What to do (or not to do) at each Key Phase
Organisations in the civic tech space often have to create tools that need a quick turnaround time to be relevant. Because of this, it is not always possible to follow every step in the standard process of developing a product. The result is a minimum viable product (MVP) and this session focused on three successful MVPs and the 4-stage process they followed in the development of their products.
Callum Oberholzer, the director of Black Box presented Crisis Map, a mapping tool that was created in the wake of the KZN floods in April 2022. The Crisis Map allows users to log a need or a resource on a map and allow others to reach out and help. It allows those in the non-profit sector as well as the government to have a bird’s eye view of what’s happening, who needs to respond, what resources are available and empowers citizens to help each other. Oberholzer also discussed the future of the tool which will be called Community Map moving forward and be extended to be used not only in times of crisis but before.
Grace Gichanga, the founder and CEO of Luma Law then discussed the Luma Law Platform which aims to make justice more affordable and accessible. Gichanga’s own experience as a lawyer allowed her to see gaps in the justice system that needed to be addressed. There was a lack of trust, a lack of knowledge around people’s rights and where they could get help when faced with a legal challenge. Luma Law became a platform to disseminate legal information in easy to understand language and create a safe space where people felt comfortable discussing personal legal issues.
Matt Addendorff, the data lead at Open Cities Lab then gave a live demonstration of MyCandidate, an online tool that gives voters geo-tagged information about what candidates they can vote for. Users can put in their physical address and get election data on who the candidates are at a national level down to the county level.
Stage 1 – Ideation Phase
The first phase of developing a product is all about the idea. Gichanga discusses the importance of working with people who are already in the space. She found that no one was talking to the people who were on the ground doing the work (paralegals, social workers, health workers, faith leaders). She began to have these conversations, pounding the pavement and talking to people as well as conducting workshops. Addendorff explained that the MyCandidate platform began in 2016 during a hackathon and in an evening they pulled together a rough version and over a weekend it was developed. Last year, they then realised that people were searching for this sort of solution and they were able to quickly respond and extract new data to create the platform. Then in August of 2022, for the Kenyan elections, they were able to partner and again recreate this impactful and reusable innovation.
Stage 2: Action Phase/Assembling the Team
When it comes to the action phase, Oberholzer stresses the importance of already being invested in the space and having developed the right partnerships. Their previous work and partnerships allowed them to see the need for the map and know that they could bring the solution. He explains that you develop intuition when you know a space and this helps you see gaps and know how to solve them. Gichanga states that it is also important to think about funding and sustainability and how the team will be maintained for the duration of the project. Addendorff maintains that keeping your product simple is important and really helps when it comes to deployment. He also warns that you should ensure that there is enough time for checks and clear your schedule for launch!
Stage 3: User Testing Phase
Then the product goes live to the public for user testing and users provide feedback. Gichanga discusses her experience when their chat bot was launched. Their product went live just before the Covid-19 pandemic when people were looking for information around employment issues and labour law. Users reported frustration as the bot was linear and didn’t give people options to navigate differently. There were questions being asked that weren’t answered by the bot. People’s questions may also not be phrased in a way that the bot understands. There was a need to create a more conversational experience. They learned that they had to set expectations about what information could be found on their platform and divert people to other resources. Oberholzer also discussed the key tools that assisted them with user feedback, these included google analytics, hotjar and userback.
Stage 4: Transition Phase
This final phase looks at what needs to happen to ensure that a product lasts the test of time and has longevity. The three speakers discussed the various ways they are working towards creating features and updates to these products that give more value to the end user.