We could be on to something: Beanstalk shares experience of prototyping
Angela Fuggle, Programme and Training Development Manager at Beanstalk, one of the organisations funded through Give More Get More, shares the team's experience and what they have learned through prototyping.
At Beanstalk, we recruit, train and support volunteers to give one-to-one literacy lessons to children in primary schools across England.
We have just completed the Give More Get More prototyping phase: perhaps it was just us, but starting off our team felt both the excitement and the vague trepidation of its ‘blank sheet of paper’ connotations.
Actually, what proved to be both the most surprising and, so far, helpful feature of the prototyping process that Nesta has encouraged and supported us through has been understanding the extent to which our supposedly blank sheet of paper had all kinds of hidden writing on it!
For us, the drivers were not only an awareness that we need to find different propositions to put to potential volunteers, but that we equally need to broaden our portfolio and develop discreet new services designed to meet the needs of more specific groups of children.
Exploring more intensive volunteering opportunities seemed to us to naturally match with a perceived need for a much more intensive intervention for children approaching their transition to secondary education without the literacy skills and confidence they need to succeed. So that was the new service we set off to create.
In the very first prototyping session - albeit towards the end – it occurred to us that we have a tendency to assume that we already knew everything…because we have sufficient demonstrable evidence from what we currently do.
We became more willing, as a result, to be more open-minded in approaching the research phases. In other words, actively trying to avoid either asking for or interpreting people’s views from a platform of looking for what we expected them to say.
So we came to the second workshop session happily armed with much more sense of 'what might the service look like' if both potential volunteers and customers (primary schools) could start from a blank sheet but still didn’t fully understand how much we were affecting the design of that service by default. We focused on the potential ‘newness’ of the service and missed our assumptions that it could be delivered using old processes.
Something hugely significant occurred during one of the practical prototyping exercises. We asked: What would happen if we put the child in charge of booking the volunteer?
We have long maintained, with good reason, that a key element in the success of our existing services is the extent to which children are recognised and respected as individuals: it builds their self-esteem without which everything else is so much more difficult to achieve. How powerful would it be for Year 6 children approaching ‘big school’ struggling or reluctant to read to be given real ownership?
Even though the practical constraints that are fundamentally important (as we learned) to both potential volunteers and customers have meant that we needed to scale back our initial excitement, that light bulb moment led directly to us realising we had no clear idea of how the magic happens.
Insight from Nesta, during a follow-on workshop, that our ‘magic’ must happen somewhere in the space between the taught curriculum and hidden curriculum led to some different theories of change and the decision to test three different prototypes of service (all based on the same intensive degree of volunteering).
Although it has added greatly to the complexity of our development task, we are very keen to explore if there are any indications of appreciable difference in experience and/or outcome for either or both the volunteer and child between:
- a version focusing more overtly on tasks designed to increase a child’s literacy skills;
- a version (still as considered in its approach) focusing more on what might broadly be understood as more of a mentoring relationship to build self-confidence and self-esteem using ‘covert’ literacy skill development;
- a version that seeks to combine both elements.
If it turns out that there are signs that we could be on to something with either of the first two, that really will mean we turn over our (not so) blank piece of paper in a way that has implications not only for our Reading Transition service but across our range.