With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

It falls to me to capture day 5 of Birmingham’s second Spaghetti lab – pitch day. I feel great power: I can sum-up our week. But how do I capture our week in a few feeble words? What a responsibility.
We all have our own unique experience – we have all learnt something of ourselves. We have immersed ourselves in a subject we knew little about – foster caring. Then today we had to pitch our idea back to the experts, the experienced and our bosses!

The day starts with a check-in; we are nervous.
We watch a great example of a pitch

TheKingsFund: Joined Up Care, Sams Story

We run through our pitch – it is better than yesterday but still not right. We repeat ourselves too much. We waffle.
We get feedback, we make changes and we try again. Make, measure, learn.
We run through the pitch again – less repetition, still a bit waffle-y.
More feedback, more changes and we try again. Make, measure, learn.
But now the time is short; Mikaayel has joined us today, he is very positive but also very polite – so how can we believe what he says!
The pressure is on, after lunch we set up the room for the pitch. We decide to use the main auditorium which shakes us up a little – out of the comfort of the Lab room which we’ve used all week.
We run through again – I forget nearly everything that I want to say, I make points that others are planning to make. Is practicing helping? Is this idea any good? What will people make of it? Have we got anything useful to say? Will they wonder what we’ve been doing all week?
Final, run through – still waffle-y, still stilted. It’s too late to change now. A crowd is waiting outside the door…
Make, measure, learn.
Judge for yourself: the video will be released soon.

Afterwards, question number 1: “how will this actually benefit the children?” Talk about getting to the point; this is why I love Impact Hub Brum. Where else could we give this presentation and have someone in the room with first-hand experienced of the foster system along with those in the positions of power who control the system. Unique? Certainly very special.
After this, the feedback moves into positive comment, then into a more informal setting allowing one-to-one discussion.  The pitch has been generally well received, the team feels relief and we’re pleased.

The star of the lab is the kid’s artwork from the weekend.


The star of the pitch is Dalbir and our family

Dalbir and the familySerious point being made

Today went well. We got good feedback, the pitch wasn’t perfect but it did get the message across. And, importantly, all of us involved gained a bit of something for ourselves.

I do hope we turn this idea into reality. I believe it will lead to more available foster parents and, eventually, translate into Birmingham’s children getting better foster care. After all, THAT is the point.

Spaghetti Lab Day 4

After the daily ‘check in’, we spent the first part of the morning to further define and describe the aim of the prototype idea in meeting our clients needs.

We watched a short video around a concept called, the ‘Golden Circle’ or ‘start with why’, Simon Sinex Tedx. Using the model of Why, How, and the What to describe the idea.


We discussed in detail how an environment like this could provide, current and real life insights to the role of fosters carers. This environment would also act as a clearer point of access to information, meeting the need of potential foster carers at the relevant stage of their journey. These needs will be met by taking into account the human need at that point, thus increasing engagement and a sense of being part of a community with access to support.

We then split in to 2 groups.

Group 1- drawing on insights from our research, we identified a real customer who might embark on a journey towards becoming foster carers. Who they are, their make up, their lifestyle , why they are potential foster carers, what their drivers are.

Timeline journey mapUsing a timeline we identified the touch points of their journey with the real process and considered their needs compared to their actual experience. We then asked whether their human need was met i.e(for information, for reassurance or other need), and the impact of this on their experience and therefore their likelihood to stay the course.
Using this process helped us to empathise with the customers feelings and thoughts.
Customer profile imageWe the created a customer profile map where we crystallised their experience in to the jobs they wanted to get done, the gains they wanted and the pains they experienced if not achieved.

Group 2-Added details to the prototype idea created yesterday. They worked through what the specific detail would be for those arriving at the online platform. Creating clear steps meeting the needs of the potential Carers. Whether they are just looking, want specific information, to, I’m ready, i want to apply. Each persons experience thereafter using the online platform is designed to fulfil the practical need, relevant for their starting point, and based in an environment designed to increase engagement.

Image of prototype details.

Group 2 were then introduced to our family and heard about their experience. Using this insight, they then created a value map demonstrating how the online platform could relieve the pain, and enable the gains through its design, structure and processes.

Value proposition map

After summarising the activities of the day. This concluded day 4.

Spaghetti lab day 3

The plan for the day IMG_1256

We checked in first thing with a summary of how we found day 2, our understanding of the brief from the Fostering service and our thoughts, looking forward to getting involved in the prototype.  We first looked at the drivers to fostering.


Here we looked around Human Needs/Behaviours, Existing Technologies, Existing Services and Data Sources.  From this we came up with some initial ideas.

We came up with Inspire, Reassurance, Inform,

Spaghetti attended an awards event in a school over the weekend and fed back their insights back to the group from current foster carers and their children. Below are some of the visual thoughts from fostered children.


During the whole day we took part in various team building exercises including the exercise called apple, see below.


A powerful exercise, that enabled the team to get down ideas quickly.  We were given a grid to complete with as many visual/words we could think of in a set time.  The word we were given was APPLE, and our restriction was we couldn’t talk to each other.

After lunch we looked at a video on Lean Start Up – this was around developing an app quickly for people that wanted to see what they looked like in different styles of sunglasses.

We then, the exciting bit, began to develop the first prototype on how to attract potential Foster Carers.  We presented this back to Spaghetti and the representative from the Adoption and Fostering team.


We took this prototype out to the streets of Birmingham, meeting the public, to capture their thoughts







We came back as a team and consolidated our ideas and confirmed the reasons why we arrived at the prototype.  Looking forward to day 4.

Spaghetti lab day 2

We checked in first thing with a summary of how we found day 1, our understanding of the brief from the Fostering service and our thoughts for the day ahead. 

Today’s sessions were about insights and ideas!


It was clear that we needed some fine tuning of the brief and after some pre coffee  discussion agreed it could be summarised as

‘Engaging new foster care applications and then keeping applicants engaged’ 


We spent some time going through what we had learned so far,  what are the facts and what insights do we have.

e. g.  we know we want to increase foster care applications from 27  to around 144 per year,  the process is repetitive for applications and there is out of date content on website.


Insights such as – struggling to  keep the website up to date,  lack of clarity on the foster care process and a  wide funnel but low conversion rate.

We used the insights to begin  thinking about empathy mapping,  rather than personas .  We wanted to understand behaviour,  concerns and  aspirations of potential applicants.

Armed with a basic understanding of the facts and insights,  we stepped out into the autumn sunshine to find some potential foster carers!

We split into 2 groups,  leaving Tim back at the lab to do some telephone research.


We managed 8 interviews,  which were very enlightening,  including 2 people keen enough to want more details! Of note were the facts most people new something about foster care or knew someone that looked after a foster child and they also talked about financial and emotional rewards along with a lot risk.


After lunch we interviewed Aleysha,  who had been in foster care since the age of 13 and Joy who is a social worker in a residential care home for children.  This was a very thoughtful and moving interview,  giving great insight  into the realism of foster care from both the  child’s perspective  and the carer perspective.   Therer was a contradiction  how you sell the foster care  role and the reality of the challenging nature of the role.  Army recruitment and boot camp were mentioned as similar processes.


The empathy mapping exercise initially lacked clarity,  we then split it into potential applicants and those with actual experience.  It was easier then  to see different factors affecting each group.

We tried to bring together our understanding of everything we’d heard over the day and group together common themes. We gathered these as Key insights


We finished the day thinking about,  more detailed analysis of the issues and barriers along with potential territories and ideas that may be considered in pre alpha prototyping.

Checking in

Welcome to Spaghetti Lab 2! We have a new problem to solve, and a new team to work together to design the solution. Simon and Tim who were participants from Lab 1 will be participating in this new task, to be joined by Dalbir, Des, and Sue from the Web Content Management team in Customer Services to work on the challenge which has been set for us.

Lab 1 was principally about learning and testing the process, but with Lab 2, as well as iterating and refining the process, and sharing it out to a wider group of people, we have an additional goal – to have an outcome at the end of the week which will be turned into a real product as part of the council’s digital transformation project.

2015-10-08 17.00.08

As with Lab 1, the first morning session consisted of introductions and early team-building exercises – an introduction to the process for the benefit of Dalbir, Des, and Sue, followed by a period of questioning and sharing during a walk around Digbeth; from each other we learned things such as where we think we’ll be in five years time, what keeps us working for the organisation, and what we think we might like to work as in a parallel universe.

Then after lunch we were joined by Paula, our Customer Service service director, and Natasha, from the council’s Adoption and Fostering team, to be set our brief:

How might we enable Birmingham’s ‘pragmatic doers’ to see the potential in fostering Birmingham’s looked after children?

We learned from Natasha that there is currently a shortage of new people coming forward each year to join the pool of potential foster parents to meet the needs of children the council has responsibility for, and we also learned that despite the many misconceptions about the requirements to be a foster parent (did you know that the only cast iron requirements are for you to be over 21, with a spare room in your house, and no criminal convictions against a child? Anything else which you might think might stop you from being accepted can be discussed on a case by case basis!), the service has a reasonable number of initial contacts enquiring about being a foster parent, but from those initial contacts there’s a high abandonment rate. The problem we need to solve is how to use a website and wider digital technology to make the service more attractive to potential fosterers in the first place, and then keep them engaged through the whole application, training, and placement process.

2015-10-08 16.58.30

And to end the day we created an initial Customer Journey Map of how a new foster parent joins the system, from how they initially learn about the service’s existence, what the touch points are as they make their initial enquiries, and how once they are in the system they are kept engaged. From this we can carry out an early analysis of where the issues might lay and how to start solving them.

Tomorrow, we meet the public!