You’re more likely to win Tech for Good funding if you show a clear understanding of the problem. And if you have this understanding then you’ll find it’s much easier to build something that solves the problem and that people will actually use.
For most of us in the third sector ideas are easy. Lets do some blue sky thinking! Or how about a solution-focused brainstorming session?
Or perhaps we should dig up that idea we had last year because it fits this funding programme?
Even better, lets ask people what they want, then create it for them!
Ever done any of these?
That’s OK, I have too. And there’s nothing wrong with them. Its just that on their own they won’t help you much. That’s because they skip user research and tend to be driven by funding opportunities or organisational priorities.
What does starting with the problem mean?
It means putting your ideas and solutions to one side, no matter how passionately you believe in them.
It means stepping away from your organisation’s service-led agenda.
It means carrying out solid user research and building a deep understanding of the problem, not as you see it, but as your users experience it.
It means teasing out your assumptions about user behaviour, their digital expectations and their day-to-day issues.
It means critically challenging those assumptions and recording what you are certain of and why.
It also means doing all of this with your tech partner so they understand the problem and empathise with your users too.
“I had been pretty confident that I had a good grasp of what our services needed… How wrong I was. I very quickly became aware that actually I knew very little about what our services — and most importantly our service users — really want and need from us.”
Rachael Townley, Digital Services Manager, Action for Children (quote by CAST)
Let’s look at how some of this year’s cohort are starting with the problem.
5 ways 2018’s Tech for Good projects are starting with the problem
Maybe it’s because they learnt from previous projects. Maybe its because they have already started to adopt a problem-first mindset, but this year’s cohort are already doing some solid problem-based work. It’s beautiful to watch how they are using different tools to research user needs and validate assumptions. Each one’s challenges are different so they are selecting tools to suit.
1. Doing the research before submitting the bid
Samaritans regularly experiences surge in demand that volunteers at their 181 UK branches can’t meet. As a result not everyone gets through quickly, first time on their call, SMS and web-chat platforms.
They know this is a problem because last year they analysed their call datasets. They also did user research with their volunteers, the people directly observing the problem. At the point of submitting their bid they had a map of where volunteers lacked the information required to respond to surges in demand. They don’t yet know how to solve the problem but they are ready to run some development sprints and testing loops.
2. Validating service users’ most common experiences and testing riskiest assumptions
Users at The Children’s Society (TCS) Birmingham drop-in centre experience anxiety more often than any other issue. TCS believe that use of virtual reality with a therapist might be a solution.
Wary of jumping in to solutions too quickly they got together with their Birmingham therapy team to validate with young people the most common anxiety triggering situations. Then they ran a riskiest assumptions workshop to surface unspoken assumptions about why young people and therapists might use a virtual reality based solution. Now they are ready to bring staff and young people together again to run a discovery workshop.
3. Checking assumptions about how new wheelchair users experience the wheelchair consultation process.
If you’re getting a new wheelchair then currently you’ll go through a lengthy face-to-face assessment and consultation process with a physio. It can be quite disempowering.
4. Developing journey maps to understand users’ experience
Addaction will experiment with different ways to provide their webchat users with a smoother engagement experience.
Their hypothesis is that chatbot based technology might solve problems related to wait times, out of hour help requests and referring people on to their 90 local services. However, before any experimentation happens they will create a user journey. This user journey will map out the key moments experienced by chat users and their expectations at each point.
5. Running user interviews
Playphysio need to find out what clinicians expect to see on the hospital dashboard of their breathing app for children with cystic fibrosis. The dashboard is important for Playphysio because it will help them sell the package to the NHS. For NHS Trust’s it’ll mean they can allocate the right level of care to each patient.
So Playphysio will be running 1-1 interviews with clinicians and management staff in Cambridge, Birmingham and Warwick. They expect that going to multiple areas will generate more confidence in their findings than if they went to only one.
How are the rest doing it?
Some are getting help from their tech partner’s user experience lead. One organisation has hired a user researcher. Others are running service design workshops with different user groups.
If you’re thinking of applying for funding to this programme (or any other) then deepen your understanding of the problem. Do some user research. It’ll give you confidence and make your application stronger.