The design-led element: "Design Stage Gateway"

Ufi has used design thinking in specifying this Challenge and we want to continue to apply the principles right through the process.

The Design Council’s double diamond process describes the four key stages of a project – discover, define, develop, deliver.

Double Diamond VTC.png

In this call, we are looking for ideas and solutions that have already done some initial discovery thinking to build relationships with a group or groups of learners that can be clearly shown to be facing digital disadvantage and have ‘lived experience’ of lack of confidence at some point in their journey into work.  You will already have introduced your ideas to your users and have an initial confirmation that there is interest in what you are proposing.  We are looking for proposals that have already started the process of engaging the trust of those users.

We understand that there is a real challenge in reaching the types of learners that this call is intended to serve and building the partnerships needed to achieve the step change in outcomes that we are looking for.  Those projects selected will not only develop the VocTech to support them but also act as demonstrators for the kind of community engagement that is needed for the solution to scale effectively.

The ‘Define Stage’ provides the time to take a deep dive into the barriers and opportunities relating to the group of users/learners that you will be working with.  In our experience with past projects, once you start to dig below the surface, new issues, concerns and opportunities emerge that would have been usefully included in the develop/deliver Stage.  This stage/gate process will allow you to take that time, supported by our funding and mentoring, to examine much more closely the assumptions you have made up to this point and to engage in meaningful discussions with users, employers and the wider community.

The overall objective is to find out what customers, clients, users, learners and employers really want and whether your early Proof of Concept or current MVP solution will meet those needs. 

In summary, what do we want the Define Stage to do?

  1. Deep dive into the vocational learning issue/problem/opportunity with a strong emphasis on the needs and confidence of the user group
  2. Better understand the needs of the target audience for the proposed solution (approach/product/service) who might buy/use it and how it will be sustainable and scalable
  3. Confirm positive access and engagement with the initial learner/user group
  4. Gain an understanding of the potential risks and mitigations as well as the opportunities and how to capitalise upon them
  5. Identify or clarify the scope of the product/service – its size and focus – and timescale to roll-out

    As a result of steps 1 – 5 projects will be able to

  6. Refine your thoughts for the develop/deliver phases of the double diamond, and how any eventual product or service would be scaled and sustained. This will look different depending on whether the proposition is a commercial offering or has a different path to sustainability, however in all cases thoughts on how to develop the business/scale up plan, sales pipeline and (commercial) structure will be important.

Activities we might expect projects to undertake in the Define Stage could typically include:

User Consultation and Engagement

  • Uncovering underlying key barriers and needs and how they are currently met or not met or prioritised
  • Interviews, focus groups, surveys to deepen understanding of the lived experience of the user group
  • Developing ‘Personas’ to explore how initial findings can be scaled out more widely during/after the project
  • Sharing prototypes or concepts with target users to gauge real interest and fit with needs
  • Understanding user behaviour on any current systems or competitor offers – analytics or via interviews
  • Really understanding and being able to articulate who the target users are, their attitudes and needs, at test stage and for roll-out at scale
  • Exploring the mechanisms for reaching and engaging learners furthest from vocational learning beyond your initial test group
  • Working with teachers/trainers to ensure that the solution also meets their needs if they are to be engaged in delivery
  • Engaging employers and learners with early stage concepts to understand any unexpressed underlying needs before crystallising the delivery plan.

Competitor and Market Assessment

  • Is there genuinely space in the market to develop this to scale?
  • Who are potential competitors / collaborators and how does your idea sit against those?
  • Are there products / services that do part of / are similar to your idea?
  • How do they work? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Who are their customers / what is their business model?
  • Could your idea be incorporated into other systems rather than being a stand-alone product/service?

Stakeholder engagement and team building 

  • Key customers – understanding who these are or who they could potentially be including employers that might provide work opportunities for target users.
  • Technical teams – understanding what the technical opportunities/constraints could be of different VocTech solutions to user needs.
  • Learning design team – does your network have the capability /capacity to adopt and implement best practice in digitally supported learning and if not, how will you develop it?
  • Marketing and sales – how will the solution be rolled out and marketed to achieve sustainability after the funding stops?
  • Exploring wider partnerships – delivery / sales / marketing - what do you need to ensure this rolls out at scale?

By the end of the Define Stage projects should

  • Know more than when they started and have confidence in user engagement
  • Know what they don’t know and develop a strategy for dealing with that (which could include accepting that it will remain an unknown during the develop Stage)
  • Make a decision about what to do next

Expected end points for the Define Stage

  • Do nothing – the Define Stage helps the team conclude that the idea isn’t worth pursuing at this time.
  • Do further work – the Define Stage highlights more work that is needed by the team to refine the idea before a decision can be made about whether to pursue it further.
  • Develop the project to the next stage– the Define Stage has helped confirm thinking about the idea, the needs of the audience and target market and a full Project Plan can be created.

Return to the fund overview

Continue reading about the VocTech Challenge Grant Fund.

Alternatively, you can download the detailed fund guidance as a pdf.