For the last year, I’ve enjoyed working with Public Health England to make a real difference to the lives of over 600,000 children between 4 to 7 years who are above a healthy weight.

The Digital Weight Management programme is a great demonstrator of Public Health England’s new ways of working; leading with a digital and design mindset to improve health outcomes. Throughout this work, FutureGov and Public Health England have worked as a blended team bringing together diverse disciplines from design and digital to diet, physical activity and behavioural science.

Below is a blog I wrote with Jamie Blackshaw, the Product Owner and Obesity Lead, and Helena Wehling, the Behavioural Insights Lead at Public Health England, sharing the opportunity for digital, design and change, how we worked together, and the service proposition that we designed with families and that we are hoping to take into Beta testing soon. The blog was first published on DHSC’s Digital Health and Social Care Blog.

Public Health England (PHE) is co-designing Our Family Health to support personalised behaviour change for families with children aged 4 to 7 years. The service aims to help whole families adopt lifestyle behaviour changes to help their children either maintain or grow into a healthy weight.

The opportunity

Families who engage with local face-to-face family weight management services benefit from that support. The trouble is that not all families with children identified as being above a healthy weight have access to such services. Even when services are available, families do not always use them or sustain change once support has ended.

PHE has a responsibility to support local services. So, it is important to understand how healthy lifestyle behaviour change support can be more accessible to families and to better meet their needs. With technology featuring in our everyday lives, it makes sense to explore how it can support families as they embark on healthy lifestyle changes.

We found that there are many digital products in the health and wellbeing market, but there is a gap and an opportunity for trusted, family-friendly digital support that adequately meets families’ needs. We also found that families need solutions that bring together high-quality content and functionality in a simple way, to meet their complex needs and diverse lifestyles.

This is particularly true of families who have the motivation to get on their healthy weight journey but don’t have the tools or support to do so. These families end up trying to make changes on their own, often with little success which can be disheartening.

PHE and FutureGov collate user research

How we worked

Using an agile way of working, the team has combined know-how around healthy eating and healthy weight, behavioural science, and human-centred design. We spent time with parents and children nearly every week in the last year to better understand their lifestyles, motivations and challenges, to shape and prototype a service with them that really works for them.

We found that for many families, it’s about health, not weight. They often know what healthy means, but they need help with making lifestyle changes. They’re also connected through digital 24/7 and really value using technology to help with children’s learning and development.

PHE and FutureGov completed the discovery and the alpha phases between January 2018 and February 2019. Read more about how we worked in discovery and our alpha service assessment.

The service

Our Family Health, our early-stage prototype, is a healthier lifestyle service that supports whole families in the areas of healthy eating, being active, parenting and happiness.

During alpha, we iteratively prototyped a range of solutions with 20 families from C2, D and E income groups — a test and learn approach. We have learned from families that this service needs to provide the following value propositions to best meet their needs:

A range of healthy tools

The service provides practical, easily accessible family health information, activities and games ‘kitemarked’ by the NHS/PHE as trusted sources, and available at hand 24/7.

I feel like this is the kind of thing that would keep supporting you — rather than getting dusty on the shelf like all the other things I’ve tried…this service wouldn’t abandon me!


One simple step at a time

Families can set and monitor personal health goals. The goals are developed by experts and broken down into achievable, practical steps the whole family can do together.

It would be good to get those nudges via text to remind me to do something…rather than me feeling it’s all too hard and just giving up on it


Seeing progress

Families can see their progress and achievements, and track behaviours over time.

Would be good to see how we’re doing on the dashboard — if we’ve still got a bit to do before we reach our goal for today, it would be the motivation to say to the kids — ‘come on, let’s go for a 10-minute walk…it would get us out the door’


Others like us

Parents can join a moderated online community of parents on a similar journey for encouragement and inspiration. They can ask questions and receive instant expert-based answers through a virtual assistant.

If you just wanted a black and white answer at 4 am when you were on your own and maybe worrying about something, it would be useful (instant Q&A)


Learning through play and reward

The service is as much for children as it is for adults. Children can access a child-safe section with fun videos and games, where their goals are linked to a second-life avatar to transfer online into real-life behaviours.

You can change him into a different cat, you can feed him. Alien — I liked feeding…washing the alien.


What’s next?

The alpha phase built on findings from discovery and prioritised and tested concepts with families. The beta phase will focus on building the minimum viable product and testing that over an extended period of time with families across the country.

This future phase of the work represents an exciting opportunity — not least of all learning from families about their experiences using the service — what worked for them, what didn’t, and how we can make it better. We are now busy thinking about the skills we need at PHE to continue to improve and manage the service.

We’re also looking at how we evaluate how well the service is working for families, and how it can work alone, as well as alongside existing face-to-face services.

Get in touch

We’re always happy to answer any questions you have about FutureGov and discuss how we can work together.

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