The GOV.UK Service Manual says that “the purpose of the discovery phase is to understand the problem that needs to be solved.”

The scope for our discovery is to look at how we tell education providers (such as schools, academies, colleges and independent learning providers) how much funding they have been allocated, and when they will receive payments.

We work in an agile way, which includes working in 2 week periods called sprints. We set 4 goals for our first sprint.

Goal 1: produce a high level map of how initial allocations and payment schedules for each funding stream are currently communicated, and to which providers

We met with our colleagues from ESFA’s Operational Excellence team to gather information. We spoke to the pre 16, 16 to 19 and adult funding teams. We asked them how they currently communicate allocations and payment schedules to providers.

We then started to map the platforms used to communicate different types of funding to providers. We demonstrated that, for example, an academy receives multiple different types of funding, and finds out about them through different channels including:

  • a PDF statement on the Document exchange service for their general annual grant allocation
  • finding themselves on spreadsheets on GOV.UK for their pupil premium and universal infant free school meals allocations
  • accessing spreadsheets and on screen information via the View latest funding service for their PE and sport premium

We did not manage to complete our information gathering during this sprint, and will continue this in sprint 2. We plan to speak to the contracts and payments team about how and when we share payment schedules with education providers.

Goal 2: complete analysis of previous user research and start to identify gaps for research

A lot of user research has previously been conducted in this area including research by the:

  • Design lab team with internal and external users to map touchpoints, needs and pain points in the end to end funding service journeys
  • Manage your education and skills funding (MYESF) team to explore the use of the Document exchange service, the use of allocation statements and the needs of internal and external users
  • Schools account team to map different processes currently used by DfE to share content with schools for different purposes
  • Schools account team to understand the needs and responsibilities of academy trust users versus individual academy users
  • ESFA data science team to understand external users needs and pain points when submitting data to ESFA

Our key insights from bringing together this user research include that:

  • external users lack certainty on what they need to do, when they need to do it, and how much funding they will be receiving
  • communications are confusing, fragmented and frustrating for both internal and external users due to the variety of platforms (and logins) required
  • not all statements are presented in the same way - the language, format and calculations are different for each funding stream and this lack of consistency affects both internal and external users
  • most external users perform a 'light touch' check when viewing allocation statements, whilst a some conduct a 'deep dive', however, some allocation statements do not meet user needs of either
  • external users are task-driven, they only use the systems when required to check what they need and complete an action, and therefore rely on timely and accurate reminders
  • external users struggle to complete their forecasting before knowing how much they will receive, meaning that allocation statements are eagerly anticipated by education providers, so they can validate their estimations and effectively plan for the year

Goal 3: complete content analysis for adult allocations

We started our content analysis looking at adult funding allocations, as this content was readily available to us.

We analysed the existing allocation statements and asked questions including:

  • where does this communication come from?
  • what funding stream/streams does it cover?
  • has this funding stream had any changes in the past?
  • is this reflected in the content?
  • what format is it in?
  • how are the different funding amounts broken down?
  • does it include links to GOV.UK guidance - If so, what are they?

We also looked at the corresponding contracts and agreements, because these contained payment schedule information.

We then looked at the relevant GOV.UK guidance, as well as reviewing past ESFA update content for references to adult allocations.

We’ll be sharing content analysis findings in future sprints.

Goal 4: complete the first draft of the stakeholder map

Our final goal was to complete a first draft of our stakeholder map. This will be an evolving map that we will add to over time.

We divided our stakeholders into 4 categories.

Responsible

Responsible stakeholders are the people who do the work to achieve the task. This is us, the digital delivery team. We communicate via our stand ups, our sprint ceremonies and our team Slack channel, as well as collaborating regularly.

Accountable

Accountable stakeholders are the people who are ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the task. This is our Deputy Director Cathy Dutton and Deputy Service Owner Richard Stewart. We keep these people up to date via a governance meeting at the end of each sprint.

Consulted

Consulted stakeholders are people whose opinions we seek and who are subject matter experts. We have lots of stakeholders in this category including our colleagues in the ESFA:

  • operational excellence team
  • contracts and payments team
  • communications, content and digital business services team

We keep these people up to date via our show and tells, and posts such as these. We also interact with them through meetings and interviews.

Informed

The final group of stakeholders is ‘informed’ - people who are kept up to date on the progress of the tasks. This group includes Funding Director Gemma Peck and Deputy Director of Operational Excellence Mo Ahmed. We keep these stakeholders up to date via our show and tells, and posts such as these.

Sprint 2 goals

Next sprint our goals are to:

  • complete our information gathering on remaining funding streams
  • complete our information gathering on payment schedules
  • produce a user research plan
  • complete content analysis for pre 16 content

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