A new report called Designing Social Investment: User Research has just been published on Good Finance.

This is a highly practical, albeit niche report by the design agency Snook. It shows the steps taken to build a digital resource about social investment, the types of people from social enterprises and charities that might need such a resource and their attitudes and experiences of looking for finance.

More sits behind the creation of Good Finance than meets the eye. The website is the result of three rounds of deep user testing and research. At every stage of development the website’s intended users - social enterprises and charities - acted as partners. The user-centred approach was taken to try to make goodfinance.org.uk a platform that talks about social investment in the right way for these organisations.

It’s great to be able to publish all three pieces of user research together for the first time. The series of three reports show the movement of the project from the broad framing of a design problem, around language and accessibility of social investment, to the testing of potential solutions and finally, the detailed process that led to creating a digital product.

The three phases of research and testing were all commissioned by the Inclusive Economy Unit in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, where I work. The first project was a broad piece of user-research led by the Design Council in 2013, which laid the ground for later design projects. The second project in 2015, led by Snook and The Point People, worked mostly with investors and funders and together they developed, tested and refined four ideas to improve the social investment field. In this second design project, language, accessible information and pathways to the right investment came up repeatedly. Goodfinance.org.uk was developed in the third phase of work, which this new report describes, led by key sector partners, and agencies Snook and New Digital Partnership. It builds on a core concept that was developed in the earlier research for a trusted digital resource, to act as the first port of call for charities and social enterprises interested in taking on investment.

There are transferable approaches and insights from all three phases of work for other user-centered projects about social investment. For example, the latest report shows:

  • How to structure a user-centred project: the final phase of work to build Good Finance took six months. In the course of the project the team conducted 19 hour-long interviews with social ventures and intermediaries, they also received 83 responses to a survey about attitudes to investment and preferences for accessing information. The project team then held workshops with charities and social enterprises to refine the ideas that had been selected as features for the website.
  • The types of people that might be looking for investment and their mindsets: four personas/characters were developed by the research team, which covered a range of different users within the identified target audience of charities and social enterprises. The personas range from ‘business savvy’, someone who knows about investment and wants quick connections to the right opportunities, to ‘the safe-guarder’, someone with a more traditional approach to business who might be cautious about investment. For each persona a brief description of their needs and challenges was developed, and a user journey was constructed to reflect the steps and moments of interaction they were likely to have with the website.
  • Principles for co-designing with social organisations: the project finished with a specification for the website and a set of seven design principles for future work, e.g. ‘Empowering - the site should be empowering to allow charities and social enterprises to identify their own educational journey’.

Doing user research also almost always brings up sharper, more uncomfortable realities about the experiences of people on the receiving end of whatever it is you are designing. This work was no exception. In the final research report one participant commented “The stars haven’t aligned to allow corporate financiers to work with social enterprises”, however, another said “I wouldn’t shy away from borrowing. You have to be sustainable”. This doesn’t mean that social investment isn’t a useful tool for many organisations, but building ideas out from what people are really thinking about their experiences of investment is an obvious way to sense check assumptions about what is working.

The set of three reports gives us a useful and creative bank of knowledge about what people really think and feel when they are looking for finance. Good Finance is the most developed design-led project in the sector to date but there is huge potential to make more of the iterative, user-centred and collaborative approaches offered by design in social investment. 

By Camilla Buchanan, Senior Policy Advisor, Government Inclusive Economy Unit (DCMS)