One week to solve a problem: CDS’ first Digital Design Sprint

We built a new team and gave them one week to improve a process in the council - here's what happened.

The Croydon Digital Service (CDS) was approached by the council’s Financial Assessments team (part of the Gateway department) with a thorny problem. Social care, unlike health care, normally costs money to residents who have savings of over £23,250. Finding out how much a resident has saved requires a financial assessment (FA), but because we need to get support to vulnerable adults as soon as possible the assessment often takes place after their social care provision has started. Unfortunately, many residents take a long time to return their financial assessment, or don’t return it at all, and get charged unnecessarily for the care they’ve received.  

We wanted to find a way to encourage people to return their assessments to avoid charges building up. We decided to approach this through a new method that we call a Digital Design Sprint (DDS). Here are the rules: 

  1. The sprint lasts one week and includes discovery, process and solution design, implementation and rollout 
  2. The team consists of no more than 5 people, including at least one person from the service area 
  3. No procuring or integrating technology – there isn’t time in a week for that

We needed our team to wear many hats during the week, including user research, business analysis, behavioural insight, architecture, design, content and project management. To be honest we may have broken the 5 person rule for the first DDS – oops! 

Here is my diary of the week: 

Monday 

In just one day we covered the first half of the design double diamond. We did a project kick-off, business process mapping, staff interviews, writing research questions, and an ideas session. 

Finally, we took our findings from the day and decided on 2 main actions for the week: 

  • digitise the financial assessment form and evidence captureboth for visiting officers and self-service 
  • re-write the web content and the letters that are sent to the residents 

During this session many more quick wins were identified, like an additional form that could be taken out without impacting the service. These changes were captured on the process map so the team could begin improving the service immediately.  

Tuesday 

What we did: stand up, form design, user research, content review, and technology research for document capture.  

The main outputs from this day were establishing the technology choices for the various tools we were developing, and testing our problem definition with users by interviewing them and asking them how they are finding the process of applying for financial assistance 

They told us “the purple form was given to me by a social worker, I didn’t know what it was, and they didn’t help me” and “I didn’t know what to do with it”. This indicated that tackling the way in which the form was given to the resident is just as important as making the application process easier. This is something we’ll have to work on with social workers after the sprint is over. 

Wednesday  

What we did: stand up, form creation, and content writing.  

Working closely with the behaviour change team we re-wrote the web content and the letters sent at every stage of the process.  

We had to ensure residents knew the importance of the document and the deadline for completing it. We realised that our web content and letters didn’t clearly state the key message: if you have less than £23,250 in savings, you may be entitled to help towards the cost of your care. We now emphasise this at every stage of the process. 

Thursday  

What we did: testing and iterating the form and new content based on emerging user research, and creating standard operating procedures for the new process so that implementation is as smooth as possible. 

Friday  

What we did: stand up, creating document uploader and writing the final report, including recommendations.  

This was an opportunity to review the week and capture any lessons learned for the next Digital Design Sprint. We decided that in the future we should make more of an effort to co-locate, speeding up communication within the team, and that we should line up the user research candidates before so we can get this complete on the first day.  

The outputs for the week were numerous, including: 

  • new online FA application form (currently in private alpha), which caters for fast track applications for those residents with high savings or on a means tested benefit, as well as full applications.
  • A document upload facility for applicants who wish to submit the form first and provide evidence later.
  • Best practice standard operating procedures (SOP) for visiting officers to digitally assist our residents using the new online FA application form, with OneDrive to capture documents.
  • An implementation plan for a phased introduction of the new tools, beginning with an alpha where staff complete the form on behalf of the customers (digitally assisting them), followed shortly after by the beta where we will make the new forms available to the public to complete. Doing this in a phased way allows us time to refine and iterate the tools. 
  • New content on the website.
  • New wording for the letters sent to customers throughout the process.
  • A blueprint for the end-to-end service delivery, including recommendations for behavioural change to encourage the prompt return of the financial assessment, including ideas such as sending a pre-paid envelope with every form, and sending SMS reminders to prompt residents to return the form. 
  • Stickers to go with the FA form to encourage users to use self-service to complete this online.
  • A recommendation for the best devices for visiting officers to use to maximise productivity.

Next week we will do a show-and-tell for the Digital, Gateway and Adult Social Care teams, and will make a decision on how they’ll implement the new tools and recommendations from the project.  

And the work won’t end there. Our user research with residents brought up several changes that couldn’t be addressed during the sprint, so we’ve parked them for further work with the service. For example, we discovered that the forms are handed out by social workers and hospitals, not just posted to residents by the council, so the letters we designed in the sprint won’t reach everyone. We’ll work on including a clear explanation on the front of the form itself. 

We’ve already had some great feedback about this new way of delivering small projects: 

“This is going to enable officers to do their job in the most effective and efficient way… From residents’ perspective this is immense; from the council’s point of view we will have a much better idea of true amount of care we pay for.” – Andy Griffin, Head of Gateway Service Development. 

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