How can we support people at risk of redundancy and develop new approaches to skills development, which are relevant to Cornwall’s future economy?
As part of the Designs of the Time Cornwall programme run by the Design Council and Cornwall Council, we conducted research, explored ideas and co-designed solutions that could improve prospects for people who are made redundant.
We formed a multi-disciplinary design team including designers, students, volunteers, local business, community leaders, and council staff. We developed a strategic action plan for each stage of the double diamond design process and coordinated team members to conduct research, facilitate workshops, design and prototype solutions.
Cornwall (Pop. 530,000) is the second most deprived County in the UK. Over 80,000 citizens are economically inactive and around 20,000 are unemployed. Over £1/2 billion pounds of European Union funding has been invested into the regions social and economic regeneration.
‘New Work’ was sponsored by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), the government agency for making England better skilled and more competitive, and was part of the Design of the times (Dott) programme. The project was designed to encourage and create new and better approaches to skills development, in a way that benefitted local citizens and the Cornish economy.
This was a transitional ‘first-of-its-kind’ project for the Dott programme, where we followed a user-centred methodology to explore the possibilities for innovation whilst delivering on payment-triggering targets as specified by the SFA. The project was required to innovate “within the system” – a system where two-thirds of Dott’s payment was triggered by providing evidence of individual learning progressions.
In total, we engaged with over 600 people to gain a deeper understanding of this challenge, and worked with over 150 stakeholders from across the public and private sector to explore Cornwall’s skills, support and economic landscape in more detail. Both groups worked with us to develop new ideas and opportunities.
We were selected to undertake this ambitious project through a competitive tender process, pitching against other Social and Service Design Agencies in the UK.
Key to our success was our approach, and we designed an ambitious 14-month plan founded on the principle of putting the end user first, encouraging participants to share ideas with us and deliver positive outcomes collaboratively.
The complexity and scale of this project resulted in us front-loading our ‘diagnose’ and ‘co-discovery’ phases, to fully understand Cornwall’s employment landscape. On the basis of (payment-triggering) targets being met by certain dates, our user-centred approach meant we failed our first target and were asked to justify our expenditure. Three months later we had achieved all targets for the entire project – eight months ahead of schedule. Our research-intensive approach, though slow initially, proved to be capable of exceeding targets and that a user-centred methodology is always a solid foundation on which to build.
Our diagnose phase revealed over 28,000 future employment opportunities arising from £1.1 billion of public, private and European investments. However, many employment forecasts were largely aspirational, with no clear timescales or deliverables. A clear roadmap of all employment opportunities would have had a positive economic impact.
We also revealed over 80 local and national support services for local people at risk of redundancy, serving notice or short-term unemployed. Our interactions with service users proved that an abundance of support is confusing for users, indistinctive and inaccessible. This confusion is amplified by the system – competitive forces discourage collaboration.
Our co-discovery phase explored in detail the affects of redundancy and job insecurity. We discovered that peoples’ needs centre around any one of five key needs: the need to get another job, improve employability via skills, receive tailored support, increase confidence and have a clear sense of purpose (goals). Many people described how some employment and skills agencies, rather than providing support, actually increase their anxiety levels and stigmatize them further.
Our design process, by contrast, enabled participants to apply creative thinking to problems and understand how their issues were part of a larger picture. This helped them to feel empowered, positive and inspired. This process duly helped us to co-design and develop innovative blueprint services; bringing together end-users, employers, solicitors, civil servants, service providers and funding partners.
Local people told us time and time again that they wanted to know exactly where and when employment opportunities are becoming available. Without sufficient information, they told us that they are unlikely to deviate from professions they are already skilled and experienced in. Information and service are key ingredients.
The New Work Cornwall project was successful, original and creative in the aspects of the project we had complete control over. We demonstrated the power of the Dott methodology in gaining new insights and original solutions to complex societal issues. We identified the emotional barriers that often prevented people from accessing the support available and delivered solutions to them; we got to the roots and branches of the problem.
After the completion of the co-develop stage, we were given an additional three months (Phase 2) to explore how ‘Opportunities for Innovation’ could be embedded into mainstream services. Working in collaboration, seven opportunities were refined further into five service ideas:
Protect: A pre-buy flexible legal package which provided a range of legal support to employers and practical support to employees by way of helping them through the redundancy process.
Access: A service to help local people understand employment information for Cornwall and take advantage of new opportunities by accessing relevant skills and targeted support.
Match: A service to match local people with direct and imminent employment opportunities across the public and private sectors in Cornwall.
Exchange: A community platform for local people to exchange services, skills and advice by using a credits for participation reward system.
Reward: A national skills scheme, which allows people to collect points through their daily shopping activities which can be cashed in for skills, training and self-development.
These service concepts were presented to all potential providers and supporters in the area. Several agencies expressed interest in them and detailed discussions were conducted further. Lack of adoption by stakeholders was recognised as a potential barrier during the research stage and so it has proved.
Some of the recommendations that came from the New Work Cornwall project have suggested that service providers should change their ways. Change of this nature has to come from them in order to happen, and this would have been a good opportunity for the sponsors to intervene and realise their investment. Collaborative thinking requires collaborative execution in order to work, and this was key to the SFA realising their investment.
All of the Dott stages up to the point of delivery succeeded in creating services that were a result of collaborative thinking and expertise that no agency, designer or service executive could conceive alone. The originality and credibility of the solutions is as a result of collaboration. Collaboration was central to the effectiveness of our approach.
The learnings from this project have fed into national government, the French Government and Design Policy in Europe.
Outreach / consultation
We branded a campervan “New Work Cornwall” and visited five towns to ask people about their experiences of redundancy and the support they did or didn’t receive. We gathered feedback from 300 people and successfully recruited 200 participants to the subsequent project workshops.
We set up a community reporter scheme, where individuals were given cameras and invited to capture their stories of redundancy through video diaries; whilst learning new communication skills in the process.
We conducted a series of one to one interviews which enabled us to understand how redundancy and unemployment affects every facet of life and that any support service must provide a competent response to a simple question: How can you help me?
We ran Discovery Days which provided us with a wealth of information and ideas. People told us that they wanted to know exactly where and when employment opportunities were becoming available. Without sufficient information, they told us that they are unlikely to deviate from professions they are already skilled and experienced in. Information and service are key ingredients.
Imaginative co-design processes, using a number of creative and fast paced methods to extract new ways of thinking, helped us to bring together participants, service providers and decision makers to prototype unique service ideas. We identified the emotional barriers that often prevented people from accessing the support available and delivered solutions to them.