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Looking back on BBC the Fix: reflections and insights

A couple of weeks after the live episode of BBC Radio 4’s The Fix, I’ve had a chance to look back over the series that communicated the value of design for social good to 7 million listeners every week. In design they say that form follows function. In a previous blog, I considered how the format of the day allowed groups of non-experts to quickly get to grips with – and design new ideas around – age-old policy problems. But content also matters. This blog is my reflection on how the personalities and subject matter drove the final ideas.

Photo Credit – Vianney Le Caer

Quick recap on format and why it matters
Each week, my co-presenter Matthew Taylor, expert Uscreates facilitators and I took three teams through a design process to come up with innovative new ideas to stubborn social problems: affordable housing, reducing reoffending, childhood obesity and reducing alcohol consumption. The teams started off by discovering more about the subject area, combining an empathic experience (for example eating a typical daily diet of an obese child), with data and statistics, user stories and expert opinion. They then (with a little direction from us), defined down the challenge that they specifically wanted to look at, getting to the root cause of the issue. After lunch I took them through some creative exercises to generate as many far-out ideas as possible. Finally the teams developed these into a single shared idea through the form of a physical prototype and delivered it in a pitch to our two judges (Dawn Austwick, Chief Exec of the Big Lottery Fund, and David Willets, Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation and ex-Cabinet Minister).

Of course, in a design process, this ‘double diamond’ format of convergent and divergent thinking and user-centred design matter, as does creating a rhythm to the day that allows teams to form, storm, norm and perform. After the first ‘prototype’ episode (this had never been done before on radio), I had some reflections on the co-design format (see this blog), which, in good designerly fashion, we used to improve the following episodes.

Content matters more
After all four episodes, my thoughts are more about how the content (the subject matter, the participant’s background, the challenge questions and creative activities) informed the ideas.

Photo Credit – Vianney Le Caer

The first workshop (although aired second) was around childhood obesity. To shift people’s behaviour you need to address their capability, opportunity and motivation to do so (the COM-B model). Much recent Government activity has been around taxation and regulation (reducing the opportunity for fatty foods), meaning that the ideas formed around capability (awareness raising) and motivation (family and friends who influence).

The second workshop looked at affordable housing. Unlike the other topics, this was much more structural (in both senses of the word), and the ideas were much less human-focused, using levers of legislation, regulation and innovation funding instead.

Photo Credit – Vianney Le Caer

The third workshop sought to reduce re-offending, a particularly tricky and complex policy issue. The groups reframed the challenge through the lens of time, and picked different points of the offender journey to refine down their challenge, looking at what could happen before prison (at sentencing), during prison and after prison. We had a lot of data and tech experts in this workshop, and this played out in the ideas which all had a technical component, with the winner (the virtual preparing-to-leave prison game) successfully combining this with a human buddying system. This workshop was the quietest throughout. I think this was because participants had to work much harder to understand the users’ perspective. Unlike childhood obesity or alcohol, no-one had been to prison (or admitted to committing an offence).

The noise level contrasted with the final workshop which was of course live, which added to the excitement. Especially the ‘pip, pip, pip’ following the Archers which signaled that we were about to start the show. The pressure was on the people pitching the ideas, they couldn’t fluff their words this time round. Music producer Roscoe Williamson, lawyer Hashi Mohammed and designer Amanda Gore were all amazing, and totally calm – and the rest of the team pitched in to answer the hard questions that followed. And nearly everyone in the room had a personal experience with alcohol, which meant opinions were stronger and the facilitators had to ensure that the teams stuck to the personas they were designing for.

Photo credit – BBC

The point of The Fix was to bring together fresh talent from different, non-expert professional backgrounds to come up with new ideas to old problems. Innovation is often prompted by this sort of lateral inspiration. I think we could innovate these ideas further by applying solutions from one episode to the challenges of another. For example, could we encourage people to build their own homes using a virtual game using open data to simulate what it would feel like, what it would cost (money and emotional energy!). Could we create a guerilla aspirational anti-offending campaign to encourage young people to not reoffend? Or could we create a tax or cap on the proportion of chicken shops within the vicinity of schools (or a cap on the profit they are allowed to make from children aged 6-15)?

More seriously, we think the ideas would have more impact if people who are responsible for these policy issues – local public sector or VCSE policymakers, service providers or commissioners – set the challenge and are involved in the workshops. We would love to facilitate these co-design events locally, and I’m sure the BBC would be interested in being there to record your open innovation process, engaging residents in the issue as well as the idea. If this is something that interests you, please get in touch with us@uscreates.com


Childhood obesity How can we support communities to come together to create healthy food and activity environments?


A local event & digital platform to connect non-engaged parents in existing healthy local community-based activities
How do we get children involved in the preparation of healthy food?


A school supper club competition to create shared healthy eating habits between parents and children (funded through the Sugar Tax levy)
How can we help schools
and food outlets to provide healthier food and environments?


A new national healthy eating behaviour change campaign based around try (new foods), swap (for healthier choices), cut (out unhealthy options) and think (more carefully about what you eat)
Affordable housing How can we increase housing supply?


New legislation to open up data about land availability and viability to increase self-building and small holds
How can we make better
use of existing housing stock?


A tax cap on house sale profit at 10% with a phased introduction and breaks for those who share their spare rooms
How can we create a new model of social housing?


A incubator for new social housing models, including employer-led community housing schemes (where a part of the salary pays for the house)
Reducing reoffending How can we reduce reoffending before prison?


An offender-produced prison magazine connecting offenders with what is happening in local communities, improving prisoner literacy to be sold by offenders on their release
How can we reduce reoffending during prison?


An AI tool to advise judges on the punitive element of the sentence so that their focus could be on the ‘problem-solving’ of support services to tackle the root causes
How can we reduce reoffending at release?


A virtual ‘through the gate’ game which buddied up offenders preparing for release with those closer to or post-release to try out or complete basic tasks which support their rehabilitation
Reducing harm caused by alcohol How can we support dependent drinkers to drink less?


An ‘on your wagon’ campaign based on behavioural science to nudge dependent drinkers to take the first step to get help
How can we support older middle class professionals to drink less?


A two-way mentoring scheme for older female professionals (who on average drink too much) to provide career advice to younger professionals (who on average drink less) who introduce them to non-drinking social activities
How can we support younger binge drinkers to drink less?


Jeff, a guerilla and aspirational non-excessive drinking movement, including a provocative call for a hate-crime against non-drinkers and secret, aspirational non-drinking events and bars


Cat Drew is Uscreates’ Delivery Director. She oversees delivery and direction of projects by using data and design techniques, ensuring that they link to the client’s wider strategic objectives and deliver impact. Previously Cat was a senior policy advisor at Policy Lab, working with government departments to promote design-based techniques in policymaking, and Head of Policy IT & Digitisation Policy at the Home Office. She was responsible for supporting police forces to digitally transform their services and processes by working with tech experts and other forces to co-design digital capabilities that set out what a digital force looks like. Prior to that Cat was Head of Neighbourhood Policing at the Home Office, and a researcher at IPPR.