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How could your charity use digital to deliver its services to more people and stay relevant to its audience? Diabetes UK have been very innovative in this area and Graeme Manuel-Jones tells us how charities can plan and execute digital service delivery and what he thinks every charity should do about it.



  • Don’t be afraid to hand over control to decentralised experts and editors in other teams. 
  • Experiment with Agile by stealth – cherrypicking some of the key principles such as being user-led, identifying product owners and taking an iterative approach.
  • To make the case for Agile, try to match up organisational and senior management requirements with aspects of the methodology.


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At Diabetes UK we’ve been using Agile as our main digital development methodology since 2012 – officially. 

Since 2007 we’ve decentralised our website content management to teams throughout the charity, supported by the Digital team’s training and ongoing support. From 2013 we did the same for queries answered by our Helpline on social media – instead of the Digital team being the go-between, we train and support Helpline staff to respond directly to supporters’ questions, with the Digital team in an allocating, ‘triage’ role.


Agile with a capital ‘A’ usually refers to a more formal development methodology that originated in software development. It’s explained here: But agile with a small ‘a’ can also refer to a more nimble or flexible way of approaching work, through your work processes, project management or workplace environment.


Diabetes UK Digital Testing Room

Graeme-Manuel Jones

And in 2016 we handed over the keys to our email journeys and e-newsletters to their owners in other teams such as Campaigns, Prevention, Content & Creative and Healthcare Professional Liaison. Our HR team make sure digital skills and responsibilities are recognised and supported in recruitment, performance management and staff development. We work with other teams to find out what they need and what might be stopping them from embracing digital at the moment, and we come up with solutions.

This model helps us provide a better service to our users because they get to directly speak to and hear from the experts in those areas. And our frontline colleagues benefit from what they learn about our users and their needs, and from the additional skills in digital and analytics. This contributes towards our digital maturity programme to help everyone at Diabetes UK make better use of digital and to expand and amplify what we’re able to do through digital channels. And we have recently moved office and adopted a more ‘agile’, flexible working approach – and designed our new building around it.


 For digital development, Diabetes UK moved to an Agile (Scrum) methodology in 2012, using it for our main website and other digital products. This means our agencies usually work in a more formal Agile way, and our contribution also follows the typical methodology:

  • product owners
  • user stories
  • backlog
  • sprints
  • stand-ups
  • minimal viable product
  • wash-ups.

… but from the Diabetes UK side we’re not hunkered down with the developers focusing only on that project/that sprint – we are also juggling our ‘day jobs’ at the same time.


On iterative Agile development our best example remains the online risk score There are currently 11.9 million people in the UK at increased risk of developing Type 2, so to expand beyond our risk assessment programme at roadshow events we won a small amount of funding to develop a basic online version of our questionnaire. It was launched in 2010 and allows you to assess your level of risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. 

Through developing a backlog of user stories, we were able to move quickly at points when further funding became available and this allowed us to do improvements such as:

  • better data capture and content management system (2011-12)
  • optimising for mobile and user experience, which, among other things, increased the GP referral rate from 16% to 27%. (2013)
  • an offline electronic version – an app – to improve user experience and data flow when assessing risk at our roadshow events (2015).

Anyone with the two highest levels of risk score is given a referral letter to take to their GP. Users can provide their contact details and, for anyone opting in, we send a series of follow-up emails.

Our users passed 1m in March 2016 and by the end of February 2017 had reached almost 1.3m. In addition, the GP referral rate rose from 16% to 27%.

Diabetes UK mobile risk score

DUK adaptive design

DUK Adaptive Design


 User stories describe features from the perspective of the person who’ll benefit from them. For example:  

  • As a… User
  • I want… on the results page, to see information (content and links) related to my risk level
  • So that… I can easily access content that is relevant to me, to help me take steps to reduce my risk.

Each user story would also be given a code, a priority level (high/medium/low) a Sprint planning status (On backlog/Completed), and fields for Notes/Comments, Tags and Tasks, along with any relevant attachments such as screenshots. We use the online collaboration tool Podio to create and manage the user stories.


Three of the key elements of Agile that helped us develop the online risk score were:

  • Product ownership
  • User stories
  • An incremental approach/development of minimum viable product (MVP) at each stage.

Although we didn’t have full adoption of Agile by the charity at that point, and certainly for the risk score it took a while to agree a product owner (meaning the Digital team was the de facto owner till we did), we were nevertheless able to develop user stories and make incremental improvements/MVPs working with our agency, Nonsense.

I thought of this as ‘Agile by stealth’ – which worked as a way to benefit from some of the principles while we worked on getting agreement for an Agile approach as standard. One clear benefit was that, because we had user stories ready and waiting, we were able to move quickly whenever further small amounts of funding became available, usually through sponsorship, to make the priority improvements such as better data capture, analytics and content management, and put them live.


A bit later, as part of our new digital strategy, we also finally identified and agreed owners throughout the organisation for our various digital products.

This made the user stories much richer and allowed us to focus on internal users as well as external ones. It also promoted a real feeling of ownership and engagement from the owners – they felt more invested in the success of the product, more conscious of the need to be user-led, more able to get hands-on with analytics and testing, and – crucially – more likely to see the value of finding additional budget to support digital marketing for their product. 

To encourage engagement it’s important to demystify Agile and show that it’s not just a set of buzzwords but actually a pretty common-sense approach that puts the users first and allows you to identify, prioritise and make improvements that satisfy user needs.

Mobile app - diabetes risk tool

Diabetes risk tool mobile optimised

Our small improvements to the risk score from 2010 to 2012 and bigger improvements in 2013 and 2014 were followed in 2015 by the development of an electronic version of the risk score – an app – that could be used offline at our Roadshow events, where we often have no wifi access – but that could push the data to the master risk score database once we were somewhere with a connection.

Find out more about how we developed our app:

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