Welcome to Better by Design

Better by Design is a ground-breaking Big Lottery Fund Scotland programme to support a better and more sustainable third sector across Scotland. The sector plays a vital role in reducing inequalities and improving lives for individuals and communities. It is a key contributor to delivery, innovation and change in public services. However, voluntary and community organisations are facing unprecedented challenges and working harder than ever in the context of a difficult funding environment. The Big Lottery Fund Scotland has commissioned The Young Foundation and Taylor Haig to develop a programme of design-led support to 15 third sector organisations across Scotland. The programme provides bespoke support, guiding the organisations through a design-led change process that draws on insight from a wide range of stakeholders and uses innovative and practical design techniques to put people at the centre of the services they want and need. It also provides specialist input around research, engagement and participation, impact and evaluation and social enterprise. The programme includes a series of learning events on design and innovation that are open to anyone from the third sector who is interested, and reports, tools and learning will be shared on this blog. The programme aims to test the efficacy of a design-led approach and to build skills and capacity in the sector around design-led approaches.

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Building an impact story

A post from Nat Defriend 

This blog features the very fruitful work Better By Design has done in partnership with Women onto Work. WOW is a fantastic organisation of over 25 years standing working in the heart of Edinburgh to improve the well-being and employment prospects of women who, by virtue of their mental or emotional vulnerabilities, are furthest from the world of work.

During the course of this work, and in the face of the considerable challenges WOW faces in the rapidly changing environment in which it operates, real and substantial progress has been made in clarifying the organisation’s core mission and designing processes which can enable WOW to tell a robust story about how it achieves this mission.

It all started with an impact and evaluation session in July 2014 where we focused on their theory of change and identified that while clearly an employment agency, WOW achieves its impact by working on women’s well-being as a precursor and prerequisite to women being able to access employment and training opportunities. WOW does this best when it targets its efforts at the right women (who can most benefit from its range of services), and in the tailoring of its approaches to these women and these specific aims.

This felt like a break-through for all concerned at the impact session, and it led to the interesting realisation that while they measure many things, they do not have any way of measuring their impact in relation to well-being.

Armed with this insight we conducted research into the range of potential well-being measures available and appropriate for WOW’s purposes. These were collated and used as the basis for a very fruitful session in September 2014 where we selected from these the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS) as being robust, as measuring the right things, and, in comprising only 14 questions, as very simple to implement.

So far so easy…the next stage was to design the tool into WOW in a way that means WOW will get the intended benefit from the new information it will be gathering about women’s well-bring as it changes through their time with WOW. This design process has a number of strands; firstly we have worked together to produce a paper for WOW’s technical support team for required functional and non-functional changes necessary for their management information systems; secondly we will be delivering, jointly with WOW senior managers, a series of briefing events for WOW staff, introducing them to the rationale and key features of the tool; and finally handing over to Lynne from Taylor Haig who will be prototyping the process and system changes through which the new tool will be introduced into the service.

This work will be completed in the first months of 2015 and it is anticipated that the first women will be using the tool by February. By the time Better By Design and WOW part company next April WOW should be in possession of some highly valuable evidence of women’s progress in relation to well-being as they journey through the service. This will be of incalculable, or possibly highly calcuable value as WOW seeks to make the case to future commissioners for investment in its services.

All in all a very successful collaboration, and one which will leave a lasting impact within WOW when Better By Design finishes.

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A snapshot of the third sector in Scotland

The Scottish third sector is facing unprecedented challenges. Increasing demand for services due to recession, an ageing population and the persistence of inter-related and intractable problems of inequality and vulnerability in our communities, combined with resource constraints imposed by the financial crisis, mean that organisations must find ways to do more with less. At the same time, people’s lives continue to change; new technologies and new behaviours emerge. This shifting context means that services that may have worked well before are no longer effective in improving outcomes or efficient in operation. The Christie Commission recognised the current system of public service provision is unsustainable. Over 40 per cent of public service spending is directed towards dealing with the consequences, not the causes, of social problems, and inequalities in areas of income, employment, health, learning and safety remain or have widened.  The landscape of public service provision across the public, private and third sector organisations is fragmented, unclear and overly complex, making it difficult for effective collaboration. Organisational and partnership strategies tend to be formed on a top-down basis and so can be unresponsive to individual and community needs. Strong professional dominance of public services can lead to outdated attitudes and approaches and risk aversion in relation to innovation. The Commission called for all public service organisations to work together to redesign services built around communities using assets-based approaches grounded in people’s lives, involving everyone and recognising that individuals and communities are part of the solution. It recognised that tackling “failure demand” and shifting expenditure towards more sustainable, early intervention will mean genuine and deep engagement with individuals and communities to develop reasoned, shared understanding of how outcomes are achieved. This outcomes-based transformation will require strong leadership across the whole system to enable innovation and to redesign roles, structures, systems and processes to support new services. Scottish Government’s report The Opportunities and Challenges of the Changing Public Services Landscape for the Third Sector in Scotland: A Longitudinal Study Year Three Report (2009-2012) stated that most third sector organisations (TSOs) had carried out some kind of organisational review (ranging from fairly informal reflection by senior managers and boards, to formalised strategic reviews). This had resulted in:

  • Refocusing, in some cases, of their mission and identity;
  • Diversifying funding sources, through developing enterprise activity; increasing fundraising activities, and/or seeking social investment;
  • Restructuring to achieve cost savings and improve competitiveness including cutting staff; rationalising assets, and mergers with other TSOs;
  • Campaigning to raise their profile or influence policy on issues affecting their client groups;
  • Forming partnerships, such as consortiums, to improve access to funding, particularly on a larger scale.

The report goes on to highlight that policy changes can take up to three years to filter down to TSOs.  Significant changes in policy in Scotland and Westminster have impacted most TSOs and there is a tension between adapting to ever-changing policy priorities and maintaining organisational identity and mission. The third sector in Scotland is very concentrated. Research conducted by The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator showed that 95 per cent of sector income goes to only 7.1 per cent of charities and 82 per cent of charities have income of less than £100,000. More rigid and complex procurement and tender processes have disadvantaged smaller organisations that lack the resources necessary to participate.  Larger charities dominate these more complex funding channels, sometimes then redistributing funds to smaller charities, adding additional layers of complexity and reducing transparency and accountability. It would be misleading to assume that organisation size is equivalent to social impact.  Many smaller organisations are part of the fabric of the communities they work with, providing vital support in specific localities.  While financial constraints will act as a driver for further consolidation, the challenge for smaller organisations is to provide funders with evidence of impact and design services that can extend impact without necessarily increasing costs. Against the background of financial constraint, system failure and calls for reform, TSOs must work towards meaningful and effective change, redesigning their services and reconfiguring their organisations in different ways if they are to be sustainable in the longer term. While some organisations have made significant steps in this direction already, many lack the strategic vision, adaptability and resources to manage innovation and change. This is particularly the case with small and medium-sized organisations. This challenging contextual landscape leads to uncertainty amongst third sector organisations and BIG’s research confirms this. 47 per cent of organisations are uncertain about their future; 45 per cent are concerned about their organisation’s capacity to meet new challenges; and 44 per cent are unsure or concerned about their board’s capacity to meet new challenges. BIG’s research also shows that 67 per cent of third sector organisations are planning to develop new services over the next year. This more positive finding highlights a responsiveness and willingness to change that we hope to harness through Better by Design.

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More than a user

A primary principle of the Better by Design programme is that people are the driving force for the development and delivery of services that they want and need. We are used to hearing and using the general term ‘service-users’ when referring to those who access an organisation’s support, but this reveals little about who these individuals really are or what they might be contributing. Might someone who uses a service also be a volunteer, a campaigner, an advocate, or a mentor to others in the organisation? As part of the Better by Design process, we worked with many of the organisations to think beyond ‘service-users’ and to explore the following questions:

  • Who really benefits from the work we do, both directly and indirectly?
  • In which ways do these groups of people currently get involved?
  • Where might there be opportunities for increasing participation and involvement?

The work that organisations undertook on ‘engagement and participation’ was an opportunity to temporarily step back from the day-to-day demands of service delivery, and to think strategically about how both the needs and capabilities of their beneficiaries could most effectively shape the organisation’s future activity. What did we do?  The process began with an online survey of staff, which gathered feedback about the different ways that those who benefit from the organisation are currently involved. We invited a mixture of people who held different roles throughout the organisation to take part in the survey, and the responses described a wide range of current opportunities for participation; from informal feedback and interaction on social media to peer support, mentoring and steering groups. img_4999[text blur] Based on this feedback, we ran workshops for members of staff to come together and reflect on what was already working well, and where there were opportunities for further involvement. The workshop was structured around a simple framework for thinking about the different ways that people might get involved with something. It includes four categories, which range from low-level engagement to higher levels of active participation (Observing, Contributing, Collaborating and Leading – see image below for descriptions of each level) Participation pyramid The purpose of the conversation is not to suggest that the highest levels of participation are necessarily the most superior types of involvement, or indeed that it would be appropriate to encourage all groups of people to get involved in those ways. Instead, it is important to acknowledge that it’s natural for any organisation or group to have a larger number of people who are loosely involved, and a smaller number who are very active and feel personally invested. What’s most significant is that the organisation has considered the whole spectrum of opportunities for people to get involved, and also taken time to think about which groups of people these opportunities might be most appropriate for. When these opportunities are well suited, both the individual and the organisation will have a huge amount to gain. What next? This conversation became a starting point for a range of different actions by those who were involved:

  • Becoming inspired by ideas for creative approaches towards engagement, based on case studies that were shared and discussion with others
  • Identifying a specific opportunity (related to their existing services) that staff would like to work on to encourage greater involvement (i.e. developing a peer support and mentoring system)
  • Developing a more consistent whole-organisation strategy towards engagement and participation (creating a framework that provides staff with guidance about the range of approaches available and when to use them)
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The soft stuff is the hard stuff

Blog by Lynne Wardle of Taylor Haig

The application of design to public services is not new.   A quick Google search will reveal numerous case studies and agencies offering to redesign services, starting from the ‘users’ experience’. However, when talking with colleagues from various design agencies, their frustration is often the same; how can we raise design from good looking graphics, novel toolkits and one-off service improvements, to a more sustainable and strategic response to organisational challenges?

In Better by Design, the organisations that applied to take part were not looking for a one-off fix.   Rather than seeking to redesign a single service, the majority wanted to apply design methods to redesign their business model, introduce new, more user-focused ways of working and get off the ‘hamster-wheel’ of short-term, output-driven funding.  The focus of the design effort was not so much on a service as on the organisation itself.

Taking a strategic design approach means moving from looking at the pieces, the individual services, to looking at the whole – the organisation itself, its system, culture and processes.  While there are numerous examples of service redesign, there are fewer examples of the design-leadership necessary to embed design at a strategic level and use it to continually and sustainably increase impact.  In Better by Design, the chief executives of the participating organisations have stepped forward as pioneers to develop their design leadership and create the conditions within their organisations to enable sustainable change.

In the early stages of Better by Design, many of those taking part said they were unsure of the language and fuzzy nature of the iterative design process.  We are conditioned to drive for solutions but design encourages us to spend more time exploring problems.  At first this can feel frustrating and uncomfortable but with practice we find that fresh perspectives can help to reframe problems and identify new opportunities.  The leadership challenge is to create the space for this exploration, to encourage questioning without fear of blame and to remain open to insights that might challenge the operation at a fundamental level.

In seeking to understand the potential of design approaches in public services renewal, the Design Commission invited Barry Quirk, Chief Executive of Lewisham Council, and Baroness Kingsmill to lead an inquiry, seeking evidence from a wide range of people, at home and abroad, involved in redesigning services.  Their report, Restarting Britain, sets out their findings and recommendations and concludes that,

 “The really hard work is in making the space for change to happen, which is often about paying attention to the internal dynamics of the organisation, sometimes about getting public buy-in, but always about thinking about the behaviours and contexts of everyone interacting with the system.”

 We have spent quite some time in Better by Design looking at relationships with people using services, with stakeholders, funders and one with another.  We’ve identified patterns within organisations that help or hinder change.  We’ve engaged in new and different conversations and identified opportunities for improvement.   This is the work of human-centred design.  The soft stuff – creating the conditions for change – is the hard stuff.

As we move forward through the next stages of Better by Design, we hear people ready and hungry for action, to design and implement concrete changes that have a positive impact on the people who benefit from your services.   As culture changes in conversation, outcomes change in action.  These next few months will see a lot of action as we work together on prototyping, testing and implementing change.  But Better by Design is just the beginning.  The leadership within each organisation, at all levels, will remain, the conversations will continue and new networks, relationships and ideas will continue to develop.  The test of Better by Design is not the new services you will deliver but the way in which the approach is embedded within each organisation as your own.

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The results are in

A total of 58 responses were received to the survey we sent out over the summer, asking organisations:

  • what activities have made the most difference to their thinking and practice and why
  • what difference Better by Design is making to their beneficiaries
  • how are you changing as a result of Better by Design
  • what 3 things should we do to improve it
  • is it value for money
  • what are you most pleased about

There was no response from four organisations.

You told us that whilst on the whole you are very positive about the programme, most of you are keen that the activity in the final year has a real focus on concrete actions.

A wide range of activities were cited as being helpful;  these included coaching, research and prototyping as well as specific tools such as Organisational Health Scorecard, Theory of Change, Empathy maps, Customer profiles, Knowledge swatches, SWOT analysis and the red and green curve.  Sometimes what was helpful was just having different kinds of meetings which provide an opportunity to ‘bring things out into the open’, or visiting other services from a client perspective – as someone put it “seeing ourselves from ‘outside’”.  One of the things you are most pleased about is the active use of the design approach to develop new ideas and services.

By using these approaches you have seen improvements in your own organisations specifically around: including those who use your services in planning; open and honest communication; the ability to stand back and reflect and therefore plan better; better understanding of target audiences, and stronger ability to collaborate with others.

People you work with are already benefiting through being more involved, and through the more thoughtful approach being adopted. But the real benefits to those using the service will become more apparent over the coming year.

The biggest change you are noticing in your own organisations is a more positive attitude to the future and improved morale in your teams. You are challenging yourselves more, and being more articulate about the difference you make. You are also seeing your strategic and business planning processes improve, with a clearer focus on the people using your services.

You want more clarity what is happening in the remainder of the programme, better integration of the different aspects of the programme, and a real focus on direct action.

Many of those of you who had experienced it first hand were convinced that it was a good use of money, but some of you had boards of directors who will only be convinced by seeing real changes in the long term prospects for sustainability for their organisations.

Thank you for the great ideas for case studies. We will be getting back to you about these.

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Demystifying social investment


A post by Gemma Rocyn-Jones

Last week saw the UK government bring leading investors and architects of the social investment movement together from across Europe as part of the G8’s Task Force exploring where next for the market. Social investment has been one of the hottest topics in recent years, as an area where the supply of funds is increasing rather than decreasing, unusual in a time of austerity.

Closer to home, in May, Social Investment Scotland launched a £16 million loan fund for social sector organisations.

To support Better By Design organisations understand what these developments mean for them, The Young Foundation ran a webinar de-mystifying the world of social investment.

 What is social investment?

Simply put, social investment is the provision of finance to produce both social and financial returns. It typically represents capital investment to support an organisation’s growth and infrastructure, an area long underserved by traditional grants. Social investment aligns the interests of the investor with the organisation, so both are committed and motivated by maximising their impact in a financially sustainable way.  An added bonus for many social investees is the access to non-financial support that investors often bring, whether through their presence on the board or through access to their networks.

 Who are these social investors?

Social investors themselves are a more familiar group than organisations may first imagine. As Social Investment Scotland’s entry to the market illustrates, they span the spectrum from traditional grantmakers like Esmee Fairbairn and Lankelly Chase, who operate their own investment funds, and venture philanthropists such as Impetus – The Private Equity Foundation, through to impact funds such as CAF Venturesome, Big Issue Invest and Nesta Impact Investment Fund and traditional financial providers such as the Charity Bank and Triodos. Alongside these dedicated investors can sit individual social investors who act as ‘angels’ supporting the development of the organisation through the temporary provision of finance.

 What form does social investment take?

The type of funding an organisation needs will depend on how the funding will be used and how, or indeed if, it will be repaid. Social investment spans a range of products, from secured and unsecured loans (similar to what an individual might use to buy a house or car) through to equity and equity like (quasi equity) forms of patient capital. There are two important numbers to keep in mind though: of the £202 million invested socially, only five per cent represents equity and quasi-equity investments, which are most closely associated with financing development or growth costs. The majority remains invested via secured loans.

How to decide whether social investment is for me

There are essentially four key questions to consider when exploring financing options:

  1. Legally, what and how can you borrow? Your legal structure will determine what form of loan finance (if any) you can take on.
  2. What do you need the funding for? Is it for a fixed asset, working capital or development costs? Is there security you could put forward to the funder? The greater the uncertainty over the value the funding will bring to the organisation, the greater the risk to the investor.
  3. What level of repayments can your business model sustain? How much cash surplus will your model generate and over what time frame? If it will take several years to generate a surplus then patient capital may be the most appropriate.
  4. When do you need the funding? How urgently the financing is needed is an important factor. The higher the complexity or risk associated with the investment, the more time you need to allow to go through due diligence.

Once you know these answers you can put yourself into the shoes of the appropriate investor, think through what information they would need to be comfortable with an investment and then use your Organisational Health Scorecard to assess how closely you are likely to meet their expectations.

The slides from thewebinar can be found here.

We shared with organisations this reading on A New Approach to Funding Social Enterprises by the Harvard Business Review prior to the webinar.

The Young Foundation previously produced an animation of an Introduction to Social Investment for the Voluntary Youth Sector Organisations. Please visit the Young Foundation’s website to see the animation.

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Helping you to learn on the run – get posting!

learning-on-the-run-tool2The learning partner has developed a prototype Learning on the Run tool in the form of large ‘post-its’ that have the prompts printed onto them.

These will be brought to you by the delivery team members. It will be up to you to decide how best to use them – but ideally you would use them in a Better by Design session to reflect together on the process and learning.

They will help you to:

  • Check in and review progress
  • Share thoughts about what is working and what needs to change to make it even better
  • Record and share insights and ah-ha moments
  • Check-out what others are thinking
  • Talk about design – What is it that helps? What gets in the way? What seems to be important or distinctive about it?
  • Talk about your desired outcomes – Are you on the right path? How are you doing?
  • Record evidence as it emerges so it is not lost and can influence the next stages of the process.

Here is the file in case you want to print them yourself.

Please get on touch directly with either of us if you want further advice on using this approach. Cathy info@research-for-real.co.uk or Jo jo@animateconsulting.org.uk

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Pressing play for Women onto Work

A post by Megan Dragony

bbd icons new-04Better by Design organisation Women Onto Work (WoW) advocates that employability is an issue that is affected by and influences countless other aspects of a woman’s life. Because of this, it has adopted a holistic, gender specific employability programme. It was important for WoW to understand the complexity of these issues and how they influence the lives of individual women so that they could ensure the effectiveness of their programmes. It also wanted to illustrate these issues in a compelling way to funders and other decision makers. These aims could be best achieved through video ethnography.

WOW identified three individual participants at various stages of their journey with the programme. Initially we conducted a series of semi-structured filmed videos to establish a baseline of the current issues each woman was facing. We will be following up with them in the coming weeks to visit them in their homes or jobs in an effort to capture a holistic picture of their life.

We also filmed a cohort of women as they made their final presentations after completing a four-week personal development course with WOW. As part of the event, we asked the women to create a visual representation of where they were four weeks ago and to reflect on the progress they had made. The activity provided great stimulus for candid yet very compelling discussions that highlighted many key issues around women’s employability. Using a relatively compact digital camera we were able to remain relatively inconspicuous, making the participants more comfortable.

Screening the footage from the interviews with the staff sparked some very useful discussions about the programme from recruitment processes to communication strategies, and generated some new ideas for development. In terms of the final outputs, we hope to create a film that accurately reflects the unique challenges women face in terms of employment, as well as the positive transformation women undergo during WOW’s programmes.  As I said at the beginning, this is a process that takes time and we will continue to be guided by insights and discoveries along the way.