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Introducing the User Centred Design Lab

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My name is Kate and I head up the ‘User Centred Design Lab’, a new team based in the South East and South London region at the Department for Education (DfE). We’re working in an agile way to identify opportunities to improve DfE’s service to schools, teachers and parents.

Being User-Centred

In his recent blog post, service designer Dan Rider talked about what DfE learned from the schools discovery, which took place in summer 2017. A key finding was that, on any given day, a school could be asked to send to DfE and its agencies multiple but very similar data returns in various formats.

There are now lots of great examples across government of teams that have designed and implemented services to gather similar amounts of data but in ways that work for their users. Now it is our turn to do the same.

We are starting small, at first working only in the South East and South London region where we can speak to school leaders and teachers to understand their needs, and design services with their involvement along the way. Whilst this is a project based in one region, however, everything we design must be suitable for all schools - and eventually as we move through the project phases and test our products with more schools, we aim to scale up nationally.

The Funding Conundrum

Our first project is exploring how we can help school leaders find all the funding and school improvement support that’s available to them. There are actually lots of support programmes and funding streams available from Government, often delivered by Teaching Schools, commercial providers and school consortia but we know that eligible schools aren’t always aware of how to access this support or how to apply for funding. By learning about the ways these providers apply for school improvement funding, and understanding how schools currently find them we want to see if there’s an opportunity for these to be designed more specifically in response to the needs of teachers and school leaders.

In October and November 2017, we completed an in-depth discovery into the experiences of school teaching and leadership staff who have applied for school improvement funding, as well as those schools who were eligible for support. We’ve also spoken to the teams in DfE who set up and manage the various funds.

We spoke to 47 teachers, business managers, headteachers, CFOs and CEOs in 52 schools across 26 hours of interviews. The next step is launching an alpha to develop and test possible ways we can improve the funding notification and application process, as well as carrying out a further discovery focusing on how we can help school leaders to find the right support.

My reflections

This is a relatively new way of working in DfE and it’s fair to say we’ve come up against a few challenges since we started the project – mostly in terms of trying to work across different teams and bringing in the right external expertise. However, I’m really enjoying the opportunity to try something different, to learn and share what we’re finding, and of course to work closely with school leaders and teachers in a truly collaborative way. As a former school governor, a parent of school aged children, and someone who is passionate about the government designing services around its users, this project feels timely, important and something that could make a real difference to schools.

Thanks to everyone who has shown an interest so far. We are working in the open and sharing our findings as much as possible, so look out for future blogs and content from us, or get in touch with us to arrange a visit to see the team in action!

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