Case study: Social Impact Bonds

The Cabinet Office is responsible for an  £80 million fund to provide outcomes-based contracts to address pervasive social issues like addiction and children’s services. This type of funding runs over several years and involves numerous touchpoints with several different agencies. 

I worked with this team to develop an online service for users from local authorities, chairities and non-profits to apply for funding, set outcomes and continually log evidence of their results. I also helped them implement the GDS service standard and represented them at their assessment. 

What I did

Stakeholder workshops

Multiple agencies are involved in the implementation of this type of funding, so I ran workshops with each stakeholder group to build journey maps, which fed into an overall journey map that captured the end-to-end journey that spans several years. By visualising this journey, it helped stakeholders and team members idntify high-priority transactions and touchpoints to focus on. 

Exploring similar services

Although this type of funding is relatively new, a few similar but smaller funds have been implemented so I did exploratory work with stakeholders and users of those existing funds. In particular I focused on talking to contact centre staff, who have almost daily interactions with users and have a broad understanding of the challenges of both users and stakeholders. 

Interviews, contextual research and diary studies 

I focused most of my efforts on research with end users. I began by running remote interviews with current users of similar funds, and used these insights to understand challenges and build an end-user journey map. These insights helped us build an MVP, which I tested iteratively with users by observing them using it in their own environment. I also set up a diary study for them to log their progress during the application process. 

Personas I created for the project

Implementing UCD culture

The team are very policy-focused, so one of my challenges was to implement user-centred design culture into their working patterns. They often work remotely, so I set up regular research playbacks, prioritisation sessions and show and tells via video conferencing. I also booked all workshops within their schedules to ensure they attended. 

Advocating for accessibility testing

Because users are mainly business users, the team didn’t think accessibility testing was necessary. I used both research findings – which showed that some users did have access needs – and GDS accessibility materials to convince them of the need for accessibility compliance and high levels. Once budget for this was approved, I procured and managed an accessbility audit. 

The result: An accessible, intuitive online service that met users needs and the service standard

The online service launched on time and on budget, despite many curve balls. User feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s shown to cut down application times by 25% for end users. 

What I learned:

  • Persist. Be nice and do good work, and even the most dubious stakeholders will come around over time. 
  • Yes, end users should be your focus, but don’t discount the value of talking to stakeholders. 
  • Make sure your research methods (especially diary studies) are as simple and quick as possible for users, or they won’t do them. 
  • Meet people where they are. Users and stakeholders are incredibly helpful when you make the effort to come to them instead of making them come to you.