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Co-designing a digital platform to deliver borough-wide social prescribing

Sometimes a new piece of work fits like a glove.

That’s how it was with the Royal Borough of Kingston. They wanted a bespoke social prescribing tool for their ‘Connected Kingston’ project. A tool built around the needs of residents, workers and services.


Royal Borough of Kingston Council


Discovery / Alpha / Beta / Live


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Made for Ayup

However, their requirements went beyond user-centred design. Their digital partner needed to follow Government Digital Service (GDS) principles, integrate with their digital team and engage hundreds of local residents and organisations in co-creation activities.

Oh, and they needed a beta version ready within three months.It was made for Ayup.

So far we’ve delivered Phase 1 on time and exceeded expectations. We’ve also set UK data standards for social prescribing. And we’ve presented on the project at Local Gov Camp and to neighbouring boroughs.

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The Problem

Social prescribing is a process that connects people to local activities that benefit their health and wellbeing. Its used by GPs and other frontline workers to get people’s non-clinical needs met within their community. When it works people’s self-care and support improves and strain on shrinking frontline services reduces.

But social prescribing in RBK wasn’t happening. Information was fragmented, interpretations were diverse and practice was inconsistent.

The challenge

So RBK asked us to build a product that unified social prescribing across the borough. A product that made prescribing easier while supporting the diverse referral processes in use by council and Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) services and groups.

RBK’s discovery work had already uncovered several well-intentioned but stale social prescribing directories. Typically based on off-the-shelf platforms they were designed the wrong way with no adoption strategy. This gave us four challenges:

  • Design and co-create in a way that builds interest and enthusiasm among the people who’ll use it
  • Enable a flexible service model - that connects users equally well to small community groups and large council services
  • Build with an open API - so it integrates with other digital tools and services, increasing usefulness across its lifespan
  • Follow the GDS Digital Service Standard set of 18 principles for building a great digital service
“We chose Ayup because...”

RBK ran a formal contract tendering process. They chose Ayup because we promised a bespoke digital service co-created with local people and built to GDS standards. They said they liked our values and person-centred ways of working with vulnerable people.

“Ayup’s response was very good. They were impressive, interested, engaged and energetic. They bought a modern way of working combined with old-fashioned values of respect and proper engagement. That really appealed. Some of the other bids were very traditional. Companies saying ‘we've built it and you'll love it’. The bid from Ayup didn’t look like that. And they were very good in person. We felt we could work with them.”

Chris Jones, Adult Social Care Commissioner, RBK

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Remote working that actually works

It’s been a team effort. Even though RBK is in the south and we’re in Leeds it’s felt like we’re working in the same room. We talk every day, with team standups twice weekly. Contact is even more intense during sprints.

Working in this way created a ‘no delay’ culture, avoiding the bottlenecks of big reveals and feature approvals. It also reduced the risk of scope creep and project failure associated with traditional supplier-client relationships. When things went wrong no one got blamed and we fixed it together.

“Remote working hasn’t been difficult because the tech is there to help us be collaborative and make good decisions. It’s meant Mike (of Ayup) and I can share the product management role. The work is great but the relationship has made for a great experience.”

Tim Taylor, IT Business Analyst, Digital Design Team, RBK

Delivering 4 stages in 3 months

It was June and RBK had already arranged staff training dates for September (they were confident we’d deliver!). We needed to move fast, so we did.

Agile delivery: Discovery phase Discovery
Agile delivery: Invent phase Alpha
Agile delivery: Engineering phase Beta
Agile delivery: Improve phase Live


Discovery: deep-dive research with our partner mHabitat

With our delivery partners mHabitat we reviewed RBK’s existing research and began an assumption validation process. Assumption validation is a way of learning more about the needs and behaviours of the ‘actors’ involved in a process.

That included RBK residents, workers and services. We ran a stakeholder workshop for 52 people from the council, VCS and resident groups. Then we ran 1-1s with 33 people representing 16 groups. The work generated 298 insights that we synthesized into a list of user stories. It also gave people a chance to know us and feel comfortable about co-creating together.


Rapid prototyping and testing

Research alone isn’t enough. For a project of this scale we needed to deepen our learning by testing solutions. So we created a series of simple clickable wireframes and tested them with 25 workers, over nine one hour sessions. The wireframes were deliberately lo-fi so we could iterate them in between tests.

The tests generated accurate insights into people’s design and accessibility requirements. Afterwards we synthesized the feedback and began mapping the product’s architecture. It is was also during this stage that we created the Connected Kingston brand.


Getting serious about data

More testing. This time a high-fidelity prototype with real features and real backend data. We also did more data validation work, increasing certainty about what data to capture, its presentation format, and its required storage structure. At the same time we began work on the product’s API, turning it into an interoperable system.

This enabled it to integrate with the council website and created scope for future chatbot interfaces. More immediately though it meant we were able to connect it to Gov.UK’s Notify and PaaS systems. Notify makes it easier to implement SMS messaging for users. PaaS provides trusted hosting and speeds up new application deployment.


Punctual delivery followed by adoption success

Digital services as complex as Connected Kingston don’t go from not-live to live overnight. Instead they go through a series of staged launches, specific to different audience groups. Each milestone we hit increased RBK’s anticipation of success.

By September we’d hit them all and delivered Phase 1’s beta for workers bang on time. Not only that but we actually delivered 90% of the final system, exceeding RBK’s requirements. Since then worker and service adoption has been excellent, rapidly generating value. RBK believe our co-design and open approach is partly responsible because stakeholders have felt so involved.


  • Microservice architecture (RESTful API, backend SPA, frontend website)
  • Backend language (PHP -Laravel)
  • JavaScript framework (Vue.js)
  • API authentication (OAuth 2.0)
  • Relational database (MySQL)
  • Bespoke search engine (Elasticsearch)
  • Transactional SMS and emails (GOV Notify)
  • Infrastructure (GOV PaaS, AWS, Docker)

Moving forward

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have noticed our work. They see its data standards as a benchmark for council run social prescribing platforms. So, now we’re on to Phase 2, delivering the public beta and a user interface for residents. We’ve also developed a playbook. This guide to the project culture and processes helps everyone stay focused and reduces disruption to project delivery as personnel change.

“We’ve had a really positive experience. So good that we teamed up again to do a show and tell for LB Hackney, and a presentation at Local Gov Camp.” Chris Jones, Adult Social Care Commissioner, RBK

“I’d absolutely recommend Ayup. We’ve got full value for money. We want to use them again in the future.” Tim Taylor, IT Business Analyst, Digital Design Team, RBK

Can we help you?

Want us to come and share what we learnt with your team? Or talk to us about a different project?

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