How did Empathy Jam Galway happen?
In 2017, I attended a full day UX hackathon on the Manhattan campus of Fordham University. Little did I know at the time that I would bring this event across the Atlantic to the City of Tribes, Galway. The Empathy Jam, is a research and design event that began in New York in 2016, with the aim of exploring what an empathy driven city would look like. To read more about the story of how Empathy Jam Galway and the New York event started, click here to read my previous post.
Galway’s greatest challenges..
The team, consisting of myself, Mairéad Hogan, and Karen Young, brought together a group of people from industry and academia to brainstorm the challenges for the hackathon. We wanted to discuss the issues that most affected the citizens of Galway. After some discussion, it was decided that we would provide attendees the option of working on one of the two challenges:
- How might we use technology to ease the issue of traffic congestion in Galway City?
- How might we engage elderly people with the use of technology to prevent loneliness and social exclusion?
Hunger for UX Knowledge in Galway
When we started organizing this, I thought that we would have a small attendance, reason being that Galway isn’t the epicenter of UX activity in Ireland. That would be Dublin. And while this is still the case, we had an abundance of interest! So much so that we sold out in less than 2 weeks. This was also the case in terms of mentors, who were all onboard from the very beginning and provided brilliant support. Some of our mentors worked in the area of UX in industry, with organizations such as DXC Technology, Avaya and Cisco in the Galway region, and others were involved in research and academia with NUI Galway and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics.
And we’re off!
On the day of the event, attendees began making their way to the venue, Portershed, in the heart of Galway City at 8:30am. The morning began with some mingling over coffee and tea as teams began to form and members became acquainted. Once they were provided with the challenges they were off!
The beginning of the day consisted of brainstorming. This stage was more so research based, where the teams were encouraged to explore the topic. Our amazing mentors were at hand to guide the teams from the very beginning, which was good as it allowed the teams to learn about the importance of planning and research. Some teams started out with a fully fledged idea at the beginning! However, our mentors were there to guide them back on track and encourage them to learn about their challenges, to have discussions and to tackle the challenge with a holistic approach.
Goodbye comfort zone!
Before the day officially began, I gave a brief talk about what to consider when preparing and conducting user research, in this scenario, guerilla user interviews. Some of the attendees were admittedly nervous, and why wouldn’t they be, it’s quite overwhelming to start a conversation with strangers on the street. I would say however that they were lucky to be engaging with the lovely people of Galway, who are one of the friendliest people in the world (don’t take my word on it, Conde Nast said so!).
Each team crafted their research questions and of they went to gather information from users. They all came back buzzing from the excitement of their first guerilla user interviews, and also slightly wet from the rain… They started having initial discussions on their research findings over lunch before moving on to the next stage of creating a prototype based on their research.
Before we progressed on to the prototyping stage, we had a very special video call. Who else but the organizers of the original Empathy Jam live from New York! We were so grateful and happy that Ariella, Shannon and Riri took the time to greet everyone and give everyone the background of Empathy Jam. Without these three incredible women, Empathy Jam wouldn’t exist! I would like to thank them here as they were beyond generous with their time and knowledge when we were organizing Empathy Jam Galway.
The excitement continued on into the prototyping phase. We were fortunate to have Gabriel Mullarkey, a designer and researcher who promotes human-centered design in the R&D Space at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, to give a talk on prototyping. He explained what the benefits and uses of prototyping were and told the attendees how the prototypes should be utilized. Once Gabriel finished his talk, there was a buzz in the room again with everyone discussing their potential prototyping ideas, scribbling solutions on paper and taking notes on their laptops. These teams meant business!
Once the prototypes were finished, which were paper prototypes in the majority, the attendees went out onto the streets again to get further feedback on their idea based on interactions with their prototypes.
Time to present
Once the teams came back from their final round of user interviews, they implemented any required changes to their ideas and prototypes based on feedback from the streets. The next important part of the day was preparation for the presentation. All teams were instructed to include their research method, research questions, their prototypes, their feedback from research and how they iterated on their ideas in their presentations.
The final judgement
It was time. 4:30pm. Challenges were discussed and debated. Research planning was complete. Information was collected from the citizens of Galway. Prototypes were created and iterated on. There was only one more thing to do. To present for the judges. Each team had 3 minutes to present their project and we were beyond impressed by everyone’s work throughout the day. It was interesting to see how all the teams progressed. Some had false starts and some pivoted on their ideas. The key was that each team were open to change and feedback, which was required to create an empathy-driven solution.
The judges had a tough tasks ahead of them as all teams had worked astonishingly well and had created innovative user-centered solutions. However, the teams that received the prize in each relevant category did shine in their winning categories in the end.
Most Civic Minded Solution
This prize was given to a group of final year students of the Business Information Systems course at NUI Galway. The team impressed the judges with their focus on the end user and the empathy towards their situation. They presented us with a persona, an elderly widow that would have loved to connect with people in order to attend social activities, which displayed their approach and goal of helping elderly people avoid social exclusion and isolation with the aid of technology. Their idea was a very simple website, Community Now, that would allow users to simply select the activities they would be interested in. The group built on their knowledge that their users wanted a something that was simple and linear with minimal fuss.
Most Innovative Solution
This group also consisted of a group from NUI Galway, this time from the Information Systems Management M.Sc program. This team, instead of focusing on all of the problems related to traffic, narrowed their scope to tackle one variable that causes traffic. From their research they identified a pattern in the answers they received. The people of Galway said that finding parking can often create traffic disruptions, between waiting in line to go into a car park, to waiting for a car to parallel park on a narrow street. Their solution was an app that gave car drivers the ability to see where car park spaces were available, to book a spot before leaving for their journey, allowing users to go directly into Galway City and not have to waste time looking for car park spaces or creating a backlog of traffic while waiting to park.
Best User Research
The team for that won Best Research came up with an educational tool which helps elderly people to better engage with families, friends and neighbors through on-line learning, gamification, and meetups. This team excelled in their ability to research not only their end users but also other people that would be involved, in this case they interviewed both elderly people and also younger demographics. Their effective synthesis techniques enabled them to take their feedback from user interviews to create a prototype designed with the users needs at the forefront.
My reflection on Empathy Jam Galway
I was very grateful for the support and interest we received in this event, especially for an inaugural event that was never held before! Upon reflection, these are the elements from Empathy Jam Galway that stood out for me:
- Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine — This Irish proverb means that everyone lives under each others shelter. The help and support we received for this event was phenomenal between help with promoting, mentors giving up their time to guide attendees, the venue management team, and the catering services. Everyone came together to put on a first class event.
- The importance of teamwork — I was beyond delighted to have worked with Mairéad and Karen to produce Empathy Jam Galway. We had a great dynamic when it came to working together and no idea or recommendation was left undiscussed. This allowed for everything to be considered and the freedom of ideas to be explored. The importance of teamwork was also evident on the day of the Empathy Jam as teams worked well together to conduct the best research and design for their ideas.
- Looking towards the future — To see everyone exercise their skill of empathy gave me such hope. All of the attendees were open to new ideas, feedback, criticism and everything in between. Everyone consulted with mentors on their ideas and they put the users at the forefront of the decisions. It is so important in this day and age that we focus on the users when creating systems and products, whether they are consumer products, healthcare services, community planning, etc. I am confident that all of the attendees realized the importance of empathy driven solutions and the value it can create.