At Neontribe we’ve been all fired up by a tiny discovery project that we’ve recently been doing for the Alexandra Rose Charity and their partners Food Matters, a leading UK food policy and advocacy organisation. Using a simple model of a couple of workshops and some thinking funded by the Big Lottery fund, we’ve been helping them set the direction for introducing digital solutions into their Rose Voucher schemes.

The Rose Vouchers for Fruit & Veg scheme supports families on low incomes to access a healthy diet and avoid food poverty. The project works in partnership with local children’s centres to distribute vouchers to families in need which can only be redeemed for fresh fruit & veg at participating local markets. With great qualitative and quantitative evaluation data, the Rose Voucher schemes are in high demand. Several cities have recently competed to be the next to get in on the action.

However with a process reliant on paper vouchers, shoeboxes, 3 different Excel spreadsheets, and lynchpin volunteers standing in post office queues, the team behind the project have become very aware that to scale and spread the benefits of their work, they need to look to digital development.

Our first workshop was with the core team who administer the scheme, and the second with those outside the organisation who get the benefits of the scheme to those in need - including a mix of volunteers and staff from children’s centres and council market teams.

Using journey mapping of existing processes and spending a lot of time recording and validating the pain points those journeys create, we came up with the following observations which are helping us shape a fundraising plan for digital enhancements to Rose Vouchers:

1) Varying areas have varying requirements for implementation of the scheme

"We don’t work like that here"

The project has a commitment to working with local authorities, and requires them to recognise and support the benefits that Rose Vouchers can bring to those in their area who are most in need. Different authorities and markets prefer different methods of implementing the scheme, and their requirements may present a barrier to national reach. Any digital development needs to retain some flexibility in order to devise different processes to suit different local authorities.

2) Implementation details may be different in the same area at different points in the project's lifetime.

"We’re about to get iZettle across the market - so now it would be good to see if we could have Rose Voucher cards - but if you’d asked me last year…"

Traders are a key user group for the schemes’ success. Implementation typically starts on a small scale and grows from there, propelled by market traders as advocates. Extensive set-up investment in money or time will disrupt this pattern, and this advocacy. Any digital development must be sympathetic to this.

3) Personal contact at the Children's Centre is an important output of the project

"Don't make me stamp any more vouchers"

The time taken to sign up participants, and then to regularly distribute physical vouchers, is seen as onerous. However, it's also a welcome motivator for a visit which might not occur in an entirely digital solution with no requirement for physical presence. Every visit is an opportunity for the centre staff to chat with participants about the challenges they face in their lives, and make them aware of other services that might help. Some of the stages appear to be seen as overly onerous, possibly because the benefit of those particular elements of the process are ill-explored or poorly communicated.

4) Children's centres have a wide variety of network access and IT infrastructure.

"I don't really mind doing this for the good of the scheme, but isn't there an easier way?"

Children's centre staff have varying degrees of comfort with digital solutions, and while the current paper solution is viewed as onerous, a prospective digital solution is not universally welcome either due to perceived and actual issues with IT infrastructure. Robustness in the face of hardware and network failure is a key consideration in the success of any digital intervention.

5) Recipients may not always find it easy to spend their vouchers.

"Are they going to take my voucher or will they laugh at me?"

There is a pain point for recipients in identifying firstly which traders take the vouchers and secondly, which will treat them well. While this may not be a problem that technology can – or should – solve, it may form an adjunct to a piece of development with other benefits.

6) Traders are concerned with reliability and speed at the point of sale.

"I'd do it straight away, but my dad won't touch an app."

Markets are rarely equipped to use electronic devices at the point of sale, nor are moves to make them so welcomed by all traders. The challenges of network access and connectivity may not affect them as seriously as recipients, but they are still real issues. Should a sale be lost to a shoddy network connection, then the scheme will lose goodwill.

7) Traders and those who work with them are looking for speedy redemption

"Don't make me stand in the post office queue any more."

Traders live in a cash economy; often their wholesalers only accept cash, so fast access to money from voucher sales is important. Any change to the redemption process needs to speed this process rather than reduce it, as well as reducing the time taken by market reps. or council employees to administer the redemption.

8) Administrators spend valuable time re-keying data

"If the scheme gets much bigger I might not be able to do this anymore!"

The audit trail for a voucher is created in a manual process, involving 3 different excel spreadsheets held by 2 different organisations, as well as hand written logs of voucher numbers that are then re-entered into these spreadsheets. Metrics are created at evaluation points by manipulation of the spreadsheets, and referring back to paper based data. The system is effective under conscientious administration but will not scale well.

The next stage of the project is to add depth to some ideas for elements of the existing process which can be augmented with digital solutions. We're also interested in how Rose Vouchers scheme sits in the wider landscape of assistance for people with these challenges in their lives. With some lovely serendipity, we came across a post on the Digital Health blog which talks about a discovery phase for the Healthy Start programme - and look forward to sharing more learning along to way to an alpha solution.