Refugee Action

This case study is a great example of employing the principle:

Understand what’s out there first

Refugee Action is a £5.2M national charity that provides direct advice to 3,300 asylum seekers a year, and resettled 1,400 refugees in 2016/17. The charity delivers crucial free online training to small, third party frontline organisations so that they are able to provide accurate and up-to-date immigration advice to refugees and asylum seekers.

All training was being delivered and coordinated manually by one member of staff, who personally recruited individuals and organisations and then led a five-day learning course. Unsurprisingly, the organisation was struggling to meet demand and needed to find a way to reach more organisations.

From interviews with future and past attendees of the course to find out about their experience, Refugee Action discovered that people wanted to be able to learn via a more flexible approach than the five-day course allowed them to. They wanted to have all of the content available to them online, as well as exercises, assessments and options to resit parts of the course if they needed extra guidance or had missed a day.

Initially Refugee Action explored using an online learning platform that had lots of interesting features – but they weren’t sure at that stage which of those features their users actually wanted. So it made sense to understand what was already out there. They set out to do some market research to ask the question: what is everyone else doing and using in online education? They created an inspiration document to show online learning tools, such as Moodle, MOOCs and Virtual College, that were being used within the charity sector, and also outside of the sector. This exercise demonstrated that there were a lot of different options out there, but many of them would need quite extensive customisation to fit Refugee Action’s needs, all at additional cost.

They consulted their digital team, who were using WordPress internally for their website.  WordPress has a great community of developers creating new features and tools that you can ‘plug in’ to your existing site. The team then did some research into WordPress online course management plugins – it turned out there were a few. Plugins are easy to adapt and very cost-effective, and for Refugee Action this meant it could form part of their existing internal system, making it much easier and cheaper to maintain using their existing development resource.

Refugee Action needed to learn from their users’ behaviour to continue developing their training courses, so they decided the best option would not be all-singing all-dancing, but something that would allow them to upload course content and test it with real users. They opted for the WordPress plugin option to start with. This meant that the project went very quickly and they were able to test the course with the next cohort of pupils, getting feedback almost immediately and learning from the changes they were making to the platform.


Since then, they’ve been uploading more courses and while the plugin may not be the permanent solution, picking something that is off the shelf has meant they’ve saved money, moved quickly and are learning with each new cohort and new course they upload.

About the Principle
Understand what’s out there first
How does this apply to the case study?

Duplication wastes money. Before you build anything, especially a new service, it’s important to understand what’s out there already. On the one hand, this means understanding who is already working on the issue you’re trying to address.