A service design approach for further education providers


The Learning & Skills

Improvement Service (LSIS)


Research Programme
Capability Building Packages

Project brief

Support in helping five learning providers apply service design techniques to create better outcomes for their students.

The colleges who completed the training and developed service improvements are now championing service design within their organisations.

We have been really excited by the hard work you and your team have done for us. We are really proud of the outcomes.

Martin Steinmuller

Programme Development Manager - Community-led services, Learning and Skills Improvement Service

The challenge

Further Education providers face diverse challenges, including the need to be accountable to local communities; to evidence learning outcomes for the Ofsted assessment process, and to operate within ever-reduced budgets. Added to this, institutions need to meet the diverse needs of many stakeholder groups, from learners and parents to funders, colleagues and professional bodies. Intelligent service design, based on what students really want, is, therefore, paramount.


What was needed

The Learning & Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), a former Government body for further education improvement, required professional support to help five learning providers apply service design techniques to create better outcomes for their students. They commissioned Uscreates to provide training and a collaborative, cross-departmental approach to engage learning providers with a process of service design to improve their own further education institutions and enhance recruitment rates and attainment levels.


What we did

We took a learning by doing approach from the outset, supporting learning providers to put students at the centre of service design. The resulting Design for Improvement programme was structured around the Design Council’s ‘Double Diamond’ model (Discover; Define; Develop; Deliver). This comprised:

Discover – Workshop 1

Programme champions from each college reviewed data and gathered insights about their colleges’ existing challenges; current services; and data gaps where more user research was required.

Define – Coaching and support

Uscreates provided mentoring and weekly support calls to help the colleges conduct primary user research to better understand their challenges (e.g. journey mapping). This stage was crucial in building research and design capacity from within.

Develop – Workshop 2

the group reconvened to co-develop innovative solutions to tackle identified challenges. Halfway through the workshop, students were brought into the room as a surprise and given the opportunity to strength-test and build on emerging ideas, in order to demonstrate the value of co-creation.

Deliver – Coaching and support

with support from Uscreates, each college then developed its own service improvement programme, implementing a range of interventions to address specifically identified challenges. For instance, to increase its number of student applications, one institution mapped the user journey to identify how potential new applicants perceived the college at various touch points. It identified that there was a large time-gap between the interview and enrolment date, which might be affecting drop-off rates. It, therefore, introduced an initiative to keep these contacts ‘warm’ through regular email and communications throughout the summer period prior to enrolment. Another initiative involved the introduction of a ‘RantBox’ diary room to enable students to leave regular, honest feedback about the college, which could then be acted on to prioritise areas for service improvement.

Finally, Uscreates also developed a ‘Design for Improvement Guidance’, which is available online via the Excellence Gateway, and which offers providers learning tools, techniques, resources and testimonials to promote the value and benefits of a service design approach within the education sector.

The results

This project presents a powerful model for building service design capacity within large public sector organisations, whilst growing capability and buy-in from within.  Service improvements included:

  • Developing a learner-led listening service to tackle discrimination and promote respect
  • Introducing pop-up incentivised course tasters to engage with adult learners in deprived communities
  • Introducing learner-led commercial services within the college to provide learners with work experience and to improve their employability skills
  • Running capacity building workshops with a vertical slice of staff and departments to visualise a service blueprint so that every individual understands how their role can help Increase application rates
  • Taking a mystery shopper business development approach where staff assess services and recommend improvements as well as training opportunities

In terms of a lasting legacy, delegates from the colleges who completed the training and developed service improvements are now championing service design within their organisations. Uscreates was invited to present the Design for Improvement model at a high profile service design course at Central Saint Martins as well as the DESIS Network.