Just how do you go about working with young people to come up with the idea for an application and then make sure it works? Mark Brown explains:
As you’ll probably already know, Doc Ready is an application to help young people aged 16-25 to get ready to visit a GP about their mental health or wellbeing. It’s being developed by a partnership between FutureGov, Enabled by Design, Neontribe and me for Social Spider.
But do you know how Doc Ready came about and how we got to the stage we’re at now? From the beginning young people’s participation, knowledge, enthusiasm and ideas have been a big part of the process that eventually created the conditions for Doc Ready’s development.
In the days before Doc Ready
The story of my involvement and of the process that would eventually create Doc Ready begins back in 2011 at an initial meeting of the great and good organised by Right Here, Comic Relief and Nominet Trust that asked the question: can young people with mental health difficulties even be involved in a hack day or an innovation lab?
At the time there were objections raised that it was all a bit macho, all a bit full-on, that the process of innovating and designing just wasn’t right for young people with experience of mental health difficulties. When those with concerns voiced them, it seemed people were picturing the process of idea and application development as being a bit like Alan Partridge’s definition of brainstorming: “an American business technique where ideas are graded according to how loudly they’re shouted out”.
Despite those reservations the consensus was that it was something worth taking forwards, so Right Here, Comic Relief and Nominet Trust did just that.
What followed were two Innovation Labs where young people, tech people and mental health people came together to try to come up with ideas for tech/app solutions to some of the challenges young people face around their mental health and wellbeing.
The first of these labs used a technique that we have also used in the development of Doc Ready – people creating and using persona as a way of exploring and designing ideas.
Working from an initial stimulus – in the case of Innovation Labs and Doc Ready photographs of people – groups worked together to invent an entire story for the person in the photograph. Questions included: who this person was; what their life was like; and what challenges they might have around their mental health or wellbeing. By the end of that activity we had a variety of ‘fictional’ people or persona, all of whom had mental health or wellbeing needs or wishes. The rest of the day was taken trying to think of solutions to the kinds of challenges that the people we’d made up might have about their mental health. (I wrote about this first day here: http://www.oneinfourmag.org/index.php/on-spending-a-saturday-innovating/)
Persona work like this has two benefits; it shifts discussion into a safer space for those taking part by taking the discussion away from directly speaking about their own challenges and difficulties and it also moves the debate from ‘what I want’ to ‘what would be useful for another person’ This turns the activity from something about coming up with solutions to problems you experience to using what you know and your creativity to work out solutions to problems arising from the story of someone else.
The result of the first Innovation Lab was a large number of ideas for applications that addressed a number of different challenges for young people around their mental health.
Doc Ready comes into focus
It was at the second Innovation Labs that Doc Ready really took shape. At the second lab, those attending chose which idea they most liked the sound of and were invited to get on with turning the idea into a project that would be pitched for funding at the end of the day. One of the ideas that came out of the first Innovation Labs day was ‘See it My Way’; an idea for an application for GPs that would translate what young people wanted to say into language that GPs could understand.
The motivation behind this idea was the feeling that young people were often dissatisfied with their interactions with GPs and felt that GPs just didn’t understand what they were on about.
In the process of developing the idea of ‘Try to See it My Way’ our small group worked out that the actual problem we were looking at was that there was something that wasn’t quite working in the interactions between GPs and young people when it came to talking about mental health.
Correctly framing the problem that the application was to solve was in part due to the involvement of Rob Trounce from Right Here Brighton and Hove. Right Here Brighton and Hove do lots of work around GPs, mental health, wellbeing and young people and making that experience work better (I’ve written about their work here: http://www.right-here.org.uk/home/assets/pdf/brighton-and-hove-case-study). Rob’s input made the group rethink the actual challenges or difficulties around young people and GPs. Also in the group as facilitator was Rupert of Neon Tribe (now involved in building Doc Ready) who brought his experience of development which really pushed the idea in the direction of what might be possible. Me and two other people made up the group.
During the process of thinking through the problem, the idea went through a pivot moment where it made a sharp change of direction. What was the pivot? ‘Try to See it My Way’ became the idea for Doc Ready when we realised that another tool for GPs wasn’t going to go anywhere, especially not a complicated translation tool to change young people’s language into medical language. Where was the point of leverage for change? We couldn’t hope to control the behaviour or practice of GPs with an application but what we could do was somehow aid the ways the young person as patient entered into the GP/patient relationship. We switched the direction of the application around: ‘what if the application was to help young people work out what it was they wanted to say to their GP before they went,’ we asked, ‘and then help them to say it in ways that would make it easier for the GP to find the correct support or treatment for them?’ It was at that pivot point that the idea for Doc Ready came into being.
At the end of the second Innovation Labs day I pitched the idea for Doc Ready and it was one of the eight ideas that were chosen by Comic Relief, Right Here and Nominet to form a portfolio of funded projects.
When our partnership was successful in our bid to develop Doc Ready, the objective was to get to the point of having something to test as quickly as possible.
Diving into the research process involved speaking to GPs, mental health folks and young people to get a strong sense of what should and shouldn’t feature in the application. Receiving notification that we’d been successful in our bid to develop Doc Ready fired the starting pistol on the sprint towards having a version of the application we could actually test with people.
Our idea throughout the project has been to involve young people in meaningful ways in the development of Doc Ready. It’s young people who will be the end users of the application. Saturday 20th April was the first time we had something we could actually get people to mess around with. Working again with Rob of Right Here Brighton and Hove, as we have throughout the development, we managed to get about 20 young people to give up the first really sunny Saturday afternoon in months to help us work out how Doc Ready should work.
To co-design Doc Ready we used the same tools as were used in the Innovation Labs process, including persona, but with one very nifty addition: paper prototyping, where we got people to test different prototypes of Doc Ready. Instead of these prototypes being made of bits of code that appeared as graphics on a screen, they were made from paper, pens, blue-tac and tape.
To start the session we split into groups and got to know our persona, working out how, when and why they would use Doc Ready. Once we’d done that we unleashed the paper prototypes in all of their pen and paper glory.
The idea behind paper prototyping is really simple: create a prototype of the way an application or website will work (screens, buttons, navigation, graphics, pop-ups, functions) then get people to try to use it as if it were really on a digital device. A facilitator pretends to be the computer processing all of the commands, so if someone presses a button the facilitator ‘brings up’ the relevant function or screen.
When we were prototyping Doc Ready we brought pens, paper and addition buttons, sliders, back buttons etcetera and said ‘let’s see if this works. If we think it could work better, lets add, subtract or rearrange to make it work better’. We used three different prototypes and three different persona. Each prototype ended up being altered and tweaked with bits taken away, bits moved around and new bits stuck down with Blu-tac.
By the end of the prototyping session we had a really good idea of what seemed to work, what really didn’t work and what needed to be thought about more.
The next stage is to go back to people with an early technical prototype as quickly as possible to check whether we’ve taken the right insights away from the prototyping and research stages. That time round people will play with an actual ‘on the screen’ version of Doc Ready to see if it still ‘works’ for them.
Prototyping, invigorating and involving
While the obvious measure of whether the Doc Ready development process is successful will be the final application, there’s something really invigorating about developing in such a hands-on way.
Rather than just asking ‘do you like the look of that?’ we’ve been able to involve people in hacking the idea about in a real way before the process of the actual technical build begins. Paper prototypes are used to build something quickly so that people can play with them as soon as possible, allowing them to give feedback, input and be involved throughout the design process. These can be a great source of ideas, guidance and knowledge and can be a real eye-opener compared to more ponderous ‘consultation-based’ forms of involvement.
There’s no point in spending years developing something only to find out that it isn’t right or doesn’t work for the people for whom it is intended to work. It’s better, cheaper and more efficient to involve people throughout the process in ways they can make a difference and to find out early and quickly if you’re getting stuff wrong.
I’ve been having a blast.
Mark Brown is development director of Social Spider and editor of One in Four magazine http://oneinfourmag.org. Mark experiences mental health difficulties himself and was, once, young. He is writing the content for Doc Ready.