CUTGroup Miami’s status so far
It’s mid-April, and we’ve reached the halfway point.
Given that Miami’s Civic User Testing Group isn’t permanent, but a ten-month pilot program to replicate and localize Smart Chicago Collaborative’s successful model implementing civic user testing as part of the Knight Cities Challenge, I wanted to write an update to everyone interested as to how things are going with the program.
When the Knight Foundation announced CUTGroup Miami as a 2016 Knight Cities Challenge winner, the task to deliver felt daunting. Code for Miami is, after all, a volunteer group. Locally, we’re in the same company with some high-profile projects like the Miami Science Barge and The Underline.
This project felt different. Even though the three of us who submitted the grant application are in the tech industry — and I have some UX experience — I don’t think of any of us would consider ourselves user researchers. We did our best as Sonja Marziano, a Project Coordinator from the Smart Chicago Collaborative, flew down from Chicago to train us on how to run a user testing session, recruit users, and write design documents and guides using best-of-breed practices.
And I think CUTGroup Miami is going well, all things considered! Here are some of the things we’ve accomplished — you can read a full timeline of the major milestones we’ve had so far — as well as things we can improve.
We’ve conducted more than six testing sessions.
Since August 2016, we’ve organized six testing sessions, anywhere from three to twenty-five people in a variety of places, from Miami Gardens to Coral Gables, and a couple of places in between. You can also read a list of the final reports we’ve created so far.
We’ve worked with the Miami-Dade County Communication Team, and the City of Miami.
So far, we’ve partnered with Miami-Dade County’s Communication’s Department and the City of Miami to review their beta and alpha websites, given feedback to Miami-Dade Transit on the usability of their upcoming Metromover platform maps, as well as worked with organizations such as Open Referral to bring local perspectives to prototype human service directory websites.
We’ve recruited more than 700 Miami-Dade residents into the CUTGroup.
We’ve had 700 people in our resident testing pool so far, from a diverse cross-section of Miami-Dade County, thanks to a combination of promotional materials allotted to us from the Miami-Dade County Communication’s Department, word of mouth and online promotions.
“I have a very positive opinion about the CUTGroup because of the work they’re doing! I think it’s so important that the public gets to participate in government and millions of folks use these pages. I think it’s important that residents use that.” — Stephanie C, user tester
We’ve been able to introduce methodologies we take for granted in the tech industry to our municipal and non-profit partners.
We are also thrilled to have indirect wins as well. A common tech credo in start-up technology is the phrase “done is the enemy of perfect.” It’s a motto we certainly believe in every Monday Hack Night, and we’ve been proud to show how iterative development principles work to our partners.
We’ve been able to give valuable management and UX Experience to a community looking for additional experience.
We’re also giving paid opportunities for an Assistant Director, at least four project managers, three web developer contractors, and a dozen or so proctors. Most of whom are at the beginning of their careers and looking to gain additional experience in their various fields.
“Great, easy, friendly environment (important for an honest feedback), and fun! It also gives a good feeling of working for the community.” — “CanadianMom,” user tester
Our challenges so far
Because transparency is one of Code for Miami’s core values, I have also wanted to talk openly about some of the hurdles we’ve faced so far in the program.
It’s been extremely challenge giving this project proper resources when we all have full-time jobs.
Unlike other Knight Cities Challenge grant recipients, the three people of us who applied for this grant have day jobs, and none of us have the luxury of being able to work on this full-time. A project like this takes more than 40 hours a week, and because we want to compensate fairly, we only have the budget to pay an assistant director part-time.
Because of this, we have been unable to develop or enhance internal tools that could make our jobs faster and more efficient.
An internal tool developed by the Smart Chicago Collaborative turned out to be more difficult in the implementation I had hoped, and we had hoped to be able to “just build something like it.” After a misstep or two, it turns out that can be pretty difficult when you already don’t have any time.
In the meantime, we are using Google spreadsheets to track both our user base and gift card distribution. I certainly wish I had more time and resources to be able to build tools to make certain operations more efficient.
Writing a good design document and a final report has itself been an iterative process.
Taking the feedback from two dozen users, aggregating the feedback and coming up with overviews and recommendations has been a cumbersome task that takes a significant amount of time. A couple of reports later, and we have started to build a workflow — as well as some coding scripts — to extract data from a spreadsheet and efficiently parse it to a report we can deliver to our partners and the public. We still haven’t mastered this workflow, but I look forward to being able to make it straightforward for people to get real conclusions from raw data in the form of questions.
We need to be better at reaching out to folks in other communities.
One of our big talking points as a CUTGroup has been outreach to Miami’s Spanish and Creole speaking residents. For an area where more than half its residents speak Spanish as a primary language at home, we’ve only had a non-English speaking CUTGroup applicants and have yet to conduct a user test.
Where we go from here
At the end of October, we will be publishing a report talking about the entire project — what worked, what didn’t work, as well as discussion on what it would take for this to be a viable, permanent entity past the Cities Challenge period.
In the meantime, we have additional upcoming tests with Miami-Dade Transit and working with a new organization we can’t disclose quite yet that relates to civic engagement.
Live in Miami-Dade County? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter! If you are an organization or government here with an app or website that needs testing, talk to us! And if you haven’t signed up for CUTGroup Miami, it’s not too late to get a $5 gift card!
Executive Director, CUTGroup Miami