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Healthy Start alpha planning

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Capability, Services and products, User research

In the last post we shared with you the key themes that emerged from the Healthy Start user research during our discovery phase. In this post we’d like to tell you about our plans for the alpha phase where we’ll be building prototypes of elements of the new service and testing them with users. This process will help us understand which of the potential solutions will actually meet our user’s needs, be technically feasible and affordable.

A great place to start when planning an alpha is a retrospective to see what can be learned from how the discovery phase went. The key things are:

  • Using agile methodologies assured successful delivery of the phase and made it an engaging experience for the team. We want to build on that experience during alpha.
  • We interviewed a diverse mix  of users during discovery, including a range of digital skills, english levels and parenting experience . The only group we didn’t fully engage with was rural users. We’ll aim to address this during alpha.
  • The team had a fantastic experience joining in the user research process alongside their Pilot Works researchers. The empathy gained will be carried through the rest of the programme. Building on this, we’ll focus strongly on making sure the civil servant members of the team take every opportunity to meet users during alpha.
  • We built some excellent networks during discovery, making contact with people and organisations with a vested interest in what we’re doing and who can help us succeed. We’ll look to utilise that network, and expand it, during alpha.
  • Thanks to cloud technology, agile working, and determination, the discovery team was not held back by having members spread across Leeds, London, Bristol and Mansfield. As the team expands for alpha we’ll need to think carefully about building in more time for co-located working which will be essential as we start to get into the development work. Co-location means a difficult conversation with facilities management about being allowed to put post-it notes on the wall!
  • We think we did a pretty good job of communicating the discovery work to our internal senior stakeholders, but we want to build on that for alpha, and make sure they get to participate more along the way.

What we plan to prototype and test at alpha

We’re taking a bold business transformation view of what could be achieved through the Healthy Start digitisation programme, and so there is much more to design and prototype than digital versions of parts of the existing system. The table below highlights some of the key solution areas along the user journey that we want to focus on at alpha. We expect some of these solutions to fall by the wayside as it’s unlikely they will all deliver the benefits to users we think they might, or they might not be technically possible at this time. If some ideas work as we hope they might, like auto-enrollment which would utilise Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) data to automatically enrol everyone who was eligible for Healthy Start, then we would not need to pursue other ideas, like targeting communications better to make people aware of Healthy Start.   We expect new ideas to emerge as we engage further with our users and stakeholders.  

User Journey ->
Become aware of Healthy Start Apply for Healthy Start Exchange Healthy Start benefit for goods Maintain Health Start account
Auto-enrollment: Can we use HMRC & DWP data to auto enroll eligible people and remove the entire “aware” stage? This could increase take-up to 100% and remove the pressure from health professionals. Remove requirement for health professional signature: Can we get Health Professional input a different way without creating a barrier for users? Online account: This could be access by different means, such as a plastic card, gift-voucher card, an app, SMS Communicate better with users - let them know what is happening and if they need to do something
Better integration with DWP & HMRC processes so eligible users receive targeted information. Clarify the health professionals’ role in the process If we can’t go digital in the near future, how can we improve the paper vouchers to better meet users needs? E.g expiry date and minimum spend are a problem for users Improve pregnancy to motherhood circumstances change process
Welfare Adviser Service: can this provision be universal? Online application form Review range of foods included in the scheme: Can it be more logical and easier to understand, and fit with other strategies. Users able to self serve and maintain account online
Universal Credit: Understand the problems this solves for Health Start. Partially pre-populated form, whether digital or paper Make the supermarket experience more consistent for users
Wider range of health professionals consistently promoting Healthy Start. Once application submitted, keep users updated with progress Increase retailer numbers, including online
Low cost marketing campaign to increase awareness: Social media, peer networks, etc. Can/should we signpost users to relevant services and information?
Can we signpost better from Universal Credit, Turn to Us, etc?
Can we provide health professionals with data about their client group’s eligibility?
Should Healthy Start food vouchers be more or less integrated with Healthy Start vitamins?


Underpinning all of this work is the principle that we make the new service work for all our users. This means taking into account the needs of users who require assistance with digital, striving to remove the barriers we know affect certain groups of users, ensuring we give full regard to equality if making policy changes, and also using the principle to drive our thinking on how we evolve the service.

By the end of alpha we’ll have information to be able to decide whether to move into a beta phase and build and launch the new service. But there’s a lot of work to do before we get to that point. The immediate next steps for the team are to secure all the approvals needed to proceed to alpha, including approval from the Cabinet Office, and then to carry out the procurement needed to build the team of experts who can help the Department of Health deliver the alpha.

We look forward to updating you on progress again in the near future.


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