Designing a guiding app for digital democracy

This is a description my project for as a part of the Collective Intelligence for Democracy workshop in November 2016 for MediaLab Prado Madrid.

In Sweden, more young people use Facebook every day than who voted in the last general election. This is an international trend, and most certainly does not come down to lack of interest in politics from young people, but from outdated and excluding tools and processes for democratic participation.

Digital tools open up completely new possibilities for instantaneous participation, discussions and decision making, without relying on geographical proximity. If traditional political instances and organisations do not adapt to new ways of working and thinking, they will keep losing trust and members. If they take advantage of the new possibilities of participation they will have enormous potential.

In the rest of Europe, we look up to you in Spain. You have found ways of implementing some interesting digital services in your local municipalities, political parties and NGO:s, and the rest of Europe has a lot to learn from you.

So we know that there are a lot of interesting tools already available, that needs to be tested and evaluated in local contexts.

In my organisations, Digidem Lab and ABF Göteborg, we are planning a long term project starting next year together with Sweden’s Local Municipalities, the Green Party, The National Council of Swedish Youth Organisations, Young People with Disabilities and Young Media. The project will research new ways for young people to get involved with digital democratic processes.

What we have seen in the run up to this project is that there is a demand for new technology, both in municipalities, parties and NGO:s. But also an urgent need for concrete examples of implementation, cost efficient solutions and practical guidance. And we think that this also is true in an international context.

Digidem Guide, the project that we will develop during this workshop, is an app guiding organisations to the digital tools that meet their specific needs for direct democratic participation via the Internet. The app will help organisations to find the right tools for digital democracy based on criteria like field of application, scope, need for security, technical knowledge and licensing.

The target group is decision makers in NGO:s, political parties and local municipalities. By developing it in an international context with all the valuable experiences from other team members, we will widen the reach to an international audience.

The project’s aim is to make existing tools available to a wider audience without technical knowledge or previous experience in the field. By broadening the user base we will also be able to get better feedback on the tools to help proceed the development further.

As a web strategist who has worked for NGO:s for about fifteen years, I know that it takes time to introduce new technologies and new ways of working. Having said that, there is often a willingness in organisations to find ways to get people involved and widen the reach of the organisation.

My experience is that usability is the key to succeeding in introducing new digital services. We need to be sure that the new tools and workflows that we introduce are as intuitive and user friendly as possible. To be honest, that is not always the case with open source applications. Therefore, to make the tools work for everyone, we need to involve people from all sorts of backgrounds and levels of technical experience who are willing to do user tests and evaluations, and help developers and designers in finding the right tools for the right task.

The development and design of the app will be focused on early user testing with the whole team, and I would therefore very much welcome the participation of activists, politicians and NGO representatives in the process.

The development of the app will kick off with an the initial workshop where we share ideas and visions for the project, after which we will all start researching and collecting tools to document in the app.

As I said earlier, focus then will be on creating an early prototype, with open source app frameworks, that can be tested by the whole team. We will prioritise the three most important improvements, and work on them until the next iteration of user testing and development. The process will be repeated three times, while we will also integrate a shiny user interface and a user friendly back-end for adding content. After that, we will be ready to launch the app as a web interface and eventually an Android and iPhone app!

I am very much looking forward to this workshop, as an opportunity to combine experiences from Sweden and the Spanish and international community, and to find ways of networking and collaborating on an international scale.

Writing better design briefs with User Stories

The thing about design briefs for web projects is that they can be very detailed and totally make sense for everyone, without being helpful at all for the developer. The briefs that I’ve read often describes features in too much detail, or is set on a specific solution for the design, without defining the actual user need or problem to be solved.

In comes User Stories, a really clever way to define exactly what the users need and why, without makes assumptions about how to make it happen.

User stories are written like this
As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.

For example
As a user I want to find contact information so that I can get in touch with the organisation.

I have found user stories really helpful, not only in cases of development, but also for design decisions. It is done in a language that the client can understand, and the developer or designer can interpret, without having to read between the lines.

Using Evidence Planning to develop new digital platforms for Friends of the Earth International

Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) came to me recently to develop a new digital platform, in a combined effort to replace an old intranet that no one was using, and finding ways of mobilising members to collaborate and take action.

With member organisation in 75 countries and around 5000 activist groups worldwide, there is clearly a challenge in finding the right tools for the task. I love matching the right digital tools for different tasks, but the big question is always ”will people use it?”. So the whole process will need to be thoroughly based on user needs and expectations in the organisation.

We decided early on to follow the United Nations backed Principles for Digital Development, as they set a framework that I believe most digital projects should follow, and gives both the client and developers a common understanding of the process.

We also narrowed down the scope to initially focus on a Minimal Viable Product (MVP), both in order to focus on the main objectives and maybe more importantly to be able to involve the stakeholders in testing and evaluation the product as early as possible.

I have worked with (my own take on) a method called Effect Mapping for years, and I find it invaluable for understanding the focus, user groups and user needs in a project. The downside of this and a lot of other methods is however that they only focus on the new product. There is always some old system in the background that we are looking to replace. And the limitations or advantages of that system will always effect the expectations for the new project.

Another limitation in only looking at the current project is missing how it is linked to other systems that the organisation use, and how it enhances or interacts with them.

Thanks to the Development Impact and You Toolkit by Nesta I found this awesome workshop exercise called Evidence Planning.
In a really basic template with five fields, you and the client go through what the Key focus of the project is; how it Enhances current systems; Re-uses stuff that is already in use; which tools to Replace and what the Limits of the project is.

This method can be used for a lot of other cases than digital systems, but I found it really useful to quickly get the full picture of where this project fits into the organisations workflow.

In the case of FoEI, we found that we need to enhance internal systems like an Odoo installation that holds lots of organisational data, and the external web that is recruiting new members. By being the middle ground between these two: not for office workers or complete newbies, but people inside the organisation who wants to get more active.

It will re-use and present all the activities that are happening in groups all over the world and give a chance to share all those stories. And the systems that it is looking to replace are the intranet and it’s document repository, and possibly systems for internal communication, like email lists.

Thanks to this I now have a better grasp of where this project fits in and what the expectations from the organisation might be.

Looking ahead, we will work with User Stories to get all the details about what we want to get out of this, or these, new platforms.