In stage two we decided to test the demand for and impact of KidsConnect on parents and their kids. To do this as rigorously as possible we designed a randomised controlled trial (RCT) using a paper prototype of our app.

At this stage of the competition we had not built the app itself. But we realised that a paper version could still provide parents with accurate, up to date and relevant information about children’s activities near them, and we could test the impact of that.

Using Pilgrim’s Way Children’s Centre in Southwark as the geographical centre for our trial, we researched kids activities and services available within a 1km radius and produced a small booklet providing details about them, including maps and transport information. We chose Pilgrim’s Way because it serves a community made up of many of the parents we think will benefit most from KidsConnect, including migrant families and those on low incomes.

We recruited participants for our RCT by distributing flyers in the local area inviting parents and carers to drop into the Children’s Centre. At the first session we carried out qualitative semi-structured interviews with all our participants about how they’d spent their time with their children in the previous week, then sent 15 away with the prototype to use for a week and 11 without it. A week later 23 of the 26 original participants returned and we interviewed them again to see if their behaviour had changed.

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The results were very encouraging. 29% of the participants who’d had the prototype had done something entirely new that they’d found out about from the booklet and 86% had specific plans to do one of the activities during the following week. Half the participants who’d had the booklet spontaneously asked us for further copies to give to their friends and family. All this compared to the control group whose behaviour had not significantly changed.

One thing we hadn’t expected was what we’ve called the ‘inspiration effect’ of the prototype – where parents who were unable for one reason or another to attend the activities listed in the booklet were nonetheless inspired by reading it to do new things with their kids, such as going to the library or making music with pots and pans in the park. Moving forward we’ll be working to maximise this inspiration effect through the design of the app.

Technology use among the the test group was high, almost all had smart phones even if they did not have computers or internet at home. And 89% of the 23 returning participants told us they would rather receive information through an app than a booklet, strongly validating our theory that parents want to use their smartphone to find out about kids activities.

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We’re so grateful to the staff and users of Pilgrim’s Way who made our trial possible – the learning we have gained is already proving invaluable as we continue developing KidsConnect. We’ll be returning in stage three of the challenge to start testing the design of the app with our users before we embark on a full scale pilot of the KidsConnect service in a single ward.

You can get in touch with KidsConnect via twitter.