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How we designed a digital service at pace

A laptop screen showing the start page of the Apply for a Kickstart Scheme Grant for Employers service on GOV.UK

As part of the government response to the coronavirus pandemic, a new scheme was announced in July 2020 to help young people into work. 

The Kickstart Scheme is a job creation initiative that offers 6-month paid job placements to 16-to-24 year-olds who are on Universal Credit (UC) and are deemed to be at risk of long term unemployment. The Kickstart Scheme grant supports the wages of the young person doing the job placement and helps employers create the job placements. 

Shortly after the announcement, our broad team of policy, operational and digital service colleagues got to work to put the scheme into action. The project was a DWP priority and resources were provided to deliver a digital service within a week – quite a testing deadline! 

Here’s the story of how we collaborated and used a wide range of specialist skills to build an evidence-based digital service that met essential government standards in just seven days. 

Reuse of an existing service

Our task was to create a grant funding application service for employers who were looking to create Kickstart Scheme job placements in their businesses, and Kickstart gateways that could help smaller organisations apply and support employers by providing employability support.

The first major step for us was when colleagues in the UC team shared an existing service with us that they believed we could repurpose for Kickstart. The Apply for Direct Rent Payments (ADRP) service had all the same basic patterns that we needed, plus it was built on a robust existing framework that was already accessible. 

One of our key drivers in DWP is to reuse where we can – it’s efficient, cost-effective and ultimately better for citizens as it helps us to build services that are familiar and trusted. This is a great example of this idea in action. 

Once we knew that the ADRP service would work, we duplicated the infrastructure. This would allow the service to create an encrypted PDF once a user had entered all their information, and then send it on to a secure inbox so the assessment team could receive structured data that’s easier for them to process. 

Data mapping from business analysis colleagues helped us plan out the content for the service, so the developers were able to pick up updates from a software tool with a version control feature so developers were notified of our changes. This really allowed us to design at speed, along with using ADRP’s existing patterns from the design system.

A day to design

Working backwards with our development colleagues in UC, we realised that it left us with just one day to plan the design of the service. The first step was to get all of us on the delivery team together along with key stakeholders from policy and legal in order to create a plan. From there it was time to crack on with the design. 

We were lucky in that we had access to a roundtable of around 30 large employers by this early stage. We got to hear what their understanding of the objectives of the scheme was. 

We asked them about what they would like to see in such a service, which allowed us to make some strong decisions with a degree of confidence and insight. Our challenge to ourselves was to make a grant application that was as clear and simple as possible. If we asked questions around criteria upfront, we could remove ineligible users from the service earlier on instead of wasting their time filling in the application, saving time in the processing stage.

Reflecting policy intent

We wanted a design that would allow people to submit an application first time, and to have content that made sense to our users, using the language they use, and demystifying the grant application process and criteria. We also wanted to design around existing government insights and to make sure we complied with accessibility regulations.

The challenge for me as a content designer was crafting content that explained in plain English some of the complex policy around what was being referred to as ‘additionality’ and ‘employability support’ – also called ‘wraparound support’. The latter was a key piece of policy intent, designed to ensure the young person would gain suitable experience to continue their journey within their local labour market after their Kickstart job placement. How do we simplify the language so it could be understood by anyone while reflecting policy intent?

At the same time, it was interesting to have some of our preconceptions challenged during this process. Two pages that we felt might be tricky for people to understand actually tested well with users in our initial research. They found them reassuringly informative as the scheme was so new. 

We also had research from behavioural science colleagues in policy who were able to advise us about the objectives of the scheme, and their understanding of it, which we used to inform some of the descriptions around the criteria for the scheme.

Collaborating with GOV.UK

Throughout this period, we collaborated with colleagues in the DWP GOV.UK team to support us with creating guidance content on GOV.UK for people who wanted to be part of the Kickstart Scheme. We took the initiative to invite them to our user research sessions and team workshops, and they were also able to get direct feedback from users about their guidance content. 

It was challenging writing guidance from scratch for a scheme that had only been announced a month earlier. User research had identified gaps in guidance due to the scheme being completely new and evolving. 

We mapped out the content we had so far to help us visualise the service from an end-to-end perspective. This showed us how we could restructure some of the guidance to improve the experience for people needing to find specific guidance. The journeys depended on the number of job placements they would be applying for, where anything below 30 job placements would follow a different process. 

Using the service maps as well as the information taken from workshops helped the content team collaborate to complete this work. We also tested this guidance with employers and Kickstart gateways in user research sessions.

Iterating the digital service

The advantage we had with such a challenging timeline was that we were given access to the necessary stakeholders in legal, policy, operations and across the department in order to make it happen. Our lead product manager connected us with wider stakeholders outside of our digital area so we could work as one team.

It was a proud moment for the entire team when we delivered the application service on time, but that was only the start of the digital service. We knew it was still a very manual service for colleagues processing the applications. 

We’re still making progress. In January 2021, the team launched digital services to process and assess the applications. The digital payments team for Kickstart also got a service together with another quick turnaround to support our colleagues with processing payments. In early February we made further changes to the application flow to support changes to the Kickstart Scheme policy and more recently we’ve made updates to improve the quality of application data gathered, to enable a more efficient assessment process.

We’ve seen Kickstart Scheme job placements begin for young people across the country, which is ultimately what the work we are doing in DWP is all about. Taking young people out of unemployment during a global pandemic, helping them become more employable, so they leave their job placement in a better position to get a permanent job. It’s great to see our service design help make a difference for real people.

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