Service Design for Families Bereaved by Crime


We have been working with Victim Support Scotland (VSS) to design a new service to support families bereaved by crime.  


A series of reviews and reports highlighted that families bereaved by crime experienced fragmented services and could suffer repeated trauma by having to tell their story again and again to different agencies and support providers. As part of a strategy to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, Scottish Government provided funding for VSS to design and launch the new service. Following a competitive tender process, Thrive was appointed to lead the design process.


Through speaking with families bereaved by crime, stakeholders, current VSS staff and people who previously held roles in the criminal system, we identified a number of actionable insights that provided opportunities for improvement in VSS and across partner agencies. We worked closely with the VSS team to identify practices and cultural patterns within their own organisation that would need to change in order to implement a new service and a new way of working to support families bereaved by crime. Working closely with a VSS team, we helped to generate enthusiasm and ownership for the change process.


Through the initial ‘discovery’ phase, it became clear that the organisations across the system were not focused on understanding and improving the experience of families bereaved by crime.  Instead, information and support provision were often driven by requirements of the criminal justice system and different agencies’ statutory responsibilities.


VSS had previously offered support to families bereaved by crime in a reactive way, responding to what families said they needed. Support would be delivered by different volunteers depending upon their availability. We worked closely with staff and volunteers to help them develop insights, based on real life experiences, into how families in trauma would experience the current mode of support. From here we worked together to co-design opportunities for improvement.


The design of the new service is informed by an understanding of trauma and grief. It aims to ensure that the rights of families bereaved by murder are upheld and it gives dedicated, fully trained case workers the skills they need to provide proactive, informed support. A ‘team around the family’ recognises the additional strain on family dynamics caused by traumatic events. New protocols have been developed between VSS, Police and Crown Office Prosecution Service to enable better information sharing and co-ordinated support for families.  A protocol between VSS and the Prison Service will improve families experience of receiving information about perpetrators parole and release from prison.  Case workers have an in-depth understanding of the criminal justice system and, aware of families need to know what to expect and to have choice and control where possible, they will provide on-going support through a journey that no one would wish to go on.


We discovered that information available for families was provided in ways that discharged agencies’ responsibilities but did not help families. We redesigned information objects so that they could be helpful, manageable, in plain language and in a format that would enable case workers to use them to work with families, engaging with the skills and capabilities that family members have, enabling them to make informed decisions. Information products have been redesigned so that they can easily be adapted for digital channels so that those who chose not to access support from VSS can still have obtain accessible, comprehensive and consistent information.


Throughout the period of our work with VSS the organisation was going through significant change.  Part of our role was to highlight learning from the design process that could inform and support the change process. By supporting the design team through the change process, they maintained focus, enthusiasm and commitment to implement the new service and improve outcomes for families bereaved by crime.


Through the service design process, we introduced capacity into the organisation to:


  • Undertake ethical service user engagement

  • Generate insights from mapping user journeys and organisational processes

  • Identify opportunities for change

  • Work with agile planning processes to develop and test service improvements

  • Apply system thinking to ‘whole system’ change

  • Continue to improve and develop the service in use.


The new service is being prototyped for launch to new cases and subsequent roll out later in 2019. 


While much of our design activity is about improving quality of life for people, in this case our focus has been on doing what is possible to make life less bad.  Families bereaved by crime gave their time and their input generously, with many of them telling us that they wanted to ensure that no one had to go through what they went through interacting with the criminal justice system. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice invited us to speak at the Victims’ Taskforce and to describe the service design process with VSS and stakeholder.  We described a system in which organisational cultures are resistant to service design approaches, where ‘services’ are defined by statutory requirements, not empathy for human needs, and where good people are delivering bad processes.  Service design can offer tools and methods to support system change, however, in complex setting such as the criminal justice system, service designers must bring an in-depth understanding of system change and a thick skin.

1 Lochrin Square 92-98, Fountainbridge, Edinburgh EH3 9QA

Thrive Associates: UK Registered company 10895155

  • Grey LinkedIn Icon
  • Grey Twitter Icon