Evaluation of the University of Kent’s Consortium Project to Explore How Technology Can Support Young People in Care


This project, led by the University of Kent, brought together a consortium of technologists, designers and academics to understand how to leverage advances in technology for the benefit of young people in care.

The co-design process allowed the views of young people and carers to be incorporated into the development of new technology. Picture: Rawpixel.com/Adobe stock
The co-design process allowed the views of young people and carers to be incorporated into the development of new technology. Picture: Rawpixel.com/Adobe stock
  • Emily Fu et al, Department for Education (2017)

The overall aim of the project was to find out how young people in care, who might have experienced traumatic events in their lives, linked their context and experiences with their emotional state and behaviour. It also looked to discover whether the young people could co-design behavioural and support technologies and then integrate them into a service to help improve their lives.

The project included four waves of co-design workshops held with young people, their carers and social workers, to scope out a new digital service for vulnerable young people. The co-design strand of the project employed design studio Snook’s citizen engagement and co-design methodology, which is drawn from the Design Council’s “Double Diamond” methodology – in this, two diamonds represent a process of exploring an issue more widely or deeply (divergent thinking) and then taking focused action (convergent thinking).

Findings

Overall, participants interviewed said they thought the process was creative and interesting, and identified several positive impacts of taking part. The co-design process was effective and allowed the views of young people and carers to be captured and incorporated into the development of new technology.

Seven concepts were developed and tested with young people during the co-design process. The two that had the most traction were:

  • “Real World”. A virtual flat that teaches young people the skills they need to move into independence
  • “Wall of care”. An online platform for information to be collated and shared between young people, carers and social workers.

These concepts responded to genuine issues and information gaps which young people identified, and young people could imagine themselves using them. Other concepts had more of a mixed reception, because participants could not see what they offered over and above existing tools and resources; and there was a fear that the tools threatened to replace face-to-face contact with social workers.

Young people also felt that while they might engage initially with the technology, they were likely to stop engaging relatively soon. Carers felt there would need to be incentives for using the technology to keep young people interested and engaged.

What is important to young people?

Here are some other key themes raised by participants across the co-design workshops:

  • Preference for face-to-face support. Young people expressed major concern about inadequate face-to-face contact with their social workers
  • Social skills vs. insularity. Carers echoed the view that face-to-face care is important to retain, not only because it facilitates better relationships, but also because it helps build young people’s social skills
  • Who pays? This point was raised a number of times in the workshops, both by young people and carers, who were quick to ask who would pay for the technology, and smart-phones more specifically for app-based concepts; as not all young people had access to these.

Learning in relation to co-design

The research also identifies some useful learning in relation to co-design with young people, which includes:

  • Technology can be determined by the outputs of the co-design process, rather than having any pre-conceived problems or issues to address.
  • Young people can contribute most meaningfully at the start and end of the process, i.e. in understanding current use of technology.

Implications for practice

  • The co-design process followed in this review was effective and allowed the views of young people and carers to be captured and incorporated into the development of new technology.
  • To increase young people and carers’ sense of input into, and ownership of, product design, make sure they are involved in, or have greater visibility of, some of the design process, such as attending workshops with the development team.
  • Any new technology needs to add value over existing tools, and demonstrate a clear case for how it could support them.

Further information: https://wearesnook.com/

Click here for more in CYP Now's Technology in Children’s Services Special Report

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