Improving the experience for foster parents

In the 2018 budget, the government announced £100 million to test and develop a new National Retraining Scheme for people whose jobs are most at risk from automation. The NRS policy team were determined to design both the policy and the service in a user-centred way and asked us to help them research user needs, prototype various approaches and develop the service design.

Changes in the economy and longer working lives are profoundly affecting careers and work. The future looks uncertain for people in lower-skilled jobs as process automation, robotics and various forms of AI transform the skills landscape.

This is a complex, “wicked” problem, as the people most affected are likely to be the least able to find new and better jobs. Governments in the UK and abroad have a poor track record in delivering public services which help them.

What we did

This was an entirely new way of working for the NRS team – using agile, user-centred design to simultaneously develop policy and a large-scale service. We co-located with the programme team, embedding policy leads into delivery teams and coaching them in product ownership. 

We visited homes, offices and shop floors around the country, speaking to over 400 people in a wide range of roles. What we found helped the policy team substantially rethink some of their core assumptions.  

As the lead product owner says:

We have collectively stepped out of our policy-making comfort zone. We’ve experienced our policies through the eyes of our users, many of whom have a different experience of life to us. This will help us to make good decisions about delivering a service which gives them real value.

Georgina Watts, lead product owner

We prototyped online training and careers guidance with 200+ users, progressing from paper to sophisticated interactive journeys spanning multiple products. Because we know that many people in lower skilled jobs are less confident with digital or find it harder to access online services we over-indexed on participants with ‘assisted digital’ and accessibility needs.


It became clear that users need to go on a journey that is as much about building confidence as building new skills. When, where and how users can retrain depends on their personal circumstances. Working with the policy team we created a service design for 5 interconnected products that allows citizens to access a journey that meets their individual needs. Products span:

  • Awareness and onboarding
  • Careers information and guidance
  • Training
  • Face-to-face and online support
  • Help finding and applying for jobs

NRS is now a major programme within the Department for Education. We’ve provided ongoing support in product management and agile delivery as various parts of the service progress through discovery, alpha and beta on the way to a live MVP in 2020. +44 (0) 203 086 8229