Life Events Service Design: Entering Alpha

Life Events Service Design: Entering Alpha

We have recently started the Alpha phase of our Life Events Service Design project. This project explores ways to improve the experiences of citizens who need council support during a specific life event – currently focusing on the life event of entering poverty.


Wales’ 22 councils have a duty to deliver services to the people living in, working in or visiting its area, with each authority delivering between 800 and 1,400 services.  

There are lots of national guidelines on service delivery but any decision on how a service is delivered is up to each council. This ambiguity has created an inconsistency of approach between councils, and often means silos exist within the councils themselves.

This has led to an often-disjointed approach to addressing the entire needs of people experiencing one or more challenging events in their life.

The aim of our project is to uncover opportunities that make it easier for people living in, working in or visiting Wales to engage with council services. In agile delivery we prefer to convert the aim into a problem question, mostly because a good question can invoke creative ideas that lead to unexpected breakthroughs and solutions.

Problem question

How can we make it easier for the people of Wales to engage with council services in a way that helps them efficiently fix their problems, address their issues, or achieve a specific need?

What we did in Discovery

You can read about the Discovery phase of the project in our previous blog, where we talk about the different activities we undertook to scope and understand the problem. We identified several important findings focused on the life event of entering poverty:

Citizens not knowing what is available to them​

  • Many user research participants did not know what help was available to them, and those that did didn’t know if they were eligible.
  • ​Cognitive walkthroughs of existing services found that there was no signposting to other services that could be of help and content was sometimes unclear when naming the service.​
  • Third sector workers are often unaware of all the services available to citizens so they aren’t able to signpost. ​

Poor citizen understanding of processes and steps​

  • Participants described instances where they were unaware of what happened to their application so had to call the council.​
  • There is a lack of expectation management which can make users unsure about what is happening.

Inaccessible services​

  • Situational challenges, mental health challenges, and physical disabilities can impair citizens’ ability to complete council services.
  • Some service elements fail WCAG guidelines and content can be difficult to read.​
  • Third sector workers report that a disproportionate amount of users experience mental health challenges and/or have physical disabilities.​

What happened next

Based on these findings we considered potential solution ideas that would in part or in entirety answer the problem question.

To ensure any solutions aligned with the Discovery findings, our ideas focused on three areas. These were: making it easy for people to find the services they require; setting clear expectations on what people should expect next and when; and building services where it is the norm to complete the desired outcome on the first try.

Making it easy to find

Potential solution ideas identified here were to:

  • Develop a single point of entry solution where citizens can understand what services they are eligible for and are signposted in the right direction to relevant services.
  • Develop ways for councils to be more proactive by better understanding how people seek information online when they have a need.

Setting expectations

Potential solution ideas identified here were to:

  • Develop a set of best practice guidelines to improve communications pre- and post-submission of a service application on a council website.

Completing the outcome

Potential solution ideas identified here were to:

  • Develop a set of exemplar online application experiences viewed through the lens of a life event.
  • Develop an approach to helping officers undertake service design.

Taking an initial solution idea into Alpha

At the beginning of the Alpha phase of the project, we workshopped each of the solution ideas with the aim of prioritising what to focus on first.

During these workshops we uncovered an idea that having a single place where officers and ICT teams could access a service design library of front end services with production-ready code and deployment guidance has the potential to be particularly helpful.

Having carried out feasibility research and rapid prototyping we decided to make this idea the first to test at alpha.

We want to test: ​

  • If there is an appetite from local authorities to have a library of front end services that they can access and use.
  • What team we would need to deliver this solution​.
  • How this solution would be financed in beta​.
  • If we can produce front end services that are better for citizens than what they currently use.​

Next, we anticipate testing ways to help people entering a life event to understand the entirety of services available to them and help councils connect these services together.

Finally, we expect to test ways to help councils align their online presence to established sector best practice, keeping people at the heart of service design and testing.

Throughout our aim is to test ways to ensure any alpha solution taken forward to beta will strengthen agile service design skills within councils.

Wrapping it up: Definition of Done

When we have tested enough of the different solution ideas and we have confidence that: 

  • We have at least one viable and cost-effective solution to the problem question that is worth taking forward to Beta. 
  • There is an appetite within local authorities for developing the solution. 
  • The solution will have access to the budget and resources necessary to deliver the required outcome.

The Alpha will be ‘done’. At this point we will focus our attention on Beta. However, if at any point it becomes clear there are no viable solutions to take to Beta, the Alpha will also be ‘done,’ and testing will stop.

Project communications

We will be communicating our progress regularly throughout the Alpha phase of this project, with blog posts and show and tells to share what we’ve learned and any next steps.

We began with a recent kick-off session with stakeholders from the local authorities involved in the Alpha. This was a great opportunity to get early feedback on the scope and direction of the project. It also gave us insight into some important project considerations such as the consistency and scalability of solution ideas, and how the library solution could integrate with existing authority systems.

We will review all this feedback and use it to shape our plans for Alpha, and will continue to seek feedback so we can keep refining and improving.

Keep checking this blog for updates as we progress through the project, and for an easy way to stay up-to-date, sign up to our newsletter.

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