Opinion

Using User Centred Design in the Fight to Defeat COVID-19

By April 23, 2020 May 1st, 2020 No Comments

You may not know this, but ExperienceLab is part of Serco. That means we are a small but important component of an organisation that currently has thousands of frontline staff at the heart of the battle to defeat COVID-19.

In numerous hospitals throughout the UK – including the new Nightingale hospitals – Serco’s Health division provides the cleaners, porters, housekeepers, and more which supply vital support to the NHS’s tireless clinicians.

Other divisions within the organisation are responsible for resourcing and delivering a huge number of critical services on behalf of UK Government, including frontline call centres such as the Universal Credit hotline and the Shielding Helpline. Still others are responsible for Environmental Services, providing essential waste collection teams.

And it does not end there – these are just a few examples of Serco’s work for UK Government. To say that these are challenging to deliver during COVID-19 would be an understatement. Surges in demand for the telephone helplines alone are the stuff of a Risk Manager’s nightmare.

In recent weeks we have made supporting Serco in delivering these services a key priority. As a User Centred Design (UCD) agency we more commonly handle the needs of private sector clients, and delivery to these clients at the highest standards of course remains a parallel priority.

However, the scale of the response required from Serco to manage the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is huge, and we are keenly aware that there is a significant role for us to play. As a result we are employing our knowledge and skills in UCD to rapidly design or re-design services to meet the surge in demand.

These are no ordinary UCD projects. The timescales now in place require responses and solutions in hours and minutes, not days and weeks. We have therefore had to refine our approach to Agile Sprints and design cycles, distilling our processes for understanding users and implementing designs for maximum efficiency.

In addition, we have deployed our collective experience – borne of thousands of hours of research and design – to optimise deliverables. And we have shortened decision chains to ensure prototypes receive rapid review/refine/endorse responses.

The team is now moving at a pace and intensity far beyond what many organisations and agencies previously would have believed was possible and effective, while staying absolutely true to the guiding principles of UCD.

That means we still focus on the end user, we still look to design immediately deployable and adoptable services, but we are now doing so on a very rapid turnaround.

In the past two to three weeks we have:

  • Deployed new technology and new processes which have greatly increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the recruitment and orientation of frontline hospital staff
  • Worked with Critical Shielding Contact Centre staff and agents to optimise for surging and changing demand for advice and essential care package services for the most vulnerable citizens
  • Developed and deployed new learning and training processes for new recruits across a broad spectrum of nationally important COVID-19 related roles

What we have done and will continue to do is relatively insignificant when compared to the frontline staff, and the incredible contribution they are making every day.

However, I’m immensely proud of how the team at ExperienceLab have responded, of what they’ve achieved so far, and of the impact it has made. It has also proved to me, once again, how fortunate we are to have such a talented group of people in our team.

The work they are performing on these essential services is also helping to expand our ability to respond creatively to our private sector clients’ challenges. We are continuing with this work via remote research and testing, and a key focus for us as we move beyond the crisis will be to look to ensure the learnings from our COVID-19 support work are effectively repurposed for private sector projects.

That said, we are aware that this is only the beginning of our responsibility for supporting vital, national services. We know there are many more challenges ahead for our Serco colleagues and UK Government, and we are placing the highest priority on using our skills, experience and expertise to providing them with effective, rapid support as we move forward.