Testing development tools with foster carers and their supervising social workers

Solving the problem of a lack of foster carers is, of course, about a better digital service and sharing data. It’s also about supporting people.

Following on from my previous post, we identified how supporting foster carers, all the way through their fostering lifecycle, could have a significant impact on keeping people involved. We outlined how starting with improving the application process and opening up data about vacancies and capacity, we can start to make a big difference to the number of people who can care for looked after children.

Indeed, last week, the awaited national stocktake of fostering concluded with a published report of the state of fostering in England. In it, Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers, highlighted an opportunity to better understand the existing capacity.

“… our understanding of the availability and skills of foster carers is not good enough. We can’t expect to recruit the right number and type of foster carers and in the right parts of the country, when we know so little about the capabilities and location of current carers.

More needs to be done to understand the number and needs of children in care (the demand) and the number of carers and their ability to care for different sorts of children (the supply) and the interplay between the two.”— Foster Care in England, 2018

But these approaches alone will have a limited impact on capacity. Here, we make the case for developing and supporting existing and potential foster carers, so that more people either continue to foster or consider starting to in the first place.

Standardising training and development

Every local authority trains their foster carers in different things. Whether it’s therapeutic courses for managing children’s behaviours or training to manage contact between families and children. They also reward their carers in completely different ways; some assign levels to progression, other choose to adopt a more informal approach.

This means that should a foster carer move or decide to start working for a different authority or agency, they go back to square one with basic training. This wouldn’t be expected of other professions; your skills and experience are built on as you progress through your career.

The benefits of working more in the open and collaborating are widely accepted. By creating a standard, open sourced model for developing the skills and recognising the experience of carers, they will have more flexibility about where they work. This means they will be less likely to stop being a carer as their lives change.

This need for greater consistency is also recognised by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers as part of their review.

“We warmly endorse tiered approaches to paying fees, linked to the skills and experience of the carers. Implemented widely, such models could drive greater consistency in fostering, aid better matching between child and carer and would provide improved knowledge about the skills of the foster carer population.” — Foster Care in England, 2018

Additionally, open sourcing the materials, allows all localities to learn from each other. Through which they can improve on what works and build a collective view on how progression should look, together.

Helping people get application ready

Lots of people are interested in fostering as way of helping children; driven by personal experience or a sense of duty. They’re looking to make a difference.

Despite their motivations, many are not practically in a position to foster and are often turned away at the first hurdle. One local authority claims that 32% of enquiries get closed because people don’t have a spare room.

During 2014/15, fostering services approved just 10% of initial enquiries received — that means only 10% of enquiries led to approved foster carers

Here’s an opportunity for authorities to help people get ‘application ready’. Whether that’s helping someone who is in a full time job find more flexible work or someone who currently smokes, to give up. Instead of operating in a vacuum, fostering services should have good relationships with their housing, employment and health services to enable people to get into a better position to foster. Investing in the potential for people to foster will mean more enquiries turn into approved foster carers.

Breaking down the role of a foster carer

You have to be superhuman to become a carer — someone who has both the right attitude and desire to spend most of their time looking after a child who isn’t theirs but desperately needs a home. Someone with good health, a spare room in their home, no financial problems and have time to deal with emergencies at the drop of a hat. For someone to do all of this and not get paid a huge amount, is asking a lot.

This is no doubt putting a lot of people off wanting to become a foster carer, or at least a foster carer in the way in which the role is defined at the moment.

We’ve met people who are interested in helping vulnerable children but can’t commit the time or emotional ask that is needed to become a carer. But within these people is a desire to give back and help these young people, a desire that’s not being tapped into.

… if someone is highly qualified and has the skills, expertise and something that they can be further harnessed. If they can offer a Saturday morning, school pickup or evening runs, to help. You can have a range of people that are approved that can sit in when foster carers need a break… — Foster Carer

Most children are parented by a number of people as they grow up; their parents usually play a central role but grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbours and friends all play an important part in raising a child. Although foster carers rely on their own support networks to help out, it may be possible to create new supporting roles around foster carers that would ease the pressure. Someone may be a potential coach or mentor for the child, a taxi driver for school runs or an entertainer for young people and carers to get some respite.

As one carer we met put it, “fostering is more than just a bed”.

Changing the future of fostering, together

Working with a number of authorities, FutureGov have developed a significant and growing expertise around what a better fostering service looks like, in particular, how local authorities might manage future demand by increasing their capacity to care for young people.

Building on the ideas laid out in these two posts, we’re setting up a forum to discuss the future of fostering. It will be an exciting opportunity to explore how we can help change the future of fostering to response to current demands.

We would like to invite leaders and practitioners to contribute to the discussion. We’ll be publishing more information about this shortly, in the meantime let me know if you’d like to stay posted by getting in touch: amy@wearefuturegov.com

Solving the problem of not enough foster carers: Part two was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov

Continuing our series looking at how policy and non-digital teams are using digital tools and approaches to undertake their work, we have a guest post from Emily at the Human Tissue Authority on doing User Research as part of a Discovery. Ben Showers (Digital Assurance Lead).

Hello, my name is Emily and I’m currently on a Fast Stream secondment to the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) as a Digital Development Manager. For those who haven’t heard of us, the HTA has a really interesting role as an Arm’s Length Body of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) – we regulate organisations that remove, store, and use human tissue and organs!

Due to our unique role, we have two main user groups: our professional stakeholders and the general public, who we would like to engage with more to gain their feedback.

To do this, we thought that an online forum would be a great way to interact with our two different user groups. However, we hadn’t undertaken any user research, so did we really know what our users wanted? And was this the kind of service that would meet their needs as well as ours?

As this was my first digital project, I was new to user research, so I worked with colleagues in the Communications Team to try to work out the best way of engaging with our different users. We decided that a short online survey that would appear as a pop-up on our website would have the best reach, and we set about planning what questions to ask!

We realised we had it backwards

After a little bit of trial and error we realised we had it backwards. We should instead start with what we want to understand about our users and then work out which questions to ask to get that result! So we grabbed some sticky notes and wrote down everything we wanted to know as a group. Here’s a flavour of some of the questions we were trying to get to the bottom of:

  • Who exactly are our professional and public users?
  • Why do they want to engage with the HTA?
  • How are they trying to engage with the HTA at the moment?
  • How do they use existing communication channels?
  • What do they want to be able to do?

We ran this survey for a month, as a popup on our website and promoted it through our social media channels and newsletters. We received great engagement from users – over 550 responses – and a really interesting set of results! The responses from our professional users were generally in line with what we expected – most were repeat visitors to our website, wanting to share their thoughts on how the HTA works and to expand their network to discuss topics related to the HTA, generally preferring digital methods to do so.

Screenshot of survey

However, the real surprise came from the public user responses – the vast majority were first-time users to our website seeking information on topics that they considered fairly personal and sensitive. As a result, users preferred to only discuss HTA topics with family and friends and did not express a strong preference to speak to other people, or the HTA, further as the website met their needs.

We realised that an online forum would not meet the needs of our public users as we had initially thought! This shows the true value of user research in developing digital services that work for the user. From the results, we decided to focus on professional users, as there was a clear need identified there. To make sure that we really understood our professional users, we held five follow-up telephone interviews to fully understand their user journeys and further explore their survey answers. The deeper investigation at this stage of user testing proved invaluable in helping us to shape the next steps.

We are now at the initial (Alpha) stage of testing our ideas. The survey and interview responses from our professional users demonstrated an appetite for an online engagement system. We plan to test out some user journeys with a small sample of our professional users in an online community setting, to evaluate if this works for our users. We are hoping that this testing stage will give us information to improve the online community further for our users so that we can build the best service for them.

You really don’t need any experience to start understanding your users better.

My hope is that this insight gives you the confidence to just have a go, you really don’t need any experience to start understanding your users better. Just keep in mind that the more you know about your users, and the more you understand their needs, the better you will be able to build a service that will work for them and achieve your aims! Let’s end with some tips that I’ve picked up along the way…

Tips for non-User Researchers doing User Research

  • Brainstorm with sticky notes!
    Get started by writing down everything you want to know as a group and try to identify some themes to focus on first
  • Ask open questions
    Remember that you’re trying to understand your users and not lead them to a particular response – we found who, what, when, why, where, how questions gave us the best answers that weren’t always what we were expecting!
  • Consider follow up interviews
    It’s amazing how much information you can get gain from a 10 minute interview with your users to really understand how they could use your service

Original source – Stephen Hale

(This post is also available in Spanish)

When we talk about our work in the United Kingdom, we are often asked the question: Will our approach also work in other countries?

Over the past four years we have been collaborating with governments in Latin America applying our methodology, and we found that the answer is: Yes!

In our first project in Guatemala in 2014, for example, we evaluated the impact of sending taxpayers a letter designed with findings from the behavioral sciences. The most effective version of the letter increased the payment of taxes by 43%. This effect, also persisted 12 months after the intervention.

Collaborating with the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, we have now also successfully applied our EAST methodological framework to answer questions such as:

  • How can we encourage teacher attendance?
  • How can we encourage companies to formalize and comply with their tax obligations?
  • How can we encourage parental involvement in monitoring educational services?

Through a series of blogs over the coming weeks we will be sharing some of our results from the region.

We are pleased to begin this series with the publication of the Spanish translation of our main EAST methodological framework: Four simple ways to apply the behavioral sciences.


EAST compiles decades of academic literature and our experience applying the behavioural sciences to public policy. EAST is a mnemonic composed of the words Easy, Attractive, Social and timely.

A fundamental part of our work in the Latin American region, has been to development the skills of our partner governments. In addition to EAST, we have also translated our EAST cards to facilitate workshops in Spanish, which will soon be on sale. In the coming months we will also be publishing a series of further BIT publications documents in Spanish.

We hope that those responsible for public policy in Latin America will find in EAST a simple and practical tool to make public policies more effective.

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team

Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest rebuttal to an inaccurate story by a public sector body.

This week there was an incident in a theatre in Birmingham city centre. Equipment malfunctioned during a performance and there was an explosion backstage. There were no injuries. As a precaution the theatre evacuated.

This translated to this on The Sun newspaper Twitter:

In the old way of doing things there would have been a phone call to the newsdesk. There would have been tooing and frowing and maybe the newspaper would have got round to correcting it.

But probably not.

Instead West Midlands Police took to Twitter with a direct rebuttal within EIGHT minutes:

This is brilliant.

The swift rebuttal was shared more than 400 times within eight hours and The Sun’s tweet just over 30.

The response from the public? Overwhelmingly positive.

If we no longer have to go through the Priesthood of journalists to talk to residents let’s do it and hold inaccurate damaging reporting accountable.

Thanks Emily Dunn for spotting this.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

So what should we do with this research?

This is a question that researchers often hear at the end of a playback session. Especially one where we’re sharing findings or insights and not detailed recommendations of what to do next.

Most of the time there are two questions that teams should ask themselves:

  1. Which of these problems/opportunities do we care about now? If you were going to prioritise, which are the most pressing? Which might contribute most to the team meeting goals?
  2. What do we think we could do that might make things better for our users? What different things could we do that might address this opportunity?

A good researcher can help a team understand what opportunities are available to pursue. They will help you to see a problem in a different way – to frame the problem from the users point of view.

But you shouldn’t expect the researcher to come back and ‘tell you what to do’.

From insights to actions

Getting to actions from insights is a team sport that requires a range of inputs. The researchers role is to make the ‘user’ input as rich and insightful as possible. They should then to work with the team explore and evaluate the possibilities that emerge.

What makes an insight actionable?

To make a research insight actionable it must answer two key questions:

  • what is happening?
  • why is it happening?

Research that is not actionable answers only the first of these questions. If we don’t know why something is happening, we are not well placed to contemplate what action we should take.

The better the ‘why’ explanation, the better equipped a team will be to come up with clear and confident actions in response.

Research alone won’t tell you what to do

Sometimes when people say they want the research to be actionable, what they really mean is that they want the research to tell them what to do. They want research to answer a third question:

  • what should we do?

Sometimes the right course of action is 100% obvious, but often that is not the case. It would be a foolish or naive researcher who thinks they have the full set of knowledge required to provide this answer.

User research is just one of the pieces of information that product managers or designers need to decide what they should do.

Lenses for decision making

To make a good decision about what to do next, the team really needs to look through at least four lenses:

  • what is the user perspective?
  • how does this align to our product strategy?
  • what are the technical (feasibility) issues?
  • what are the financial/business implications? (cost / revenue)

Or, to use a more familiar framework, is the solution desireable, feasible and viable.

Image: Niti Bhan

Most of the time, user researchers aren’t in possession of this full set of information. They will likely have strong and informed views. But don’t be disappointed if they can’t point you straight to the perfect solution.

Designers and product managers are usually much more expert in coming up with and evaluating solutions.

Designers are trained to take a problem and think about how you might be able to take many different approaches to solving itTeams should use the designer to make sure they’re generating and evaluating lots of possible solutions.

Product Managers tend to be the experts in balancing all the different needs and helping the team to choose the best of the solutions on offer.

Researchers can help represent the end user perspective through out this process. They can play a role in helping design a way of evaluating proposed solutions from the users point of view.

Other team members are also vital in this process.

Engineers and technical representatives giving the feasibility perspective (and quite often some pretty amazing possible solutions that the designers might have missed).

Analysts and data scientists providing a different useful data sets to contribute to evaluating solutionsSometimes a colleague from legal, or marketing, or other parts of the organisation can be very useful in this process too.

Getting from insights to actions is a team sport

Its the responsibility of the researcher to make sure that the insights they bring to the team are useful. They need to explain the why and not just the what. But moving from insights to actions is a team sport and needs all the players to participate.

Original source – disambiguity

This blog is no longer being updated. If you’re interested in government technology, you can read about it on the GDS blog and the Technology at GDS blog.

Original source – Government technology

(For an English version of this blog – please click here)

Cuando hablamos de nuestro trabajo en el Reino Unido frecuentemente nos hacen la pregunta: ¿podría algo así funcionar también en otros países?

Durante los últimos cuatro años hemos estado colaborando con Gobiernos en América Latina aplicando nuestra metodología, y encontramos que la respuesta es: ¡Sí!

En nuestro primer proyecto en Guatemala en 2014, por ejemplo, evaluamos el impacto de enviar a los contribuyentes una carta que incorporaba hallazgos de las ciencias del comportamiento. La versión más efectiva de la carta incrementó el pago de impuestos en un 43%. Este efecto, además, se mantuvo en una medición realizada a los 12 meses de la intervención.

Colaborando con los gobiernos de Argentina, Brasil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, México y Perú, hemos, además, aplicado de manera exitosa nuestro marco metodológico EAST para responder preguntas como:

  • ¿Cómo podemos fomentar la asistencia docente?
  • ¿Cómo podemos alentar a las empresas a formalizarse y a cumplir con sus obligaciones fiscales?
  • ¿Cómo podemos alentar el involucramiento de los padres en el monitoreo de los servicios educativos?

A través de una serie de blogs estaremos compartiendo algunos de nuestros resultados en la región durante las próximas semanas.

Nos complace empezar esta serie con la publicación de la traducción al español* de nuestro marco metodológico principal EAST: Cuatro maneras simples de aplicar las ciencias del comportamiento.


EAST compila décadas de literatura académica y nuestra experiencia aplicando las ciencias del comportamiento a la política pública. EAST es un acrónimo compuesto por las palabras simplE, Atractivo, Social y a Tiempo.

Parte fundamental de nuestro trabajo en la región latinoamericana, ha sido también apoyar a los gobiernos en el desarrollo de sus capacidades. Además de traducir EAST, hemos traducido también nuestras cartas EAST para facilitar talleres en español, que estarán pronto a la venta. En los próximos meses también estaremos publicando una serie de nuestros documentos en español.

Esperamos que los responsables de la política pública en América Latina  encuentren en EAST una herramienta simple y práctica para hacer más efectivas las políticas públicas.

* Agradecemos al Instituto Mexicano de Economía del Comportamiento por su apoyo en la traducción de EAST

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team

An article in the current Private Eye Magazine has drawn our attention to the use that disability campaigner John Slater is making of our Freedom of Information service WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

In December 2016, Mr Slater asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to release the monthly “management information reports” received from contractors ATOS and Capita in relation to their work assessing eligibility for Personal Independence Payment benefits.

Mr Slater has pursued his request for over a year, and wasn’t put off by an initial response which stated that the information requested wasn’t held, nor a subsequent response refusing to release the material citing the contractors’ “commercial interests”.

In December 2017, a year after Mr Slater made his request, the Information Commissioner ordered the DWP to release the material, stating “The Commissioner has not been satisfied that disclosing the withheld information would be likely to damage the commercial standing of ATOS and Capita”. The Information Commissioner dismissed the DWP’s concerns that the information requested could be “misinterpreted in ways that could lead to reputational damage to both the Department and the PIP Providers as well as prejudice the efficient conduct of public affairs”.

The Information Commissioner’s decision notice was highly critical of the way the DWP had handled the case, noting the use of “standard paragraphs” rather than a discussion of the public interest tailored to the material in question, and DWP failing to engage promptly with the Information Commissioner, thus causing further delay.

The DWP have not yet complied with the Information Commissioner’s decision; they have appealed and a tribunal hearing is scheduled for April 2018.

This request is far from the only one showing Mr Slater’s persistence in pursuing the release of information held by the Department for Work and Pensions.

A request for Project Assessment Review Reports for the Universal Credit Programme that Mr Slater made in April 2016 was initially accepted and the department said they were considering it. Mr Slater chased up the lack of a response in June, and again in August and September, but when, six months after his original request, Mr Slater chased them again in October they deemed his persistence to be vexatious and rejected the request.

That request has now been further rejected by the DWP, who say that the information “if released would, or would be likely to, prejudice the free and frank provision of advice or which would otherwise, or would be likely otherwise to, prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.”

Mr Slater has referred that decision to the Information Commissioner too.

On the 5th of December 2017, Debbie Abrahams MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, deployed the Parliamentary procedure of a motion for “an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty” to seek the release of the documents to the Work and Pensions Committee. MPs agreed the motion unanimously.

The committee are currently in correspondence with the Government over redaction, and arrangements for access to the material.

The committee chair, Frank Field MP, has suggested that:

A couple of copies would be made. These copies will be kept securely and members would be invited to come to the Committee office to read them. No-one else, other than the committee members, will be invited to make this journey to our Committee office and members will not be able to make copies, or take notes, about the documents.

– so despite the decision by the House of Commons the public still might not get to see the material via that route.

Mr Slater has been in touch with us and told us he finds the service provided by WhatDoTheyKnow extremely helpful when submitting and managing FOI requests.

He said that the ease of submitting requests and built in workflow that keeps track of time, reminding users that a response should have been issued, is invaluable. He also likes that a single platform exists where information obtained by its users is made available for everyone, as that embodies the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.

Image: John-Mark Kuznietsov (Unsplash)

Original source – mySociety

Hello, I’m Sally Hudson, Product Owner for the Prepare for Universal Credit service.

We’re an online, internal DWP service that helps Jobcentres and other DWP teams get colleagues ready to deliver Universal Credit (UC). We bring together all of the information they need, give a clear overview of progress as well as areas of risk or delay as teams manage the 26-week preparation period.

Sally Hudson, DWP Digital Product Owner

Sally Hudson, DWP Digital Product Owner

The service is in beta. As a first-time product owner, developing the service has been a really interesting journey for me, and for the rest of my brilliant team too.

Going digital

My background is in managing projects but not on the digital side of the fence. In my previous role in UC implementation it became apparent that a digital service could help colleagues in Jobcentres as well as support the business in rolling out UC.

I’d seen multi-disciplinary agile teams in action and liked the ways in which those teams worked and how they approached problems. So I put myself forward for the role of product owner for what would become the Prepare for Universal Credit service.

Starting with user needs

A bespoke two-week Digital Academy course later and the team was ready. We began our Discovery phase by starting out with user research. The service is designed around our users’ needs so this was really important insight which told us what the problems were and confirmed who our users would be. The importance of focusing on what the user needs, not what they want was the first major thing I learned; they are two very different things!

The Prepare For Universal Credit digital service

The Prepare For Universal Credit digital service

By January 2017, following prototyping, user research, user story creation and associated development, the team watched with baited breath (and lots of cheers) as the Minimal Viable Product of our service came to life and we could make it available to our first set of users.

Moving into beta – and dealing with challenges

Beta gave us the chance to scale up both delivery of the service and the pace of delivery too. We continued to iterate the service but it wasn’t without its challenges.

At the outset we were a relatively inexperienced team. We failed fast by not creating user stories that described the service we needed. We stopped, took advice and then reset our approach by sharing our lessons learned and revising our approach. But this was also a key learning – it’s OK to fail. The key for me and the team was to learn from it and move on.

We also had to consider an enormous amount of content and we had to do a lot of work to make it work for users. We designed new content that provides a clear, auditable list of tasks that tracked progress and brought together all the information our users needed in one place.

Developing as a team

During beta not only has the service grown but the team has grown too.

We have all benefited from working in a multi-disciplinary team supporting our users. Our personal levels of experience and knowledge have increased and we’ve been able to support two apprentices and a group of interns as well.

The Prepare for Universal Credit team

The Prepare for Universal Credit team

As for me, I’ve learned so much in such a short space of time. The opportunity to work with such a great team and in an agile environment has been one I wouldn’t have missed.

It’s not about individuals, the team delivers the service. Everyone has skills, knowledge and experience to bring and together we work through the problems to consider the best and simplest way to solve them.

What’s next?

Feedback from users who we’ve worked with over the last 12 months has been incredible. They really like the presentation of the information and find the service easy to use, especially when they are supporting numerous Jobcentres.

So far the service has successfully supported 148 Jobcentres across the country. It was the first significant sized service that DWP hosted in Amazon Web Services and we use Gov.UK Notify to send emails to our users.

But we’re not stopping there – we’re currently supporting another 253 Jobcentres with more to come and we’ll continue to iterate the service. We’re currently considering how to open up access to users within HM Revenue and Customs and testing a new feature that allows us to better manage content so we can make changes more quickly and in a more manageable way.

I’m so proud of service and of team I work with. It’s been a steep learning curve for me, but of all the projects I’ve been involved in within DWP, working to develop this service has been one my proudest moments.

Original source – DWP Digital

Join us on March 13th for a user research workshop with Hilary Chan and Vita Mangan


Interactive workshop with thought element and hands-on activities

What you’ll learn

  • The common mistakes people and organisations make that trick them into thinking they’re doing user research when they’re not.
  • How to identify gaps in previous research and recognise poor user research practice.
  • What conducting good, user-centred user research looks like and how to avoid falling into the traps of ‘user-light’ research.
  • How to plan user research that brings together good design, user needs, and business needs.


Conducting user research is fundamental to designing good services, products, and experiences. This means speaking to your users, testing with your users, understanding the environment of the users; in effect, actually engaging with your users.

This doesn’t mean you need to throw away all those past heuristic evaluations, customer blueprints, and personas. These techniques are useful but don’t mistake them with including real users during design and development.

This workshop will show attendees common mistakes people make when planning user research, demonstrate the difference in outcomes between bringing users in vs “expert” judgement. After this, you’ll be able to build better research plans that place user needs in the centre of the design process.

 Grab your tickets here

Original source – dxw