The story behind the Q&Alendar

Sometimes the story is more interesting than a product or a service. Is that the case with Q&Alendar? It is up to you to judge. We will tell you the story.

We published a “question and answer” format based Q&Alendar today (1.12.2018). This a digital platform built ‘qalendar’ is an outcome of two months of work and effort between the Finnish Immigration Service (where we work) and the TE office. You can see the Q&Alendar here.

Experimentation culture in government

How did everything start? The starting point is the fact that the Finnish government wants to motivate civil servants to do experiments. The aim is to transform the government working and development culture into more agile, fast and experimentation oriented culture. For that purposes, there has been executed a project called Experimental Finland (Kokeileva Suomi), which is one of the government key projects. Inside of this project is a program called Experimentation Accelerator (Kokeilukiihdyttämö) which is also the context for our story and place where the main characters connect.

As we noticed the existence of Experimentation Accelerator, we wrote an article for our intranet. We asked for people with new development ideas and willingness to try experiments to contact us. Many workers contacted us and some showed up to endeavour new experiments with us. It was the end of September 2018 when we build two teams and started to work as a part of the Experimentation Accelerator program.

A starting point for the “correct information”

This a story about the other of those two teams and experiments. It is a story about experiments, findings and learnings from two government organisations trying to find a common understanding of the way of working and concept for collaborative customer communication.

In the beginning, we had not a clear picture of what we wanted to do. We started to discuss the topic of rumours — how informal information spread within peers shapes communication and customer experience. This talk was based both on the findings that were highlighted in user research conducted by Inland Design and experiences by our customer servants that receive many questions from customers asking and checking if their information is correct or not. The team agreed that there was a distinct problem and need to tackle. The rumours should be corrected and better communication for and with our clients offered. The assumption was that proactive communication would save both customers and employers time and improve also the customer experience.

1st lesson:

User research is always a good starting point for any experiment!

From an idea into a concept

The first idea was inspired by German’s website Rumours about Germany which offers facts for migrants. We decided that we are also going to provide facts and serve that information on a digital platform.

At that point there was only a few of us in the team, and we were all from Migri (short name for Finnish Immigration Service). To make this experiment more plausible and influential we needed more people and expertise from different government organisations. Through the network of designers in the government (julkis-muotoilijat) we contacted people from Kela and TE office. For our delight, TE office was interested to join forces with us.

2nd lesson:

The network of designers in the government is extremely important when we want to reach great partners, develop initiatives from a customer perspective and go beyond silos!

Collecting data

The concrete phase of this experiment started with collecting rumours and questions from our customers with the help of our employers and customer servants. Furthermore, we published a succinct message in social media (Facebook and Twitter) where we requested any kind of Migri related rumours for our “Rumour busters” Christmas calendar (the experiments’ working name of that time).

Social media output was two-fold: we got yet some rumours, but most of all, we got a lot of clear and loud critics. Without going deeper into the critics that were concerning e.g. the digital calendar concept and the negative reference of the project name, we took our hats off and sat down and started to rethink the concept.

3rd lesson:

It is wise to be cautious when publishing information in social media about a project that is still in its’ babies steps. Communication has to be clear and precise and it is advisable to be sure that the intentions are not hindered by a “catchy name”.

Creating an experiment with limited resources

We decided already in the early phase that we would execute our experiment in digital format. This format raised essential and important questions inside both organisations. Who is going to be the owner of the webpage after this experiment? Who is going to e.g. take care of updating changed information? To create a new communication channel means that there need to be resources for maintaining the channel, and that would mean to “cut” those resources from existing channels if new extra resources are not available.

To solve this problem, we decided that our experiment is going to be a campaign — it would have, as experiments do, a clear start and end. Based on the timetable of the Experimentation Accelerator program, the perfect timing for executing the experiment would be in December. Our idea of a “Christmas Calendar” was timely justifiable.

Christmas is a culturally sensitive “concept” — that we understood even before the feedback we got from social media. To avoid unintended contempt we designed the calendar as “cultural free” as possible and decided to keep the content simple. We would give clear information to the questions that were asked frequently by our customers in a form that would also be clear. The name Q&Alendar is based on that: it is a combination of words‘ question’, ‘answer’ and ‘calendar’.

4ht lesson:

Sometimes the experiments’ nature (timeframe and limited resources) can make the experiment more concrete, simple and powerful. In this case, associating the calendar to the experiment was a key idea to “sell” the idea to others inside our organisations.

Choosing right questions

Choosing the right questions was not an easy task. How to choose questions that would serve all our immigrant customers in both organisations and yet not to generate controversy? And how to maintain some kind of positive mood that would suit “Christmas-like” calendar?

It is a fact that in this kind of experiment, it is not possible to fulfil all wishes. We had to vote and pick and negotiate before we had a mutual consensus about the 23 questions we would publish. It took a lot more time and resources than we anticipated.

5th lesson:

The format itself, in this case, the calendar, will impose certain limitations for the content.

6ht lesson:

Never underestimate the time of negotiations. The stakeholders around an experiment are eager to contribute, understand and decide together. Participation and collaboration takes and should be given time.

Creating the content, ergo answers for the questions

Writing the answers to the selected questions was not either a simple task. There was a lot of consulting, emailing, rewriting, re-questioning, emailing, and again rewriting between our team members and organisation substance experts. It was not only the content but also the language itself (way of expressing things) we were working really hard for. Many iterations were done inside our organisations before we agreed on what and how the communication should be executed.

7th lesson learned:

Communication and communicating is a special skill. We would have benefited hugely if we had a communication specialised content designer inside our team.

The campaign is on and our experiment in its core phase

The Q&Alendar is now ready and published. We are proud of what we have achieved only in two months, not only about the calendar but also about all learning during this process.

We need your help and we have a wish for You: To make this Q&Alendar as alive and visible as possible, we would really appreciate if You could spread this experiment forward so that this calendar would reach immigrants living in Finland. Thank you!

8th lesson:

Trust your audience, they can make your experiment shine!

You can find Q&Alendar here

Authors: Mariana Salgado and Pia Laulainen.