Moving from alpha to beta

23 August 2021

Over the last 9 months we’ve been working across our 3 local authorities on the Accessing Adult Social Care project with the team from CDPS. It’s been a new way of working and it’s been brilliant to work collaboratively and see how we can approach our service delivery in a different way. When we started out, we assumed that as we moved through the discovery, alpha and beta process we would be experiencing fewer and fewer issues and it would all be plain sailing. How little did we know! Like life, the challenges have just become different. The move from the alpha phase to the beta phase has opened a whole new world of discussion and technical issues to be resolved.

Iterating and testing

The alpha stage proved that with the help of service users and those working in the services we can design something that will be useful and solve a problem. We developed our prototypes, initially drawings on paper, and at each iteration these became higher tech and developed until we had texts and a web portal that looked like the real thing but not actually a working version. The benefits of doing this in a low code/no code way is that it allows you to demonstrate your idea before making an investment in technical resources. This approach also allows you to test it with real service users, proxies and with service staff and make changes based on their feedback.

Learning from the beta phase

The beta phase is where you take your best idea from alpha and start building it for real, preparing for the transition to live, whilst minimising risk and maximising the potential to learn and iterate the service.

We know the solution we’re proposing is useful and we have an idea how it would look. We’re now getting into the technical and logistical elements. The areas we’re having to consider include information governance elements such as who gives permission to access and use the data on a nationally procured case management system? As one person has described it, information governance can be a bit of a minefield, sometimes with interwoven and unclear responsibilities. This is on top of aspects such as how we authenticate service users so others cannot see their information and how we ensure the right person has access to the information – the service user might not have the capacity; the referrer might not be appropriate.

We also have technical decisions to make, such as the coding language used to design the products. We need to think about who will host the system if we wish to make it available to all local authorities and the implications for the resources needed to store, maintain and further develop them. All of these questions also lead to thinking about our capacity and capability. Do we have the people with the skills to keep it viable and sustainable?

We’re also learning about the project management roles that are needed. It’s been amazing learning about the project roles around developing the system, for example delivery manager, the product manager, the product owner and understanding the roles of these people and who actually does what. In a typical local authority, an individual often plays many roles and works on a host of projects or work packages and the risk is that one individual would end up trying to play all of those roles and often be working on other things as well. One of the challenges we’re looking at is how we adapt as organisations to support this change.

Another important aspect of beta, and one we will be working on soon, is how our proposed changes integrate with the way the service works. At this stage, we’ll be going back to the service and the front line to get their help in making sure it fits in with their ways of working and makes life easy for them as well as for our service users.

Keeping on testing

All the while we are still testing the product and making changes. Service users are continuing to help to design it, giving us their experiences on how it looks, how easy it is to use, whether it is accessible to people with a range of needs. Making sure everyone can use your service is an important part of the design and during the beta phase we have run regular accessibility testing and research sessions with real people. Their feedback allows us to make the changes to the product and becoming better each time.

Collaborating, learning and sharing

As local authority officers it has been so insightful watching and listening to the views of service users and seeing the design change as a result. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re seeing real change and learning so much as we collaborate and work together on shared issues and challenges. As we work through the beta phase of this project, we’ll continue to share what we’re learning and provide updates as we work through the challenges together.

Blog post by:

Nita Sparkes, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council

Mark Sherwood, Torfaen County Council

Shaun Hughes, Blaenau-Gwent County Borough Council

If you feel like you have something to share with us from your experiences, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or tweet us @cdps_cymru

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