Engaging fathers through social innovation

ClientSocial Innovation Lab for Kent (SILK)
Design AgencyEngine
Location: UK

Engaging Fathers. Co-designing with dads services for family centre ‘Sure Start’ 

Photo: Engine

Photo: Engine

What was the problem?

There is a growing recognition of the need to support fathers’ involvement in their children’s’ lives. Evidence is mounting to demonstrate the numerous long-term benefits this has for children.

Seashells, a Sure Start centre in Sheerness, initiated a project with the Social Innovation Lab for Kent (SILK) and design agency Engine to look at what kind of support fathers require and how they could provide it. Sure Start centres are government-funded, pre-school centres that also provide help and advice on child and family health and parenting. The goal of the project is to encourage and support father’s (and other male carers) involvement in their children’s lives.

What did they do?

The project team explored what kind of support fathers require and how SeaShells could provide it. The team initiated an approach to research, idea generation and design development that engaged a group of more than a dozen fathers as collaborators throughout the project.

Through time spent with fathers before and during a series of active tool based workshops, the designers elaborated a detailed picture of their day-to-day activities and highlighted the useful and ineffective resources available to them in their area. A set of fathers needs were defined that inspired the co-development of a series of on-site and off-site service proposals from which one was chosen that SeaShells could deliver further.

This process brought SeaShells staff into close contact with a group of local fathers and demonstrated their commitment to listening and responding. Staff were consistently surprised by project insights including an awareness that the services fathers were looking for were not far off what was being offered to mothers, instead it was their delivery that was inconsistent with the lives of the fathers, in terms of location, environment and schedules.

Beyond the identification of services, the project also identified areas of organisational change seen as beneficial for the delivery of better services for fathers. These included a series of proposals for father friendly communications channels, feedback mechanisms, partners and promotions.

The ideas present were discussed with both the dads and the SeaShells team, and together the ‘Go Community Card’ was chosen for further development. This card provides access and discounts to a range of
activities dads and children could do together, tailored more to their needs and availability.


Photo: Engine

What was the result?

SeaShells was delivered a project review, helpful for communicating the strength of the project outputs, and a Service Specification Document for the ‘Go Community Card’. This is a card and information resource for parents that is accepted by local businesses and saves parents money on transport, activities, purchases, lessons and rentals. The card is packaged with the delivery of frequent updates on activities happening locally, is simple to use and is supported by a network of partners and businesses selected by the fathers in the community.

The designers also worked with the SILK team to develop a tailored project management framework and an accompanying toolkit to enable SILK to stimulate and support innovative design practice amongst the council staff. This includes a compendium of modules, from introductions to the methodology, supporting tools, guides and templates, to advice on the management of complex,multi-stakeholder projects. By doing so, they assured the continuity of the innovations in the organisation on the one hand, while solving a concrete case for SeaShells on the other.

This is the reason why SILK has gone on to be widely recognised as a leading example of innovative approaches to public service development, winning awards and featuring in publications and parliamentary commissions.

The co-developed tools and methodologies ensured that SILK would lead in public service delivery through two central tasks. Firstly, by providing a creative, challenging environment for a wide range of staff to work together; and secondly, by drawing on cutting edge practices from business, design and social sciences, to embed a way of working that puts citizens at the centre of the process.

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