Our Digital Innovation Journey

Written by Malgorzata Sobecka, User Researcher at Family Lives

Over the last year, as well as realigning our services so that we could continue to support families during all the changes and lockdowns, we have also been busy on our Digital Innovation Project which is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.  

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At the core of this three-year project is the focus to find ways to better manage supply and demand to our services, especially our helpline, as well as making sure that the journey between the different services we offer is more streamlined and connected. It also aims to find ways of incorporating digital elements into our face-to-face services which of course is even more important given the current situation and challenges that we are facing globally due to the outbreak of Covid-19.  

Our project’s objective is to improve the reach of our services, and to ensure they are designed well and with our users in mind. Our users are not only the families and individuals who access our services, but also our volunteers and staff who make our projects possible, and the professionals who refer to our services. 

Over the last year we took the opportunity to delve deep into understanding the needs of the families who use our services, both online and offline, through in-depth interviews. We also interviewed our staff and volunteers. This research has been enlightening and given us much more insight into the challenges families face, and also the interactions between our different services.  

After undertaking our user research and gathering insights into how people use our services and their needs, we held internal workshops to analyse the data to find suitable ways of dealing with the challenges users face.  

Once we had ideas about how to address these, we created simple prototypes using online tools such as Canva. We then went back to our users to find out what they thought about them, and amended the prototypes based on the feedback. The key to our development and design is for it to be user centric, which means really listening to the feedback you receive and taking it on board.  

Carrying out in-depth user research and learning how to create and test prototypes was a brand-new concept for us as a charity, because we don’t usually look at our audience on such a grand scale. Even though we have always had data about our key stakeholders and consulted with users on a project levelthis was an opportunity to probe even further into the issues and identify the challenges and opportunities. 

This was very exciting for us as it allowed us to communicate with our audience in a new way, which made the design process much more collaborative and inspired by the insights that we found by speaking to our users. It allowed us to understand what it is that users really want, and not just designing for what we thought they want and need.  

Among some of our most exciting ideas that are on the horizon are personalising our user journeys, increasing our ‘self-service’ resources, and providing real time information about the availability of our support services, such as our helpline.  

Some of the ways we are doing this include converting existing online content into more in-depth online workshops which parents can access in their own time, and exploring giving parents a personalised online space where they can access their favourite content and connect with other parents.    

Our digital project was conceived before there was any sign of Covid, so we were always planning on enhancing our services with digital, while maintaining the human element of what we do, but strangely Covid-19 made the change easier overall. Of course, it wasn’t without hiccups and difficulties, as we all struggled to turn our services into digital offerings overnight. The most challenging concept for us was how to deliver our face-to-face services without being able to meet in person, and how to overcome the struggles of different digital abilities, technologies, and equipment that our staff, volunteers, and users have whilst ensuring that the families we are connected with still feel supported and engaged appropriately and fairly. This came on top of balancing the wellbeing, as well as the physical and mental health of our own staff, and their families who were suddenly all at home together, unable to live their lives as before. 

Ultimately though, jumping into the deep end made us move more quickly towards embracing digitalisation, with some unexpected consequences such as more parents signing up to online workshops and an influx of willing volunteers, which has been positive for us as a charity and also for this project. 

Changing our services to be more digital also showed us what works, and what doesn’t so that we can continue to implement this into future services. This will ensure our services are as accessible as possible without losing the human touch and connection. 

As much as we would love to say that we have it all figured out for 2021, we don’t. The question of how to ensure everyone has the same access to digital offerings, not just from us as a charity, but from the communities in general is still a tough and unanswered question. As more services are moved online from councils, booking GP appointments, through to home schooling to working remotely, the divide between families who have access to technology and those who don’t will become even starker. Despite this, we will continue working to our goal to make sure that we can support as many families as possible, not matter what their circumstances. 

The next big step for us is a new website, which will include the features that we have been testing with our users around managing supply and demand, as well as better meeting accessibility needs and simplifying the user journey.  We have now also been joined by a digital agency who will be helping us develop all of those fantastic ideas. As always, our users are at the heart of our innovation and we will keep striving to make sure that all of our services can be accessed and used fairly, and equally by our audience, so we are very excited for you to see our developments.