‘Discovery’ phase

For the past year, the Digital by Design team have been working with Stockport Council’s fostering service with the aim of improving the way that the service recruits and retains foster carers.

After an intensive research phase that included interviewing, workshops, focus group sessions and user testing sessions, we highlighted that:

  • we’re not placing ourselves competitively against Independent Fostering Agencies (IFA’s) which means that we’re losing out on recruiting potential foster carers
  • the existing process of becoming a foster carer is lengthy, isolating and not clearly defined
  • there are various pain points for staff along the fostering process, impacting the efficiency and experience of it

‘Define’ phase

The priority for the service at the time was recruitment. The aim of this was to engage more people with fostering and support them to become strong applicants (and eventually amazing foster carers who would provide better outcomes for Stockport’s looked after children). This decision was made with the fostering team during a workshop where we ‘spent’ money on different priority areas (see image below).

Image: Workshop activity to understand service priorities – allocating £100 to different priorities

Although recruitment was chosen as the top priority, we also acknowledged that everything is connected. For example, we have to promote effectively in order to attract people in the first place and we need to inform them in order to give them knowledge and confidence to start the journey.

We decided to focus on a few projects to aid recruitment and the phases of the experience that affect it (awareness, contact, consideration, application). Because of this holistic approach, these projects included a range of digital and non-digital elements, as well as changes for external (potential foster carers) and internal (fostering team) users.

Image: Orange shows the projects in the recruit stage that we focused on and how they might affect the journey

‘Develop and deliver’ phases

Once we knew which projects we wanted to focus on, we started prototyping and building the different elements. Continuous user testing and co-designing with the fostering team were key aspects of this work.

Whilst we were delivering these distinct projects, we continued to work on other aspects that will help the fostering team improve their service in the long run. This work is still in progress and includes a ‘to-be’ service model canvas and user journey plus an improved approach to metrics and measures.

Image: Using lookback to test our My Account journey with foster carers

Image: A ‘rehearsal’ session with the fostering team to run through the new end-to-end journey across our projects

Our main projects:

Website content – drawing people in and supporting them to take action

Online enquiry form – making first contact casual and easy

Open evenings – getting people invested in the journey

Case Management – helping the fostering team provide a great service

Fostering area in My Account – making the application process more modern and transparent

We’ll talk more about these projects in the next post.

Reflections and next steps

Every design decision we’ve made, and are still making, has been backed up by evidence from user feedback and/or analytics. The feedback that we gain from user testing is invaluable, and has meant that we were able to keep the user at the forefront of our minds and take their needs on board as we went through the design process.

We’re very grateful to the fostering team for co-designing with us and helping us recruit users for testing. We’re currently working with them to put measures and feedback loops in place to collect insights on the fostering journey beyond alpha and beta phases.

For us, one of the best parts of the project was meeting a couple who were going through the fostering process that we were redesigning. We tested our designs with them and they gave raw and honest feedback which greatly helped our development of the product. The couple also agreed to be filmed giving us feedback and you can see the video here. Watching this back, hearing how the new process had really improved and most importantly how they felt a part of the process, was really rewarding.

If by reading this we have sparked your interest in fostering, visit our fostering pages to find out more or get in touch..