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Five tips for other teams when preparing for a beta

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Beta, HealthyStart, Helptobuyhealthyfoods

Post it notes saying prep for beta.
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution

Hi, I’m Suzanne. This blog is about a project I am working on to digitise Healthy Start.

Healthy Start is a statutory scheme run by the Department of Health and Social Care which provides  support to improve the diets of low income pregnant women and families with children under the age of four. Eligible pregnant women and children receive Healthy Start vouchers, worth £3.10 per week, which can be spent on fresh milk, fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables and infant formula.

As part of the drive to transform government services and make them ‘digital by default’, the Department is exploring the options for digitising the Healthy Start scheme, which will replace the current paper provisions with an online application form and digital payment card. This will make the service more convenient and flexible for users and cost effective to run.

In the summer of 2016, we ran a discovery phase to examine the feasibility of digitising the process of people applying for, receiving and spending Healthy Start vouchers. The discovery phase made it clear that there are multiple opportunities to better meet user needs with a digital service. The alpha phase tested these assumptions through a process of prototyping and more detailed technical and policy analysis. Here is the service assessment report with more info.

We are now embarking on a beta which will include:

  • More user testing of our online application form
  • Development of a back end system
  • Working with retailers
  • Conducting a card trial

This blog gives a few hints we've learned from moving from alpha to beta.

1.Dedicate enough time for spend control

The Government Digital Service (GDS) spend control document is a LONG form. It is crucial to the success of the project that this form is completed in as much detail as possible so that you get approval to spend money on your project. You need to be really clear what you are trying to do and what problem you are trying to fix. It takes an estimated 8 weeks for GDS to scrutinise and approve a spend control form - so it is not a process you want to repeat as a result of not being thorough!

GDS will come back with minor questions and offer the opportunity to meet them if things are not immediately clear (take this opportunity if offered!) but ultimately, you want to furnish them with as much information and evidence from previous research about your project as you can to demonstrate why it is a good thing to do. Be honest about the things you don’t know yet and what you want to test so that they can see you are planning ahead to plug any gaps you have.

We involved the DHSC digital team in the drafting of our spend control form - they have lots of expertise in this and proofread our form before I submitted it to make sure I hadn’t made any glaring mistakes. So if you have a digital team - ask for their guidance!

2. Make use of 'dead' time

It takes a long time waiting for approvals to come back until you can proceed to the next phase. One of the best things we did with our beta was to make use of this dead time to make progress on other areas to move along the things we were able to do without our supplier being on board.

Sticky notes showing different stakeholder and engagement routes includes external (eg other government departments, arms-length bodies), third sector (eg charities, food organisations), internal (eg comms, finance, policy), show and tells, blogs
Sticky notes showing some stakeholder and engagement routes
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution

Some things we did in this time include;

  • Brainstorming sessions to rename the service (as advised by GDS during our service assessment)
  • Stakeholder mapping to identify not only who we should talk to but what sort of engagement would be most beneficial
  • Pre-mortem (read more about this here)
  • Tiny bit of Wardley Mapping
  • Coaching others through the spend control process
  • Engaging with lawyers on the process we will need to follow to change our legislation
  • Discussing with Crown Commercial Service about procuring pre-paid cards
  • Research with local authorities to learn more about their needs
  • Attending third sector events to learn more from the healthy food community
  • Working with Department of Works and Pension and NHS Business Services Authority about how best to signpost to the service

3. Prepare for your suppliers

Suppliers do not know your subject area. It is likely that the only information they have is contained within the executive summary you have put in your advert. To help them hit the ground running, it is a good idea to pull together as much information as possible to send over to them as soon as you have appointed them. It is really important to be as honest and open with your supplier as possible.

Cartoon image of a family showing a mum with a voucher saying 'for me', child saying 'and me' and dog saying 'don't I get any?' and healthy food in the dad's bag
Cartoon image of Healthy Start recipients

4. Talk about your project!

In between passing our Alpha service assessment and approval for our beta spend control form, we spoke at various events across the Department including DHSC Digital Awareness Week to share insights we had gained both related to Healthy Start and about the process a digital project involves.  Doing this has helped us to identify others in DHSC and our ALBs that may be interested in following our progress with beta and helped others about to embark on a digital project.

We have also been speaking to charities and third sector organisations who are interested in fruit and vegetable consumption. This will ultimately help with recruiting people to test our service.

5. Be proactive in getting help from others

One of our key successes in the run up to getting our supplier on board has been to get out there and ask people to help! We contacted lots of interested third parties who work in the field who have been able to provide us with contact information for Local Authorities who want to help us, organisations who have research we can tap into and partners in PHE who work on complementary areas which will enable us to access networks of people throughout our beta.

We have been able to use this to begin establish working relationships and share information in advance of beginning our beta which has meant we have lots of new research at our fingertips and an engaged audience.

What next?

Our team is about to expand with the signing of our contract with third party suppliers. So work on this project will be ramping up starting with a three week inception period! We will be blogging regularly with updates on what we have been doing to build a better service. If you want to get in touch with us, please email us at

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