Building a social enterprise to tackle childhood obesity: part 1


Kids are getting fatter. Generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. This is a scaling problem for the UK government and for the quality of life of the people who live within.

Obesity and unhealthy weight gain is a wicked social problem by nature. It’s interconnected with other complex social issues, meaning no one solution will ever completely solve obesity. But the problem isn’t going to fix itself. Here at Shift, we’ve been working to increase healthier food habits since 2012. And now, we’ve turned our attention towards creating a social venture that will create real, lasting impact, and chip away at the big problem.

We’ve got an idea. It’s an alternative takeaway service that delivers proper dinners to young families on a budget who are tired of the same old takeaway. Our meals are hot, nutritionally better family favourites, perfectly portioned for adults and kids – all at an affordable price.

We’re getting setup in the most deprived urban areas in the UK. So, why did we choose to create this service? Here’s the lowdown on how we got from social problem to service concept.

The process to get to a valid concept

1. Identifying the right problem

When you’re dealing with a problem as big and gnarly as obesity, it’s easy to get lost in the detail. You have to find focus and you have to find it fast. For us, that meant identifying the opportunity space with most potential for impact.

We went back through five years of research (our own and others) and mapped our observations out into 10 problem areas. One problem stood out above the rest:


McKinsey reported that online’s penetration of the total food-delivery market broke 30% in 2016. And penetration rates are expected to grow further as the market matures, eventually reaching 65% per year.

We knew that this fast growing way of accessing and consuming takeaway had the potential to supercharge the obesity problem. But before jumping our guns, we got out to investigate the extent of it.

2. Immersing ourselves in that problem and obsessing over it

In our partnership with Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity, we sought to understand the lives of the families most vulnerable to unhealthy weight gain – families who live in deprived, urban, obesogenic environments.

Over four months, we ran ethnographic immersions with 48 low-income families and young people. This included week-long food diaries and location mapping, “day in the life” local walkabouts, eat-a-longs, shop-a-longs and kitchen tours, plus contextual interviews.


We gathered a ton of observations that shed light on why people eat what they eat. Everything from environmental nudges to emotional pressures and stresses in the home. We synthesised these into 30 insights which we mapped into six opportunity space. If you want the full rundown, watch our short intro video or read our Families and Food Report. There was one insight, and opportunity, that stood out to us.

3. Pinpointing the key insight and design challenge


Part of this problem is that, in many ways, takeaway is an ideal solution for people, especially low-income parents who seek convenience. People aren’t going to stop ordering takeaway online so we need to encourage this growth to be healthier. This leads to our design challenge.


Right, so now we have a meaty design challenge. A moment to celebrate – we have our focus and it’s steeped in insight from real people. What’s next? It’s making the design challenge actionable for creative ideation.

Before moving on to co-design, and to give us the best chance of generating as many concept ideas as possible, we reframed the design challenge to make it more actionable by breaking it down into six need states (“What we heard from parents”). And we flipped these into six ideation platforms (“How we could help”) which formed the foundation of our co-design phase. You can see these in the image below.


4. Time for co-design

Using these six ideation platforms, we ran two brainstorming workshops to come up with as many ideas as possible to populate the online takeaway market with ‘everyday’ takeaway that’s just as convenient and affordable, but better for you.

We invited in 24 collaborators across the two workshops – a mix of food experts, researchers, service designers, entrepreneurs and parents. Every team chose their favourite concept to further develop using Shift’s three values as criteria:

  • User value – what value would this concept give to parents on a budget? What need would it meet and what is the strength of that need?
  • Social value – how would this concept tackle unhealthy weight gain?
  • Financial value – how might this concept generate revenue in order to be financially self-sustaining?

10 concepts were generated from these workshops, all filled with nuggets of potential for what our new food venture could become. We deconstructed the concepts, pulling out the core user benefits and the mode of delivering the concept. We stitched them back together into six solid concepts, and before spending money on building anything, we created storyboards and tested these six concepts with parents.


As expected, the parents tore our concepts apart. Half of them completely flopped when tested through scenarios that reflected the contexts of parents’ real lives. But this is the beauty of co-creation. They deconstructed what was in front of them, just like we had done, and stitched the bits that worked back together into four final concepts that they believed would work in their lives, strengthening the options we had to move forward with.

5. Selecting the right concept

The final step was whittling four concepts down. Again, we came back to Shift’s three values to quantitatively filter. We rated every concept on user value, social value and financial value and plotted the scores on radar charts to visualise the strongest concept.

There was a standout winner for our new social venture. One idea that had the strongest rooting in real human need, with the largest potential for social impact and financial self-sustainability.


What’s next?

Concept validation. Before jumping ahead and spending a fortune building a new takeaway and bringing it to market, it’s critical to ensure there’s market demand, i.e. that parents, our customers are willing to pay. Take a look at part 2 of this blog to learn how we validated our concept and built a full service prototype to test for market demand.

Get involved

We’re currently looking for a COO to be the co-founder of the new venture. If you’ve significant experience of fast food or casual dining operations and want to make a difference, email

If you’re working to tackle obesity and interested in partnering with us during our pilot stage, please also contact

If you want to learn more about our innovation design process and how we build social ventures at Shift, get in touch with Louise.