How we planned our discovery into fires, floods and community resilience

Harry Trimble
Jul 12, 2019 · 6 min read

Our 12 week long discovery into fires, floods and community resilience is well underway. This week we have been in Cardiff interviewing people at risk of fire due to their buildings being clad in the same material as Grenfell Tower.

As it’s useful, let’s look back at how we planned our discovery.

Having a goal

Every discovery needs a goal. A decision your team needs to confidently make, but can’t unless it does a discovery.

Our discovery goal is:

To identify and prioritise practical ideas for meeting the unmet needs of people affected by emergencies.

Discovery goal up in our team space

This is a useful goal, as it lets us know when our discovery is done and we’re ready to start designing a service. If we can’t identify and prioritise practical ideas, our discovery isn’t done.

Getting senior sponsorship

Before a discovery begins its really helpful having senior sponsors for the work. Your team doesn’t need permission to do a discovery, but having senior sponsors is useful in a number of ways:

  • Having an advocate to promote the work around the organisation
  • Keeping other senior people updated about what is being discovered
  • Creating space and time for the team to focus and explore a problem space, in our case this is emergencies like large fires and mass floods
  • Laying the groundwork for after discovery, when we test different ideas to try and solve the problems we’ve explored

In our discovery we’re lucky to have several sponsors. From Norman our Executive Director of UK Operations and Rosie our CIO, who for example helped make it possible to bring together a team across operations and innovation. Our team regularly meets Matt, Emma, Jess and Adam, allowing us to update them with our progress, getting feedback on our approach and raise what extra support we need.

Setting up a team ready to go

The unit of delivery is the team. Our discovery has a multiple-disciplinary team. We have expertise in emergency response, psychosocial care, community engagement, user research, service design and delivery. We plan, research, synthesise, discuss ideas and prioritise together.

Bringing this team together is the work of our delivery managers, Jo and Sally. They’ve done everything from freeing up people’s time to join the team, ensuring we have a space to collaborate in and setting up cost codes so we can pay for travel to people homes who’ve experienced emergencies.

Connecting with and learning from other work

Before the discovery kicked off, Jo and Sally had already spent weeks learning and connecting with work across the organisation. Meeting and learning from 18 colleagues working on products, processes, services and advocacy work related to community resilience. Farehk and Jo are also part of the resilient communities strategy working group.

This is vital for our discovery for several reasons:

  • we’re not working in vacuum or silo
  • we’re learning from others and avoiding duplication
  • we’re understanding the wider context of community resilience in the organisation and where our work can best fit in and connect

Understanding intended impact and expectations

As we kicked off our discovery, we needed to understand expectations for the work from people inside British Red Cross. To do this, we designed an exercise where senior stakeholders and our team could vote on what impact we hoped the work would eventually have.

Voting on impact (clockwise ) — Mike (Chief Executive), Norman (Executive Director of UK Operations), Rosie and Adam (CIO and Director of Digital and Innovation) and Simon (Head of Crisis Response)

The exercise works like this:

  1. By ‘impact’ we mean the measurable, noticeable, positive difference made to people’s lives
  2. There are 17 different impacts to choose from. For example ‘Less people displaced by emergencies’ or ‘More people can quickly return to daily routines following emergencies
  3. Each person gets three votes. Yep, just three. And every vote is equal.

Doing this exercise really helped us understand expectations for our work, as well as helping inform what problems we should focus on after discovery.

Focusing on fires and floods

British Red Cross can support in many types of emergency. Just looking at the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 emergencies can include terrorist attacks, major transport incidents, floods, fires, foot and mouth outbreaks, home evacuations caused by extreme weather or gas leaks and more.

This is too many subjects to focus one discovery on – great advice that came from Will Myddleton, who knows a lot about discoveries. Will suggested we pick one or two emergencies, but which ones?

Fires are the emergency British Red Cross respond to most. Since 2016 British Red Cross has responded to 3521 fires. Many of these were house fires, but also larger ones. Mostly notably Grenfell Tower and the massive blaze in Barking, which has left many people without homes.

We respond to floods much less than fires. Just 51 in 2017. Yet when floods do happen they’re massive, like Cumbria in 2015 which cut power to 45,000 homes and 590 homes evacuated in Lincolnshire only last month. Also the National Risk Register for Civil Emergencies identified floods as one of the biggest risks of emergency facing the UK, especially in light of the climate emergency.

So that’s why we decided to focus on fire and floods. Later on in our service design process we might expand our scope to include other emergencies, such as terrorist attacks or severe weather.

Diverse range of people and locations

We can’t visit each place that has experienced a recent fire or flood. But we can try interview people representative of the wider population.

Our discovery includes interviews with people in majors cities such as Cardiff and London as well as rural places such as Aberdeenshire and Somerset. We’re also working with a research recruitment agency, to meet people from a wide range of cultural and economic backgrounds.

While this isn’t perfect statistically, it does mean we’re getting out the office, meeting people where they are and challenging our assumptions about the problems they care most about.

Keeping people involved and updated

It’s really important to keep people outside the day-to-day team involved and updated with our discovery. Otherwise our team misses out on vital feedback. We would get asked fewer hard questions needed to shape the work. People wouldn’t understand what we’re learning and why we’ve made certain decisions. It wouldn’t be clear how our work complements other work and how people can collaborate with us.

To avoid this, we have three principles for keeping people involved and updated with our discovery:

  1. Makes things open: it makes thing better
  2. Little and often: we share things as we learn and decide them
  3. No surprises: it should feel clear and obvious when we decide what we’re doing and why in the next stages of our project, as we’ve shared and sought feedback continuously.

These principles have led us to:

  • regular blogging about what we’re learning and how we’re doing it
  • weekly show and tells (Thursday at 15:30–16:00) anyone can join either in person or via Zoom
  • creating an open team space, which people can come see and speak to the team who are working in it that day
  • regular check-ins with sponsors and stakeholders
  • weekly newsletter about what we’ve achieved that week and have planned for the following week
Mieka talking about ’What we learnt from people who responded at Grenfell’ at our weekly recent show and tell

A plan for after discovery

There’s a chance with any discovery that nothing happens afterwards. Sometimes this a good thing, as the discovery shows there isn’t any unmet needs warranting a solution.

But with some discoveries nothing happens afterwards for the wrong reason. They end up being a good bit of research and that’s it. Unmet needs get uncovered but don’t get acted upon. It’s unclear what happens next and who decides. Momentum is lost. Opportunities to positively impact lives are missed.

This is why we’re planning what happens after our discovery. We’re communicating what activities the next phase will involve and what the team needs to look like.

Digital and innovation at British Red Cross

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