Understanding user journeys creates a more strategic funding approach


Jennifer Shea and NPC


At New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), we’ve been thinking a lot lately about the most meaningful ways to incorporate the voice of beneficiaries or service users into charities’ services and activities, especially into their impact practices.

Across a range of projects we’re working on right now, we’re also increasingly looking at the importance of mapping user journeys.

Right now, for example, we’re working with a group of charities in the youth sector, looking at the user journeys of young people with complex needs to help us understand the potential role of digital technologies to improve their experiences and outcomes.

User journey mapping is a well established tool in digital and service design but in our experience, it is often not utilised by charities or funders. Due to this lack of use, there is at times repetition of services across different sectors, while in other cases there are gaps where no suitable interventions exist in response to a particular user need.

If more funders – in coordination with the organisations they fund – begin to embrace user journeys as a tool, a number of benefits could result.

In the social sector, mapping user journeys can help funders take a more strategic approach to the issues that most interest them. They can fund organisations or interventions in order to tackle issues in a coordinated way and at a range of different points in the journey.

For example, by looking at the journeys of young people with mental health issues, or at risk of homelessness, we can better understand how their experiences unfold. This helps us to see the points at which interventions can be made, opportunities for coordinated service provision, missed opportunities for intervention, and instances of service offer duplication.

Perhaps most importantly, it can help funders to understand whether it might be possible to prevent problems from escalating by identifying opportunities to fund interventions earlier in the individual’s journey.

Typically, creating a user journey involves mapping out the path that a series of ‘personas’ representing different types of service users (or potential service users) make as they navigate through a particular issue.

These maps include ‘touchpoints’ along the way (where interventions can be made), the relative time it takes to progress from one stage to the next, and bottlenecks. Ideally this should be based on direct evidence and the experiences of service users gained through research exercises including in depth interviews, workshops, and observation, highlighting again the importance of user voice. While there are links between user journeys and theories of change (about which NPC has written extensively), they are not the same thing.

Theories of change focus on outcomes leading to a goal, while user journeys focus on individual experiences on the way to outcomes. We would recommend the use of both tools, with theories of change helping to guide the organisational strategy and form the basis for impact measurement, with user journeys helping to define and refine particular services.

We encourage more funders to work with user journeys as a more strategic way of approaching thorny problems. This approach can improve both the experiences and outcomes of individuals, as well as create greater efficiency and impact for organisations.

By putting users at the heart of service design and delivery, user journeys can help to create a charity sector that is better aligned with the needs of beneficiaries and service users.

Jennifer Shea is a senior consultant at New Philanthropy Capital.

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