How can media outlets spur political interest in adolescents?

According to oft-publicized opinion in the media young people do not care much for politics. In May, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG) has set out to prove the opposite trend with its multimedia project «politbox», just in time for the federal elections in autumn of 2015. A workshop report.

Switzerland is home to more people who do not or cannot express their political views than to those who actually do shape its politics. In order for this to change and lend a voice to younger compatriots, Swiss Radio and Television (SRF) have initiated an interactive, multimedia offering for the national elections — for the first time ever — together with the four SRG business units to include all language regions (RTS, RSI, RTR, and Swissinfo).

The quiz app «politbox» and a multimedia bus tour through all the regions of Switzerland are parts of a limited-in-time offer. On location, SRG writers debate many topics, which impact and determine Swiss politics — in all four national languages no less.

One important realization emerges: Whoever complains via Whatsapp to a colleague about the overcrowded commuter train or shares her joy of extended shopping hours over a beer in the evening, all of them also engage in politics. The idea was to provide a platform to young voices with «politbox». They are empowered to increase their knowledge of social topics relevant to Switzerland through participating in a quiz game and comparing themselves to their friends as they become part of a unique community.

Creating a quiz app

A lot of planning is necessary for such an undertaking. It took a project team of multimedia journalists from all language regions of Switzerland to gather ideas almost one year in advance of the app’s launch. Applying the «Design Thinking» method in a multistage approach, we researched, evaluated and eventually tossed concepts. As foundation we applied the lessons learned from previous elections, insights from the project «Treffpunkt Bundesplatz», and recent analyses from market/audience research.

After having agreed on an interactive mobile offer and phrasing a vision, the project team searched for a partner to realize it. We contacted more than a dozen domestic and international companies with a «request for proposal». The pre-selection process was followed by a pitch to which we invited four agencies in December 2014. In a close run-off between two partners ultimately we decided on Liip, based in Lausanne, Fribourg, Bern, and Zürich.

Agile development

For the first weeks of the new year we approached the concept process in detail together with Liip. Several Scope workshops with multiple stakeholders helped to specify early ideas. We maintained an agile development process based on the Scrum method.

The concept results were transferred to «epics» and «user stories» so that they could be arranged into two-week development sprints. In addition to the quiz app we had to code and design an editorial backend and a landingpage (www.politbox.ch).

As a «product owner» I was lucky to closely follow and shape this exciting process. It became immediately obvious that the launch date on May 4 would not yet feature all desired functionalities. This was the reason the individual stories were continuously specified, evaluated, and prioritized. Although the pressure of the looming deadline was huge for everyone involved, we were able to launch a product on time which satisfied us as developers but most importantly the users. Certainly, we are far from being finished.

The launch does not mark the end of development as we continuously improving it. In August, we implemented a «battle mode» alongside the quiz. Users get to challenge each other and engage even more with their friends.

Editorial work in the style of software development

Next to the app’s development and the content extension the editorial team is keeping busy with organizing the bus tour through Switzerland and preparations for live broadcasts from it.

At various locations we are looking for media people from SRF, RTS, RSI, RTR, and Swissinfo for our dialogue with the target audience at eye level. In cooperation with SRF event marketing we developed a «politbox» bus — a reconstructed and specially designed caravan.

For this organisationally complex task we applied the insights gained from software development: In regularly held brainstorming sessions we came up with ideas for broadcasts on the bus tour, which we analyzed in detail after their completion.

This agile process with permanent iterations allows us to adapt and optimize the product from version to version. Our «daily briefings» provide updates for each other on past activities — and we assign new tasks as to not lose track over the amount of work.

Journalism and technology — a symbiotic relationship

Digitalization and editorial work become ever more intertwined. This is my opinion not just since this particular project, which I have the good fortune of leading in an editorial capacity since over two months. In fact, I am convinced journalists could learn a great deal from software development processes for our profession. Whoever manages to focus on the needs of users and continues to develop her product in an agile and iterative manner will surely avoid becoming irrelevant in an ever faster spinning world. The «politbox» editorial team proves this to be true even across language barriers.

If you would like to be up-to-date regarding the progress of «politbox», read my tweets here (www.twitter.com/konradweber) or become a follower (www.twitter.com/politbox), and a fan on Facebook (www.facebook.com/politbox).

About the author

Konrad Weber is an editor for Swiss Radio and Television since February 2012 and explores the use of social media in news broadcasting. He develops and realizes concepts for interactive programmes and shows. After four semesters of Political Sciences at University of Bern he received his Bachelor degree in Journalism at the ZHAW. In 2013 he was voted «newcomer of the year» by the readers of the trade paper «Schweizer Journalist». Most recently, Weber runs the editorial department of «politbox», the interactive project commissioned by the SRG for the Swiss federal elections in autumn 2015.

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