Over two weeks in August, Keira travelled up and down Scotland to speak to learners and businesses in order to map the landscape of skills and enterprise. This work fed into the Ministerial Review of the supporting organisations in this sector. Scottish Government had been undertaking a review of the services which provide support for enterprise and skills in Scotland. Snook were commissioned to support in the presentation of a user-centred perspective of journeys, which are supported by these services, and to illustrate what the system looks like first hand. During this intense project we spoke to 63 individuals in interviews and workshops in Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. This included a wide spectrum of learners, representatives from the business community and from higher and further education.
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Now that the report has been published for a few weeks, Keira and Anne have been working together to reflect on the experience and make sure we incorporate the learnings into future projects.
Working in the real world
This project began with a tight deadline. There were a mere four weeks between the beginning of the project and the day the report had to be submitted to the client. In turn, this was presented at the Ministerial Review only three days later. This, combined with the imperative of working with learners during the summer holiday and a tight budget, presented quite a challenge.
However, we like to be pragmatic and work within our clients’ constraints. Sometimes the constraints aren’t the ideal conditions for a project but we can still deliver what our clients require to have the impact they need. We feel it’s better to deliver a project that meets our clients’ needs but within their budget and timeframe than wait for the perfect conditions and never deliver anything of impact. What is feasible within the budget and in the timeframe needs to always be clear from the start and managed closely throughout the project.
A wide call out to participants
These constraints had an impact on the project’s ability to iterate and to build depth in the deliverables (see below) and on the recruitment of the participants. We prefer to recruit research participants ourselves, in partnership with the clients. Bringing this outside perspective means that we can recruit more widely, reaching out to people who are on the periphery of the service in additional to those who are already engaged.
However, this wasn’t possible within this timeframe and so the client led on participant recruitment. We accepted from the start that the research would include mainly enterprises that had some form of contact with supporting organisations; but they still brought a broad range of experiences and opinions. On the learner side, although few learners are available over the summer, the ones who are around campus are often engaging with programmes such as Widening Access, which brought an extra dimension to the research.
Research is an exchange
From a project point of view, contextual interviews and user workshops are key to understanding needs, behaviours and motivations. But we need to consider them from the participant’s point of view and what the experience brings to them. It’s not just the designer plundering their brain and experience. The interaction with the designer sometimes helps participants make sense of their journey and their experience. Sometimes the goal they were trying to achieve wasn’t obvious while they were on the journey. Sometimes they have never had a chance to tell their story in a supported environment where they aren’t judged.
Because we are outsiders to the organisations participants might have been in contact with, there is no hidden agenda. They are not expecting us to ‘fix’ something; they’re not worried about being judged, or about divulging information. This puts a huge responsibility on the design researcher to listen carefully and respectfully and make sure that they leave the participant on a positive note.
We design the interviews, workshops, activities and tools to support the participants in their self-discovery journey. We recruit participants in settings where they will also be supported, after the interaction has concluded. We take the time to listen. We make sure that facilitators and researchers are trained, vetted and supported.
Reports have to be useful
We’re sometimes weary of big reports. In our experience, they aren’t always read sufficiently to warrant the time required to write and design them. There are other ways to share the insights from a project with the client – a presentation, a video, an animation, etc. However, in this case, the report had a clear purpose. It was the best way to present the research insights to a wide range of stakeholders and organisations. We were able to present visual journeys rather than dry text. This fact alone makes the content more accessible and easier to absorb on first reading. The fact that Scottish Government chose to make the report easily accessible on their website means that it will continue to deliver impact over time. So many times, people have mentioned how useful they found the Learner Journey report Snook prepared in 2013.
The back end process of report writing
One thing we do with clients is help them design the back-end processes that deliver the front-end service to their customers. Well, the back-end process to that shiny report was one of our favourite tools: Google Sheets. Snook’s Keira and Alex worked closely to turn this piece of work around in just a few days. Keira could focus purely on synthesising and interpreting our findings whilst writing the content into a Google Sheet without being distracted by how it might look like visually. Simultaneously, Alex was able to jump in at that point to layout the report visually, ensuring clear communication of the information. A fresh pair of eyes helped make sure that the content and layout would convey the right messages to someone with no prior knowledge of the project.
Due to the extreme speed of the project, the only iterations of the work came via direct client feedback. We were lucky to be working with such a motivated and responsive team within ScotGov (our client) . Whilst we always feel there is room for improvement we were satisfied with the output – but the challenge is to let it go. We believe we produced work which answered the brief: mapping the landscape of skills and enterprise in 2016 from the user perspective and informing the Ministerial Review of the support organisations.
Insights from findings that stand out
The Snook team work on over 50 projects in a given year. For every project, there are insights, ideas, opportunities and learnings from the work that stay with us and come to play a role in another project. Here are a few insights and questions which stood out from this work:
- How might businesses find the skills they need for the future?
- How might businesses help their workforce (existing and incoming) acquire the skills they need?
- How might businesses input into and have an impact on the skills landscape?
- How might we provide learners with the right information at the right time?
- The information that learners receive makes their future journey appear linear – from school to university to work – but the reality is that there are many more pathways into employment. Few young people have a broad understanding of how varied the options are and it’s often down to luck and coincidences that learners choose a different path. How might we detangle and demystify the journey for learners and professionals alike?
- Educators are also looking for clarity on relationships within the skills and enterprise landscape. How can this happen?
- Educators, businesses and learners all wish to work together and towards similar goals. What can be done to ensure this?
Interestingly, some of these questions feature at the heart of projects that we are currently scoping out in the trail of Badgemaker so stay tuned! And if you’re interested in exploring some of these approaches, don’t hesitate to get in touch.