Applying Shift’s design approach to The National Citizen Service

The National Citizen Service (NCS) runs a 2-4 week programme for 15 – 17 year olds during their school holidays, which gives the young people the chance to live away from home, develop new skills and prepare them for further study or employment.

A social action project in the NCS programme

Almost 300,000 young people have taken part in the programme to date and over the next few years that number will rise rapidly as NCS’ reach and capacity grows. With this scale of participation and impact Shift was very excited to start working with NCS to apply our design approach to the programme.

After some foundational work together to reaffirm and re-articulate the programme’s Theory of Change, we set out to explore new design opportunities for two core elements of the programme: social action and guided reflection.

We’ve been using a highly collaborative approach, working closely with the NCS Trust, delivery partners and NCS graduates to design more engaging and impactful solutions.


This process kicked off with an investigation phase, in which we observed programme delivery, surveyed providers, held focus groups with NCS graduates and carried out in-depth interviews with key stakeholders. We then analysed our findings, identifying key opportunity areas which provided the footing to plan and run a collaborative concept development process.

Developing concepts from the exciting ideas that came out of the co-creation workshop

Concept development

This began with a co-creation workshop: a jam-packed day to which we invited a range of NCS stakeholders to imagine how social action and guided reflection could be transformed. Lots of exciting ideas were generated, the most innovative and potentially impactful of which were developed into concepts. We began testing these this week in Leicester and Doncaster.


Over the summer, we will continue to test and iterate these concepts with delivery partners across the country, before evaluating the pilots and updating our prototypes in September and October. We’ll look forward to sharing what we learn and what we produce in the autumn.

This unique partnership has given Shift the chance to apply a series of user-centred, research-led design practices which reflect the NCS Trust’s ambitions to keep improving the programme and strengthening their network of delivery partners.

For more information on our work with NCS, contact Immy Robinson at

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