The Define stage of the VocTech Challenge

Hilary Stringer explains what the Define stage of the VocTech Challenge is all about...

by Hilary Stringer, Ufi Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, and Entrepreneur

Thank you to everyone who has sent in their applications for our VocTech Challenge Fund. Applications close at 5pm on 29 July so if you are thinking of applying, don’t delay! 

One of the new elements of our VocTech Challenge process is the ‘Define' stage where we are funding successful projects to undertake a short period of design thinking before leaping into project delivery.

As we expected, there have been lots of questions during our Workshops about what we are expecting projects to do in this stage. We don’t ask any questions about the Define Stage in the first part of our application form, as at this point we just want to know about your idea. If you are invited to Stage 2 we will ask you to provide more details about how you will run your project, including what activities you plan to run during the Define Stage. But for now, here are some questions to help to unpick what we see being included in that stage.

I don’t understand what you mean by ‘Define’?

Using the Design Council’s Double Diamond process, the Define stage is the point where you dig into the practicality, user suitability and technical feasibility of the ideas you have for solving the Challenge. We are asking you to come to us with ideas that have already been shared with users in some way, not a brand new spark of inspiration. So in this case, the Define stage will be more of a deep dive into one idea than an exploration of which solution to choose. There is still room for change in your idea if you find in the Define stage that actually, users are not really responding as well as you had hoped to your thinking. It’s always better to know that before you invest in building the solution.

How is this different from the Discover stage you used in the 2019 Specialist call?

The Discover stage is where you explore the widest possible range of ideas and throw lots of possibilities into the air for how you might address the problem that you have identified. We expect all of our projects to be beyond that point when they apply and you will already have tried out your ideas on learners in some way. The next stage – Define – is where you bring the idea into focus and really understand the user design issues, the technology choices that meet user needs, any particular needs that your user group has that need particular attention and importantly for Ufi projects, look in principle at how the idea could be scaled so that you build it with that outcome in mind.

I’m not sure I need to do this – can’t I just get started?

We have found that many of our projects, once they are made an offer of grant, take a breath to look at the reality of what they are going to deliver now that they are about to start. The Define stage is a formal and importantly a funded period where you can step back, take time to talk with your users and make sure that your great idea is grounded in their reality and not just on your assumptions of their experiences. Think of it as belt and braces – if you have done all the thinking, you’ll very quickly confirm that. If new insights emerge, it’s a win win. Think about what you would love to have time to ask them in an ideal world. Our funding is giving you breathing space to do that work. We know that we’re asking a lot in this Challenge. This additional funding recognizes that it may take some time to really understand the underlying issues.

I don’t know how to go about a Define stage?

There will be a chance for you to think this through with your Project Account Manager if you are offered a grant. At Stage 2, we will be asking for a very rough outline of the kinds of things you are thinking of using the money to do. They might include using paper prototypes of your idea to see how users respond, talking in detail with individual learners or groups of users about their lived experiences to make sure you have really understood their barriers to learning, developing more user stories or personas to make sure that there is a wider market for you to scale up beyond you initial test group. If you’re really stuck for inspiration, try taking some inspiration from the case studies on the Design Council website, or look at some UX/UI processes and see what steps they use. Fundamentally, this is all about making sure your users are front and centre in your thinking.

The Define stage is an opportunity to step back, take time to talk with your users and make sure that your great idea is grounded in their reality

I have a great idea and I will use the Define stage to link up with a partner who is working with my target group

We’re sorry but that will be too late for you to meet our assessment criteria. All our successful applicants will already have in place good links into the group of users that meet the Challenge profile of being at risk of being left behind by the digital divide. If you are only just about to engage with users, you are unlikely to be successful in this Challenge call. We will want to see that your team already has the trust of the user group so that they are willing to share their real lived experiences and that the insight that offers has shaped your thinking around the idea.

I know roughly what tech solution I want to use, but I will use the Define stage to work out the detail

That’s fine. For example, you may know that VR is your likely solution, but can explore deeper and select the VR tech that is most appropriate for your learner group (and that fits with your budget) in the Define stage. Or perhaps you’re thinking you will develop an App but have still to select the software solution – you can review your options by working with your target users and make a selection during the Define stage for what best meets their needs. At project application stage, you need to explain your thought process so far and why you are tending towards the tech you are planning to use. Change is fine if your Define stage shows your users don’t agree!

I already know my users really well, I’ve worked with them before and they are completely engaged with the design and delivery of the project

Congratulations! You probably won’t need to do the Define stage at all. If your Project Account Manager agrees that you really have everything in place, you may be able to kick off without doing more investigation. But please come to the application process open minded that there may be more to learn about underlying user needs, barriers and motivations.

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