About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Using digital tech to help improve parent-child interactions

This project, called Baby Talk for York was developed as part of our fairer start local programme. We wanted to explore how digital technologies and social media could be combined with the latest learning from behavioural science to help parents and carers embed playful activities in their day-to-day routines with their children, which we know can have a positive effect on child development. We drew on activities in the Look Say Sing Play resource developed by NSPCC.

What did we do?

We carried out in-depth research sessions and pop-up interviews with 29 parents over several sprints.

Our priority parent for this project was defined demographically as:

  • Approx 20-25 age range. This was extended to 18-30 years due to challenges in sprint one recruiting from such a targeted group.
  • Parent with a child under 18 months. This was extended to two years to expand the group of parents from which we could recruit.
  • Parents living in Westfield ward. Westfield was selected to be the focus of this project, because it is the most deprived ward in York and is the only area of York with a Lower Layer Super Output Area (LSOA) in the top 10% most deprived in the country. York City’s new family hub will also be based there and learning from this project could inform family hub plans.
  • Income disadvantaged - defined as being eligible for Universal Credit and/or free school meals

In Sprint 1, we aimed to recruit target parents for in-depth interviews, focusing on their parenting behaviours, challenges, engagement with services, trusted support networks, digital preferences. Further to this we also wanted to get feedback on NSPCC Look Say Sing Play digital and Vroom offering. Vroom (A global program of the Bezos Family Foundation) teamed up with NSPCC to deliver Look Say Sing Play tips through a digital web and app platform. Look Say Sing Play in its current digital form exists as a free weekly subscription service that emails parents once a week with a free tailored brain builder tip they can try with their child, a chat-bot to receive instant tips, and a YouTube channel.

We gained insights into:

  • what support networks parents feel they have in their life
  • where parents’ local community connections were
  • what parents’ perceptions of early years services and professionals were
  • what were the needs at this stage in their parenthood journey
  • how daily mental health challenges affect interactions with children
  • what digital tech and media habits parents and children have
  • whether parents have previously participated in behaviour change activities and what that experience was like
  • effective recruitment and engagement strategies for recruiting and sustaining engagement with parents
  • feedback on Look Say Sing Play and Vroom digital offerings, including content and user experience

Informed by our learning from Sprint 1, we refined our design question/s and prototype and tested multiple ideas with priority parents, synthesising parent feedback to start developing prototypes in sprint 2. We created three prototypes that were rudimentary clickable smartphone app interfaces, mimicking a real app that we could put in the hands of parents which they could test in research sessions with us.

We tested three initial prototypes with priority parents to:

  • assess concept relevance and value
  • evaluate user experience and interface navigation
  • identify discomfort, realism, or excitement issues
  • gauge reactions to content, tone, visuals, and information
  • collect input on desired additional functionality

During Sprint 3, we reviewed and iterated sprint 2 ideas and designed new ideas to prototype and test with parents. We validated three iterated prototypes through:

  • confirming their strength and relevance
  • user experience and interface improvements from sprint two
  • testing content, especially the tone of supportive language
  • exploring reactions to a gamification concept through a storyboard
  • investigating reactions to an AI concept for healthier parent-child interactions and baby brain development through a storyboard

Our three developed prototypes

Our first prototype was called Troubleshooter. This prototype offered parents a situation-specific reactive way of accessing Look Say Sing Play content which can support them in feeling more in control with their child. This may act as a ‘gateway’ to more proactive use of tips over the longer-term.

Insights that led to the development of this prototype were as follows.

  1. Parents prefer reactive access to Look Say Sing Play content for immediate parenting assistance.
  2. They seek tips relevant to their current situation. Parents desire momentary control over their children to manage their day effectively.
  3. Troubleshooter can serve as an initial step toward proactive tip utilisation in the long run

Here is a link to the interactive clickable prototype.

Our second prototype was called Our Weekly Adventures: This prototype enabled parents to set the intention and plan to get out of the house which embeds Look Say Sing Play tips for parent and child interactions they can carry out on their adventures. This prototype also takes a simplified version of the York Mumbler data to inform parents what’s going on in their local area for free or low cost. Parents can upload photos and a journal of their adventures and see their weekly or monthly going out ‘streaks’.

Insights that led to the development of this prototype were as follows.

  1. Parents' well-being and their children's happiness improve when they leave the house together.
  2. Getting out of the house, even for a short walk, helps parents create structure in their day.
  3. Without a planned activity, daily routines can deteriorate.
  4. Setting the intention to go out in advance can encourage parents to do so.

Here is a link to the interactive clickable prototype.

Our final prototype was called Making Sense of your Baby. This prototype helps parents understand their baby’s several developmental bursts, breaking it down into what behaviours they can expect to see now, what new skills they can look forward to, and high-quality interactions they can do with their child if they feel they’re behind. Parents can view bite-sized fun facts about parenthood and explore other parents’ experiences within an in-app forum.

Insights that led to the development of this prototype were as follows.

  1. Babies experience developmental changes marked by new behaviours that parents might find challenging, followed by new skills.
  2. Parents have useful knowledge of baby brain development but require moderation.
  3. Parents engage with fun, relevant bite-sized facts about their baby's brain.
  4. Parents are deterred by content attempting to educate or teach them.

Here is a link to the interactive clickable prototype.

What did we learn?

Our learning delved into parents' experiences with trauma and mental health, unveiling high anxiety about Social Care reporting and suspicion of health visitors. Challenges such as family breakdown and homelessness were disclosed, with mental health issues affecting parents universally, presenting more significant challenges for the younger demographic. The importance of a daily routine became highly evident, serving as a crucial anchor for parents' mental well-being.

We explored the space of parenting information which surfaced concerns about oversharing deterring vulnerable parents from support groups. Parents expressed a preference for direct communication from professionals and sometimes feeling overwhelmed by checkbox-focused information from services. Empowerment strategies for parents included celebrating small wins and sharing experiences, fostering parental confidence and resilience.

Our Weekly Adventure prototype was favoured by all participating parents and stood out as the most popular developed prototype. From the beginning of sprint 1, parents unanimously recognised the significance of "getting out of the house" as a major protective factor, enhancing the quality of their parenting experience. This practice not only supports their mental well-being, instilling a sense of order and control, but also provides opportunities for social engagement and allows children to play, explore, and 'run free,' particularly beneficial for older siblings over two years. Parents with multiple children reported reduced sibling conflicts when they were 'out of the house' compared to being 'in the house.'

In the initial prototype, we explored whether setting an intention to leave the house sufficed as support for parents. However, parents made it clear that additional features were crucial, leading to the highest degree of active co-design. These features included lists of essentials for outings and the integration of Look Say Sing Play tips into the solution, offering a tagged list of activities to do while out and about with their child.


Imran Nazerali

Imran Nazerali

Imran Nazerali

Designer, Design and Technology

Imran Nazerali is a designer who cares about people.

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Emma McFarland

Emma McFarland

Emma McFarland

Design Lead, fairer start mission

Emma was design lead for the fairer start mission, integrating design and digital innovation practice in the mission’s work to catalyse impactful and scalable innovation.

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