An app to help dads build parenting skills.



Sectors Served

Families, Human Services


Just Beginning is a program created by psychologist Rachel Barr at Georgetown University and Carole Shauffer, a lawyer and director of the Youth Law Center. MDRC collaborated with the program developers to adapt Just Beginning to be delivered in several fatherhood programs across the country.

The program is focused on helping dads build parenting skills with their young children. During in-person sessions, dads will learn new skills with their child in a friendly interactive environment. Alongside this new program, MDRC wanted to use technology to increase father engagement and the impact of the program outside of the in-person experience.


Insight gained through comprehensive user research was used to design an experience best suited for low-income dads participating in the Just Beginning program. Our approach accounted for the user’s preferred devices, literacy levels and desired level of engagement with the app.

We then developed a cross-platform mobile application that equips fathers with automated program attendance reminders and a simple way to plan how they can apply what they learned the next time they are with their child.

What We Did

  • An icon representing code on a screen.
    API Development
  • An icon depicting a structured file system.
    Data Architecture
  • An icon depicting a laptop computer working.
    Digital Strategy
  • An icon depicting two mobile devices.
    Native App Design
  • An icon depicting laptop settings.
    Software Design
  • An icon depicting a code editor.
    Software Development
  • An icon depicting two solid, overlapping rectangles meant to represent a clickable prototype.
    Clickable Prototypes


The result of the one and a half day workshop was a validated strategy to move forward with, as well as a prototype app experience with which to rapidly build upon.

Three views of the Dadtime app

Rapid Research & Workshops

CauseLabs went onsite for a workshop with MDRC in order to gain empathy for our users and validate our approach. During the fast-paced workshop, we developed personas of our users together, built initial prototypes, tested the prototypes with end users and worked to refine the prototypes based on their feedback.

The main theme from our research was that for fathers who are juggling parenthood, fatherhood program activities, and holding down a job or looking for work, it can be difficult to squeeze one more thing into their day.

Our approach in getting dads to more in-person sessions needed to be simple, straightforward, and timely, so we developed an experience that walks the dad through planning how to get to their next session in a minute and a half or less. Automated photo and audio reminders were also designed to be sent at specific intervals to help boost motivation to get to the next session.

In-person sessions were extended through the app to help the dads practice what they had learned earlier in the week. These extensions were automatically displayed in the app at the most appropriate time for each user. Having the app surface relevant content at just the right time was a key value of the app for the dads.

A laptop displays the User Interface elements in a design editing program.

The result of the one and a half day workshop was a validated strategy to move forward with, as well as a prototype app experience with which to rapidly build upon.

Over the next several months CauseLabs developed a cross platform mobile app, as well as a backend program administration platform for Just Beginning and MDRC staff. The pilot of the new Just Beginning program kicked off in the spring of 2017 and we’re excited to continue gathering feedback that we can use to iterate with.

Core Features

  • Appointment scheduling
  • Customized app experience for each dad
  • Photo and audio based reminders
  • Just in time notifications and user experience
  • Time-efficient user experience
  • Custom data collection and reporting

“An enormous thanks to the whole team for the work that’s going into the app! We can’t wait to see all these months of work come to life, and we appreciate everything CauseLabs is doing to get us there.”

Staff Member

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