This new design approach has really captured our imaginations.
Julie Brown, Programme Manager, North East Improvement and Efficiency Partnership
Supporting independent living
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.
The North East’s Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (NE IEP) is investigating how it can become more efficient and effective and target resources to people with the greatest need and help older people live independently at home.
For one project, called What Supports Independent Living, it is working with designers through the Design Council’s Public Services by Design support programme to see how design thinking and techniques can help it transform social care services in the North East. By enabling councils to work in collaboration with each other across the North East, the What Supports Independent Living project aims to improve health and emotional well-being and the quality of life of older people in the region.
To introduce the project team to the design support team from the Design Council, and to what design could do for the NE IEP, a workshop was held which showed how designers can help manage risk, make good ideas visible and tangible and develop solutions that are centred on a detailed understanding of people and what they need.
Julie Brown, Programme Manager at the NE IEP says: ‘The day went really well. We involved people who were working for local authorities but from different backgrounds: sport and leisure, adult social care and Sport England for instance. By the end, everyone was really enthused by what they had heard and then they wanted to know how we were going to apply it to our project.’
To help them identify opportunities to use design, and then commission effective design projects, Public Services by Design paired the What Supports Independent Living team with Design Associate Colin Burns. He was quickly brought up to speed on the first phase of project, which had identified services in the North East that were examples of best practice in adult social care and quality of life. These best practice examples were used in another design workshop during which Burns helped participants brainstorm ideas for new services that could encourage independent living and ways to improve existing services by collaborating with people who already do things well.
Burns then distilled the suggestions into a review of the potential design opportunities the NE IEP could pursue. They included:
- Commissioning a service design or design research agency to conduct a qualitative study with users of current best-practice independent living services in the region
- Designing an internal communications campaign to raise awareness about how services could take lessons from best-practice and been improved to support independent living
- Providing a way for staff to quickly prototype [try out and test] their improvement ideas
These suggestions were timely and appropriate says Brown because there was already a plan for creating an internal communications campaign. This has now been delivered by Newcastle based marketing agency Adessi, which has created a web portal for sharing great Idea’s in Action Now, called the Ministry of IAN.
This portal will store ideas generated from the design phase of the project which the What Supports Independent Living team commissioned says Brown: ‘All ideas and resources generated through the rest of the Public Services by Design project will sit in our newly created Ministry of IAN portal,’ meaning the iterative nature of the design process and the wealth of new ideas it can generate, will be fully captured.
After running workshops and identifying design opportunities, Design Associate Burns has helped the NE IEP team learn how to identify and commission appropriate design agencies to deliver work. ‘We procure in a very particular way through an online portal and we had to make sure organisations from the design arena were registered on this portal,’ says Brown. ‘Colin advised us on design agencies that could be appropriate for our project and four or five registered themselves on the procurement portal.’
Some of the first information to feature in the Ministry of IAN will likely be the results of work done by Options UK which NE IEP has commissioned to complete service design research into local services, and investigate why they work and whether there are any barriers to them working better.
Local services that demonstrate good practice include:
- Information signposting
- Sport and leisure
- Reaching the hard to reach
‘Options UK will be running workshops with service users, creating user profiles and understanding what it’s like to spend a day in the life of people who interact with services that support independent living,’ says Brown.
Service design project
Then, Options UK will collaborate with Masters students at Northumbria University to ‘put their combined creative hats on and come up with ideas for new service delivery that we can test with other local authorities in the region,’ says Brown. ‘Prototypes could be anything from different opening hours to better signage. By interviewing service users, Options UK will collect insights which they will then use in co-creation workshops with the people who need, or could need in the future, support to stay independent. We will be looking to create low-cost and rapid prototypes of the best improvement ideas and test them with one exemplar authority and two shadow authorities. All research and prototyping will be done in these three geographical locations so we can understand which particular prototypes are best at supporting change and improving performance. We hope to come up with a really compelling case for change. Everyone is fired up, partly because we are trying to tackle some long-standing problems.’
The design research and prototyping and communication campaign is due to be completed by the end of August for a cost of around £70,000. This is roughly 60% of the total budget for the What Supports Independent Living project, which stood at £100,000 until 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.
Brown says: ‘This new design approach has really captured our imaginations. It's prompted huge enthusiasm from our participant authorities.’