‘Designers are everything… and nothing’: Remaking the place of Design in research

The Dartington Service Design Lab was commissioned by Save the Children UK to co-design a Toolkit to support place-based efforts to improve children’s early learning outcomes. Our team included experts in child development, evidence-based practice, system-change, and design. Maria Portugal and India Roche reflect on their views as designers developing the Toolkit across different contexts and audiences.

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ReflectionBLOGMaria, India
Three views on evidence for local systems change

Save the Children UK are committed to working in local communities to promote children’s early learning and help narrow the attainment gap for children growing up in poverty, compared to their more affluent peers. To support this, they asked Dartington Service Design Lab to develop a framework that local communities could use to develop an evidence-informed strategy for their area to support improved early childhood development. Tim Hobbs explains why it takes a holistic approach to evidence to make meaningful change.

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What next for evidence?

In 2015, the National Lottery Community Fund launched its 10-year programme ‘A Better Start’, focused on promoting good early childhood development. The Dartington Service Design Lab was brought in to put together an evidential foundation to support sites to plan their strategies. CEO Tim Hobbs was closely involved, and now asks: what’s next for the evidence?

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To help London’s children, one mentoring service is improving itself first

The Dartington Service Design Lab (‘the Lab’) has partnered with Chance UK to support the redesign, testing and improvement of their child mentoring service. Using the Lab’s method–Rapid Cycle Design and Testing–we’re considering what it takes to create a mentoring service that children and parents want, mentors can deliver, and supports children’s social and emotional development.  

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Evaluation will set you free

There is a clear need for social care services to become more innovative and adaptable to tackle complex challenges in dynamic and changing environments. However, we would argue that traditional approaches to monitoring and evaluation have potential to stifle innovation.

Our researcher, Ben Hartridge, draws on his experience with Crisis – the national homelessness charity, to argue that monitoring and evaluation can and should be designed to support innovation in public services and systems.

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Are services meeting the needs of children?

Now after three decades, we are pretty confident in our response to the question, which we’re sharing in our new report, Matching Children’s Needs and Services: A Case of Three Circles. In some ways, the answer won’t surprise many. But it contains some fundamental challenges to the way that we have organised support for vulnerable children and families.

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Co-production in testing – the art of the possible?

We’ve seen the story go something like this. You are an organisation with an idea. An idea to fix a problem. This may be a smart way to help families more easily access benefits to which they are entitled, activities to increase children’s emotional literacy or a way of reducing social isolation amongst vulnerable populations. Regardless of the idea, testing is crucial to see what needs to change or improve and you work with evaluators to help you.

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Pressures on children’s social care: a systems response

System dynamics isn’t a silver bullet – the strategies it identifies for safely reducing demand still have to be implemented well. But in the context of a 49.1% reduction in central government funding since 2010/11, local authorities are forced to cut services and centralise functions which, in the long-term, can contribute to poorer provision and higher spend.

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ReflectionBLOGVicky, Claire
Lab insight: using system dynamics in children’s social care

Our systems approach to children’s social care is relevant to most authorities: the specific challenges in each authority may not be exactly the same, but the circumstances of almost all authorities are – severe cuts and increased demand. Our intention in the near future is to further share the elements of our work to date that can be applied more universally.

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