What Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth sports bodies learned from a Design Hop – and how can you do the same!

Design Hop trainer Ab Brightman reveals how the workshops will help organisations as they begin their journey of digital discovery - and how you can take part in a Design Hop too!

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Last month, 20 National Governing Bodies (NGBs) embarked on the Innovation and Digital Accelerator, developed by CAST as part of Sport England’s B2022 Fund. The programme has been designed to help NGBs across England harness the power and flexibility of digital and design, to help more people from more communities access and enjoy sport - during the Birmingham 2022 Games and beyond. 

As part of their introduction to the programme, the NGBs took part in a Design Hop, CAST’s free course that supports nonprofits on a digital journey to solve a real organisational challenge. The usual course takes place over five weeks, with three 90-minute instructor-led sessions and 10-14 hours of self study. But trainer Ab Brightman modified the course so that participants could kick-start their journey in a four-hour session. 

We asked Ab how the Design Hop will help NGBs as they begin their journey of digital discovery - and how others can learn from the tools used, or indeed sign up to take part in a Design Hop themselves!

‍You have run many Design Hops; can you give us an overview of their purpose?

Ab Brightman: A Design Hop is the introduction non-profit organisations need to digital design and development. By now, hundreds of organisations all over the country, of so many sizes and missions, have learned through a Design Hop!

The Design Hop teaches participants a step-by-step method for user centred digital design, which they then can practically apply to a current challenge or opportunity they are facing. This leads them to discovering unexpected insights, powerfully simple digital solutions and a hunger to keep tackling complex problems.

The workshops introduce participants to useful tools such as a Knowledge Board (used for mapping out knowledge and key assumptions, determining priorities and preparing for the user research stage) and user needs statements (used to distil what has been learned in user research - and ensure that user needs remain at the heart of the process). You can access these and many other tools in the free CAST Digital Toolkit.

Example of a Knowledge Board
Knowledge Board example; download this file for free via the CAST Digital Toolkit

What were the NGBs hoping to get out of the Design Hop? 

Ab: As this was the first real session of the Innovation and Digital Accelerator (IDA) programme CAST is running with Sport England, many of the organisations were hoping to solidify their confidence that the programme was really going to help them develop digitally and learn what these concepts even were. No-one wants to waste time if something is just another hype job or confusing, so the pressure to surpass expectations and motivate attendees for the rest of the programme was there.

Many too were looking forward to meeting staff at the other NGBs and building some relationships there - which is crucial as we hope they can find ways to work on sharing challenges and with overlapping communities further into the programme.

There were a number of different NGBs in each session; were their aims broadly the same? If they had different needs, how did you manage this? 

Ab: As the Design Hop guides participants through the digital design process by practising applying it to a real challenge or opportunity they are facing, it means participants are really able to flex it to meet their needs. After all, how many organisations could truly say that they don’t have any areas that tech or a user centred design approach couldn’t help improve? 

It was great to get everyone on the same page about our whole idea of what digital is. It's a word we all use a lot - but we don’t always have the chance to check in on what each of us means by it, and create a shared understanding. To some in the group it was the tech side, like smartphones or databases, to others the word ‘connection’ came up a lot, and some felt very excited by this idea of culture and behaviours instead. 

For most of the NGBs digital design was a relatively new way of working, though there were a few participants who had started creating products already or came from a commercial tech background. The way we’ve created the Design Hop is so that even those very confident in digital and design can learn new ways of describing it and motivating the rest of their teams and sectors.

Were the sessions interactive in terms of the NGBs working with each other, or were they each working on individual projects / tasks? 

Ab: Memorable and engaging experiences are about the build up and then release of some kind of tension. A sports event, a film you don’t know the ending to, a gig where you don’t know what song is next - and the rush when you then find out, enjoy it even.

Learning experiences are no different, and I think private reflective work is a great way to build that anticipatory tension as you have no idea what anyone else has done and sit and wonder if you’re getting it on the same page as everyone else - when no doubt you are getting time to make great progress getting your head around something! 

And what better way to break that tension than a whole variety of activities as one big collective, and in much smaller groups and pairs, following on from that solo work. We had a lot of provocative discussions together; participants talked honestly about their user assumptions, gave each other specific written feedback - and even were able to practice their user research interview skills on one another by the end of the session!

We know lots of the NGBs might have similar underlying challenges or opportunities to offer to communities, and collaborative solutions usually create the best outcomes for users and the organisations behind them, so having the chance to begin building or refreshing some of those relationships whilst learning together and staying interested felt like a great place to start.  

Are there any tips, tools or links you can share that would help people get a flavour of what is discussed in the sessions, and help them to self-serve the same kind of support and follow a similar process? 

Ab: You can get an idea of what happens in a Design Hop from Digital for Good’s article showcasing two charities’ experiences of the session, and Janine Woodward-Grant’s piece reflecting on what B&NES Carers’ Centre learned during a Design Hop. Or take a look at this quick 30-second intro, outlining what a Design Hop is. And you can dive into the methods, mindsets and materials used by exploring CAST’s Digital Toolkit.

Are you / CAST running any more Design Hops? How can people sign up?

Absolutely! We’ve just announced a host of more dates for our full Design Hop, with courses starting in July, September and October. They’re already filling up so I encourage you to go straight to the website, check whether it’s for you and book your Design Hop place today.

Were there any common challenges that NGBs highlighted that resonate with what you’ve heard/ seen from the social sector or anything that was specific to the sport sector that was uncovered? 

I definitely felt a lot of similarities between sectors. On a moral level I think charities and NGBs exist so we can all live a more fulfilling life - and on a structural level, both are unique in their heavy involvement of volunteers, and participation from regular people in communities around the country. These layers are interesting because a regular business model only has different customer bases to think of, so the flow of service provision is straight from company to customer, possibly involving an intermediary company that provides them the service. A charity (and NGB) model however is more complicated, in that some of their users (e.g. volunteers) are also key in their services provision (e.g. for players), so it makes designing for both NGBs and charities equally more complex - as they have to consider more layers of people than companies do.

Similarly NGBs mentioned how their funding doesn’t always align with user insight and iterative ways of work, which is why Sport England has tested a different approach with this funding in both the co-design of the fund and the iterative delivery with support from the IDA. Quite often funded organisations find themselves in this potion, expected to propose to invent a whole new solution before they've even done any discovery or tried out a low-code free tool. This can perpetuate a cycle of poor design, even if the intentions were to fund something great.

Any ‘Aha moments’ - or anything that surprised you? 

The word ‘user challenge’ or ‘problem they’re facing’ did not resonate at all, the way we expect to see with charities - but the word opportunity to mean the same thing did seem to click much more. 

I was really struck by the sense of national pressure most NGBs reported feeling, especially in relation to the size of their budgets and teams. At its peaks, say Olympic years and Commonwealth Games, the sports the NGBs represent are watched and googled by millions of Brits, all with excitement and demands, and if parts of that service and messages is off or breaks it does not go unnoticed, and could be a massive missed opportunity for that whole sport to grow in and change with society. But all the learners were so open minded and pragmatic to start this different and more fitting way of working that perhaps this pressure with the upcoming Commonwealth games hosted in our own Birmingham, can make some diamonds.

Our thanks to Ab for this insight into how the Design Hops have helped set the NGBs off on their digital journey. Coming up next on the Innovation and Digital Accelerator programme, we have more expert-led workshops, one on personas and journey mapping, and another on open working. We’ll also be engaging with Catalyst to bring more support to the NGBs and to help them benefit from the people, tools and resources from across the Catalyst network - we’ll bring you key insights from all of this next month!

And don’t forget, if you’d like to learn a step-by-step method for user centred digital design, whilst solving a real organisational challenge, book your Design Hop place today.

The Innovation and Digital Accelerator, funded by Sport England, is being delivered by CAST as a contribution to Catalyst. Catalyst offers free digital support to social impact organisations; take a look at the full list of Catalyst services.

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