Finding what matters to communities - Our experience

To gather insights on what matters to communities and individuals, we identified a few roles that we saw as ‘community nodes’, people who we thought would be privy to confidences and conversation about issues in their neighbourhood, who would have a sense of civic wellbeing or illbeing.

To gather insights on what matters to communities and individuals, we identified a few roles that we saw as ‘community nodes’, people who we thought would be privy to confidences and conversation about issues in their neighbourhood, who would have a sense of civic wellbeing or illbeing.

These groups were taxi drivers, hairdressers and neighbourhood watches or community centres. These subgroups are found in most urban uk populations and are starting to be evidenced as really effective conduits of information and behavour change. Again, whose information they are communicating and who benefits from the changes in behavior are a more nebulous issue.

 

First, we designed fairly standard focus group type participatory workshops with the groups in question – meet them on mass with their peers in a neutral place, ask them some questions collectively and analyse key themes. Then we realized a) there is no hairdressers networking group, taxi drivers do not have annual conventions and neighbourhood watchers are really a tad tetchy about people asking questions about their neighbourhood!

 

So we took a different tack, we figured rather than extract them from their natural environments and place of work we’ll go to them, on their turf and in effect shadow them, gleening insights from interviews alongside that.

 

I would like to say that that is exactly what we did, in a smooth professional academic manner with the warm acceptance of the groups or individuals we approached. But in reality it was not so simple.

 

This should have been obvious to us, but phoning up places and trying to preface booking an appointment with the phrase – Hi I’m from Numbers that Matter and I’d like to ask you a few research qustions’ is not a good way to gain access to communities. Cycling up and doing similar in person has very similar results, with more of a risk of them calling the police. We underestimated the time and deadends this process would take but eventualy secured a number of the relevant communities, who we built relationships with and explained clearly our aims, objectives and the affect on them.

Naturally the best way to have a conversation with a Hairdresser is to get your hair cut… so we did, we interviewed Apprentices with head tipped back as they shampoo’d and rinsed about if they felt safe in their neighbourhood, we took Taxis to our research destinations and interviewed cabbies on the way there about how things had changed in the years they’d driven that route. We hijacked, in the friendliest possible sense, a drop-in lunch in a community centre.

 

Conversations were smooth and frankly ordinary, we didn’t go in and ask direct questions like ‘so what do you think about wearable tech and open data’, we had normal conversations, discussing the route to work and where they felt most content, their role within the neighbourhood and what devices they used a lot. Its very raw research, but its very rich research.

 

So what did we learn? Obviously, like the cliché about technologists making for themselves and thinking they know everything about their market, as academics there’s a risk we think we can guess ahead of time the issues each group will raise, based on a higher, more academic form of prejudice and hearsay.

 

We were pleasantly surprised to gain new insights into these communities. We learned that hairdressers tend to retire from the industry by 40, suffering from poor posture, tendonitis and joint issues. One researcher had the dubious pleasure of finding a taxi driver who could only use his tom tom to navigate while parked! The physicality of hands on the wheel while driving, meant he was deeply uncomfortable leaning across to use the technology provided, this resulted in the researcher experiencing a stinted, jalting journey across town, with multiple stops to get to the next step! We learned that little old ladies have a penchant for wetherspoons, famed within their social circle as home of clean, accessible toilets.

 

But I feel the thing we’ve really learned through this process, has been an element of empathy and a realization of quite how insular our narrow tech equipped world is.

 

Doing a focus group where you ask how many people have a smart phone and only one person holds up a phone capable only of SMS and calls makes you realize that although we as the technology wealthy, comfortable with apps and always connected can have superpowers and access the huge wealth of community, knowledge and experiences online.

 

The future is not remotely evenly distributed and far from distributing devices better and ensuring everything is digital by default, as designers, developers researchers and technologists, its our responsibility to consider other communities than the ones who look like us and talk like us, designing products and experiences that respond to their needs and communities.