Humans back into tech: 6 learning insights

Ogunte CIC, the organization for Women in Social Enterprise, arranged a think-do session in collaboration with Digital Science with an audience of women activists, social, and tech-for-good entrepreneurs to explore the ways we could put humans back into tech and create services that people really want and love to use.

Discover 6 learning insights from the session.

1. Listening is a golden skill

Participants organized themselves in small groups of up to 5 people. They briefly introduced themselves by showcasing the impact they were making or intended to make. They also identified the key hurdles they were facing, moving away from “power introductions” and creating a space of trust and empathy.

Listening to our peers can prove difficult at times. We think we know the topics; we’ve heard it all before. We filter even the quickest introductions. To mitigate this, we encouraged people to sit with others outside their industry or at the fringe of their network, and be ready to challenge their perception.

2. Moving from product to service means acquiring a new mindset

Our guest Zoe Peden is someone who has always thought of business as being designed around humans rather than around technology.

She has won over 10 awards nationally and internationally for her work growing a speech and language product, MyChoicePad, over the last 7 years. MyChoicePad uses Makaton symbols and signs to help people develop their communication skills, express themselves and make independent choices. Her current business, Iris Speaks, is in digital speech and language therapy and is moving the delivery of certain areas towards utilizing machine learning to make interventions more effective, shorter, and also cheaper to deliver, therefore focusing on a bigger social impact.

When Zoe first launched her previous business MyChoicePad, she took a suitcase of iPads around schools in 2011. There were not many iPads around at the time! So she ended up selling the iPads and provided training to get people comfortable using touch screens; and they hadn’t even started using the product itself. Zoe says: “I had to become a service to sell my product.”

3. Demonstrate the change you are creating

“When we’d go out to sell MyChoicePad, we were able to talk about the number of downloads and active users to demonstrate to our stakeholders we were doing well,” says Zoe, “but it felt empty — we were not demonstrating how much change we were creating. So we went back to the drawing board and our Chief Speech and Language Therapist designed a way that enabled us to manually measure the increase in language development we could make over a period of time from a baseline. After gathering enough data, we baked this into the technology in order to measure the impact we were having. This was really valuable when it came to selling the service, since we could actually explain the difference we would make for people and how our customers could tell if it was working. We were able to measure our social impact digitally.

4. Your participants will teach you a thing or two

Early on with MyChoicePad I was filming at a special college for a case study, and I saw one of the students taking ownership of the iPad and showing one of the teaching assistants how it worked. When we designed the app, we generally thought it was going to be the other way around. But then I saw a student teaching a teaching assistant how to do certain signs using MyChoicePad. This was brilliant and so empowering to see, but we had not designed the trigger for someone with dexterity issues. So after seeing such a great thing, we went back to the drawing board and changed the trigger so it would be easier for other students to teach people.”

5. Yes you can find treasure in the past

Back to their drawing board, participants delved into a quick “time machine” exercise around their “hurdles”, discussing how people in and outside organizations dealt with them in the past, present, and the future. The exercises forced them to look at systems bigger than their own and move away from looking at just people and behaviors, but also keeping track of social, cultural, even religious trends, habits and beliefs, policies, environment, etc. The shift from silo to system was palpable.

6. There’s a wealth of good in reluctant users

Our final experiment focused on role-playing. The teams got to interview one particular “user” on each table. We had moaners, risk-averse, politically abject, and heavily stereotyped characters! The exercise challenged the participants to expect the unexpected and see their own projects in a totally new light. We never get enough negative feedback in real life from kind-hearted users, do we?

Finally Zoe Peden gave us her top 3 tips related to creating a minimum valuable service.

  1. Have a great copy — the way you can make people think and feel is so powerful. Be a great communicator
  2. Have a service that is easy to evaluate — design so you can demonstrate short-term impact. Get goals, whether it’s technology or non-tech services, and demonstrate how those goals have been achieved. If a person can see the change early on, they are more likely to go back and try again.
  3. Build in a feedback mechanism. Whether it’s surveys, phone calls, or widgets built into your tech like live chat or chat bots, you need to keep learning from your customers and helping them with what they need. Then they will become your champions and referrers.

Now, how do YOU create a minimum valuable service?