“We built our own care journalling app”

“We built our own care journalling app”

When digital strategist Claire Shuter spotted care potential in an education tool she moved fast to make something for adult care. Here’s how she did it…

I’m a director at council-owned private care provider in the South East of England where the people we support in our day services (adults with learning disabilities or older people) work towards individual goals to build their independence. Traditionally documenting their progress was literally a tick-box exercise. At the end of every day staff would fill out a sheet that’d probably sit in the clients’ file until their next six month review.

In 2019 my son started at primary school where they were using a brilliant product called Tapestry. It’s an online journal that charts progression through early years; his teacher would post photos, videos and observations from his day and I’d be able to see them on my phone. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and it dawned on me that our day services could really benefit from similar technology.

The trial…

To test this I bought a couple of Tapestry licenses. It’s a children’s product but I decided if we could test the concept in our services we’d get some valuable feedback. Right from the start the service users were really engaged. They didn’t care that it said ‘child’ or referred to the National Curriculum, they just loved having a visual record that they could show friends and family.

Staff liked being able to capture a moment – get a picture or a video of an activity in the day – and it really saved them time writing up those sheets at the end of the day. Social workers really valued the meaningful evidence of progression; they could actually observe via photos and videos.

The idea…

On the back of the brilliant feedback from service users and staff we decided we wanted to have a product like this.

Understanding what a digital journalling tool might do for our clients meant spending a lot of time in our services. I sat in sessions, saw how people were using things, listened to the conversations, and really took on board what was going on. It wasn’t all positive.

Looking for feedback from families at a carers group I used the word ‘Facebook’ to describe the product we wanted to make. The conversation went downhill from there. The immediate reaction was that we’d be sharing data, photos and videos across the internet.

The whole session degenerated and I really couldn’t recover it. It was a learning curve for me: if you can show people something tangible it makes a huge difference.

The design…

I approached childcare tech providers to develop our idea but no one was interested in building something for an adult setting…so we built our own! We engaged a developer to build the technology and started with user stories. I sat with customers and with staff, writing down what they wanted the technology to do.

It was things like ‘as a support worker I want to be able to take multiple photos to show different phases of what we’re doing’ or ‘as a customer I want to have an app I can download from the app store to my device’.

In one week we had something we could test in our services and in six weeks we had a product. It was the most productive six weeks of my life! During that time we were constantly back and forth to the design, changing, tweaking, and making sure the functionality was going to suit the users’ needs.

Ten weeks after we started we rolled out the app to 800 learning disability users and 400 older people. We’re now developing an app that’ll allow friends and families to access the content.

The original tool is available on the app store, and we’re really excited that we’ve been able to build something specific to the needs of our customers and staff.

Claire's tips for successful product development

Fail fast

Sometimes there’s a drive that “we must get to 100 customers” or “we must get this performance indicator ‘green’. ” Actually sometimes an idea isn’t working; you just have to call it a day and move on.

Work quickly

We built our digital application in six weeks. I worked in local government for 15 years and wouldn’t have been able to get a cabinet paper through in six weeks, but the fact we could work so quickly meant that we had something to show, which is so important when you’re trying to engage people with what you’re doing.

Start small

You don’t need a focus group with 200 people or a survey of all your whole customer population. Just sitting in a room and observing and listening is really valuable.


About Claire Shuter

Claire Shuter is corporate development director at ECL, a private care provider wholly owned by Essex County Council.