributes their skills and perspectives. We’re the first to admit when we don’t know something and we know we never have all the answers. We’re not afraid to disagree because we respect each other’s contributions and know that together we can make things better than we would working alone. We laugh with the good stuff and sometimes at the bad too. Recognising and celebrating great work is important — it’s what gives us the energy to do the next good thing.

There’s power in this / Radical transparency / We strive to live by

We’ll all be the first to admit that, for whatever reason, we don’t always live up to these principles — but we try. They’ll change and evolve as we continue to put them into practice and learn more about how we work best.


These principles are based on several months of practice and written by Alice Mathers, Emily Redmond, James Richardson, Laurence Piercy, Tim Brazier, Tom French, Pete Nuckley and myself.