Once upon a time … on an Agile service team

Stories are not just for bedtime, discovered Owen Burgess on a Sport Wales grants project – they’re essential for meeting real users’ needs

13 April 2022

Mapping the old sport grants application process revealed how complicated it had become © Pexels

‘’Once upon a time’’ is often how the bedtime stories I read to my daughter start. I used to think of stories mainly in that light – as a rewarding way of spending time with my child. Only recently have I realised how fundamental stories also are to my work as a service design lead for Sport Wales.

I’m part of a team at Sport Wales that’s been working with the Centre for Digital Public Services (CDPS) on a project to increase the reach and impact of Sport Wales grants. Central to the project has been talking to current and potential grant users to get a better understanding of their funding needs as, for example, local sporting clubs and organisations.

Playing the person-centred way

The purpose of Sport Wales is to give everyone in the country the chance to be active through sport. To achieve that, we realise as an organisation that we must be person-centred – to let the needs and motivations of our users, such as grant recipients, lead our activity. Achieving such a goal in practice is less straightforward, which is why it has been so useful working with an organisation, such as CDPS, that has user-centred design at its heart.

It’s been refreshing to hear first-hand from people seeking funding for their sporting activities. There’s no substitute for understanding what matters to real users. This way of doing research has produced some ‘lightbulb’ moments and showed that research is equally valuable for upending your hypotheses as for confirming them.

Grass stains on your creps

One group of teenagers worried playing on grass would stain their ‘box-fresh’ trainers © Anastasia Shuraeva/Pexels

For example, one group of teenage boys told us their biggest challenge was just finding somewhere to play football. Knowing the area, I suggested two parks nearby. The boys responded that they could not play on grass as it was all about having “box-fresh trainers”:

“We can’t be playing on grass, as we’ll get grass stains on our creps [training shoes]”

I asked a basketball coach working with a local group why he had not applied for funding. He replied that he looked at the Sport Wales website and saw “a Welsh Government logo and the application process and thought: ‘Nah, that ain’t for me – I don’t have a degree.'”

‘Must-do’ level

Gathering stories from users to understand their needs is just one thing I’ve learned to do by working with a CDPS digital squad over the past six months. Simplifying complex things has been another. For example, we mapped the old application process on the digital whiteboard tool Mural. Doing so revealed how complicated an application had become and the vast amount of information we were asking for from grant applicants. Visualising the process helped us to strip it right back to the ‘must-do’ level.

Working in a user-centred way will, we expect, result in a wider pool of people applying for Sport Wales grants. However, it has already transformed a futuristic concept like ‘service design’ into new ways of working for the team and organisation.

For example, we’re:

We’re early on in our own user-centred story at Sport Wales but I’m thoroughly excited about the chapters we’ve written so far.

Owen Burgess is service design and development lead at Sport Wales

Tell us about your experience of grant services in the comments below. And if you’re a sporting body that would like to get involved in Sport Wales service development, drop us an email.

Read more: Audio applications? Helping to throw the grants net wider

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  1. Steve Davies says:

    Great to see Sport Wales starting to listen to people and put users first, but you have been talking about this for over a year now, when are you actually going to improve your systems and service?

    1. Centre for Digital Public Services says:

      Thanks for your comment Steve. Following extensive user research we have a clear understanding of the exact areas of our current grants system and process that needs to change to better meet the needs of users. We have been making improvements to the grants system and process as we go, and are currently testing the larger scale potential changes to ensure they function as intended and do meet user needs and improve their experience. We expect to complete this testing by June with a view to having a new way of applying for funding and the system that supports this shortly after. Should you wish to be involved in testing some of the changes please contact owen.burgess@sport.wales