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Transforming public services
Adult social care faces considerable challenges in the 21st century as more people live longer. By 2022, 20% of the population will be aged over 65 and by 2027 there will be a 60% increase in the number of people aged over 85.
About the project
The North East’s Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (NE IEP) is a government-funded programme that works with local authorities and their partners helping them to improve services and make efficiency savings.
The NE IEP needed to improve people’s quality of life in the region whilst reducing spend on health and adult social care services. They set up the ‘What Supports Independent Living project’ to explore how they could encourage older people to use services that will support them to live independent lives whilst protecting front line services.
The focus is on service provision to promote physical activity in later life, such as sport and leisure facilities and informative websites, that will prevent the over 50s from becoming increasingly dependent on front-line health and social care intervention. They hope that through the What Supports Independent Living Project they can quickly identify and implement some low-cost practical actions in the region to promote the types of services which will be readily adopted by the target user group.
The NE IEP realised that to overcome these challenges they needed to look at new and different ways of doing things. In the current climate, with people expecting more personalised, on-demand services, they thought a design approach could help.
I would describe design as an inclusive process. It’s a set of systems and tools and a philosophy that really helps to open up creativity, and helps you to look at things from a completely different perspective. Zoe Campbell, Project Manager, Adult Social Care Programme, NE IEP
The Design Council’s Public Services by Design programme appointed Design Associate, Colin Burns, as their mentor for the duration of the programme.
“I thought Colin was great. He was really very challenging because he was quite different to the way that we’d worked before and because his perceptions of ideas were maybe more creative and he didn’t necessarily come to the same conclusions that we came to. So, it allowed us to think differently.” Coral Hanson, Health and Fitness Manager, Northumberland County Council.
Burns helped them understand how design techniques could improve existing services. Ideas were distilled into some potential design opportunities the NE IEP could pursue. They included:
- Commissioning a service design agency to better understand customers
- Designing an internal communications campaign to share best practice across the region
- Providing a way for staff to quickly try out and test their improvement ideas through prototyping
Burns helped the NE RIEP commission design research agency, Options UK, to try and identify what was stopping older people from using services such as health and leisure facilities. Options UK also explored what the successful services were doing right so they could be used as best practice examples.
In terms of sport and leisure we found that the biggest barrier preventing people from accessing that service was confidence. People weren’t comfortable in the sport and leisure centre environment. Lucy Denham, Senior Service Designer, Options UK
Options UK worked with communities to try and better understand why these types of barriers existed. They then came up with ideas, co-creating them with the people using the service and with staff from the NE IEP, to make it easier and more desirable for people to access the service.
Burns and Options UK helped the NE IEP try out some of those ideas in a rapid way, mocking things up and testing them for half a day or sometimes a week, to see if they would improve the number of people accessing the services.
According to Campbell, traditionally they had to have a lot of evidence in order to test out ideas, so prototyping was a new concept for the NE IEP team and something they initially struggled with. But now they have found prototyping to be one of the most successful design tools they implemented. “Rather than invest a great deal of resources, time and energy into something to then find out that it doesn’t work, we’ve trialled something really quickly on the spot.“ says Campbell.
The impact of design
Interest in the design approach and in involving service users in problem solving and developing the role of health trainers, helped the team attract a further £20,000 to support the project.
Independent evaluation shows that the NE IEP’s What Supports Independent Living project can expect to see efficiency gains of £1,539,500 as a direct result of using a design approach for service improvement.
Hanson says "I think using the design approach has meant that we’ve really listened to what our customers have had to say and we’ve tried to come up with some solutions that are actually focused around what they want, not around what we think they need. So, hopefully they’re going to get a better customer experience as a result of the project."
According to Campbell, "Working with the Design Council has definitely given us the confidence to know how to use design tools ourselves internally, but also how we would go about procuring and getting the services of design experts to work with us, and it’s certainly something that we hope that would happen again in the future. The involvement with the Design Council has allowed the What Supports Independent Living Project to go to new places that it wasn’t going to in the first instance. And it certainly has fired up the people that were involved in it to look at the design of services in a whole new way."