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we are With You

Reassuring people entering treatment increases their chances of getting better

We’re exploring the first four weeks of drug and alcohol treatment. This is what we’ve learnt.

Earlier this year our organisation’s digital and design team were thinking about how to make the first 4 weeks of treatment less daunting for people. We carried out some research to better understand people’s experiences of entering treatment.

What we found was a real need for reassurance. People told us how “unnerving” it was not knowing what to expect. They didn’t know what would happen when they walked through our doors for the first time. This meant they may put it off for months until they couldn’t cope any more.

Fast forward 6 months and what have we done?

Letting people know what to expect

Getting help is daunting. This is something we could help with.

We we started working on content that could alleviate some of the anxiety people feel when coming to our services. We found people felt uncertainty around what will happen with both emotional and practical needs attached to this. People worry about what they’ll be asked to do and who will find out. But people also have logistical questions around what to bring and how long it takes.

Addaction’s Beta service finder

We only recently released the first live version of our new service finder. Before this we had to find ways to quickly test new content with the people who use our services. We’ve found our webchat to be a valuable source of feedback with our staff able to link people to new content we’re trialing at the time they need it most.

Once we were happy with the content we built advice for both adults and young people into our service finder so that people were reassured before taking that important first step through the door.

Learning as we go

The Digital Team at Addaction is only 9 months old. It’s early days and we’ve set out to learn as we go, being open with the sector about our experience of building a new inhouse team from the ground up.

Reflecting on the First 4 weeks Discovery we recognise we faced some challenges, hurdles we’ve looked to learn from and change our approach as we move the project into the next phase.

The first thing we realised is the need for a more structured and visible process. Working in a passionate and ambitious organisation it can be challenging to hold back on solving the problem — we all want to make things better after all. Being more explicit about how we run Discoveries and the process we’ll follow has been important. Things like writing a brief, taking time to explain the project to the right groups of people and running a kick off workshop have helped build momentum and alignment.

Mapping the journey of starting treatment

The other thing we’ve reflected on is how important building relationships with frontline services is. Back in April the Digital Team were still very new, getting to know the organisation and the people within it. 6 months later we have a stronger connection to services across the country and a more solid foundation for collaborating and bringing the people we support into research.

But equally we hold our hands up as a team and say we could have moved faster. Helping people take their first steps into treatment was more complex than we first imagined, with regional differences in service delivery across this phase of treatment. Some of our starting assumptions were also disproved. We needed more research insight to make any further design decisions we felt we could stand behind.

Taking those important first steps into treatment

Building on the quick wins and the learnings to date, we’ve reignited the project with a more structured approach and a focus on how to help people take their first steps into treatment.

The First 4 Weeks Discovery brought through a strong theme of reassurance. It felt important to build on this and carry it through to the next phase, removing our previous assumption that fewer questions will lead to a more reassuring experience. Framing a problem around this theme has given the project an anchor and a thread of continuity.

We then worked to identify a cross section of service locations to bring into the project, getting a geographical spread across the UK with a Scottish, Northern and Southern representative. We found from the data analysis that drop out rates in the first 4 weeks were higher for rural services so we worked to find a rural service to bring into the project — with South Ayrshire being ready and willing to help.

We also felt it was important to articulate a clear measure of success and baseline data on this — in this case the rate of dropouts in the first 4 weeks.

So between now and Christmas we’re running a follow up research phase with Liverpool, Bournemouth and South Ayrshire. We kicked off last week with a collaborative session to plan the research which will cover user research with staff, clients and people who’ve dropped out of services as well as data analysis, a literature review and looking to other sectors and walks of life for inspiration into great ‘welcoming experiences’. Our Test and Learn phase will follow after Christmas where we’ll look to develop, test and iterate solutions to some of the things we find out. The goal being to design an empowering ‘starting experience’ that is reassuring and connects with people’s motivation to change — in a way that’s right for them.

We’re excited to be learning as we go and picking this important work back up.

Does this make you think of best practice from the sector we should be aware of or an amazing welcoming experience you’ve heard of elsewhere? We’d love to hear from you emma.parnell@addaction.org.uk.



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Emma Parnell

Emma Parnell

Freelance specialist in user research, service design and brand development. designforjoy.co.uk Previously @wearesnook, @nhsdigital, @wearewithyou.