In Switzerland co-creation workshops have also taken place in recent months. In this blog post, we -the Institute for Aging Research (IAF) of the University of Applied Sciences of Eastern Switzerland (OST) – report and reflect our experiences with the third round of workshops, which took place at the end of November/beginning of December 2021 in St.Gallen. The focus of the workshops was on the usability of the platform, which consists of three components: navigation, comprehension and accessibility of the Heroes platform. It is important that the platform is as intuitive as possible to use, otherwise frustration and rejection by users can quickly arise.
Our workshops could take place on site and in presence. In a one-to-one setting, we were able to accurately track and document the user flows. Three people representing candidates (caregivers) and three people representing recruits (family members) participated. In total, there were 24 participants across countries in the third round of workshops. We decided to test the platform via a web version on the laptop.
Aim of the workshops
We first ask the participants to read through the workshop-task. Depending on their role, they were asked to read through a fictitious profile and put themselves in the situation. The different profiles were
1) Anna, a nurse looking for a job
2) Sorin, a 77-year-old man who needs help with housekeeping and shopping.
The goal of this workshop was to develop a better understanding of how end users navigate through the platform. Therefore, the participants worked through four tasks, so-called “use cases” (Kulak & Guiney, 2012), meaning certain parts of the app without the support of the workshop leaders. In this way the user flows could be make visible and comprehensible, which is essential for the further development of the app. It is the only way to determine which flows already work intuitively well and which ones do not yet work or need to be improved.
Thinking Aloud – Thinking Allowed!
While the participants were trying to solve the tasks, we asked them to speak out loud their thought processes and thus make them explicit (thinking aloud). This allowed us to hear and understand where difficulties arose and how the participants tried to solve them. Furthermore, we also registered which “flows” could be solved with little or no help and which could only be solved with help. In addition, we also recorded the activity on the laptop screen so that the “flows” could be traced later. We asked spontaneous questions and at the end we collected general feedback on the new version of the platform.
3 Recorded “user flows”
The “Concurrent Think Aloud” method , making the thinking processes explicit while working on the tasks, is considered particularly helpful and effective for usability tests (Ericsson & Simon, 1993). It lets us understand in detail how the participants proceed when solving a problem and think and feel about the individual parts of the platform in terms of navigation, comprehension, and accessibility. This also requires tremendous focus and sensitivity on the part of the research assistants, as they are logging each step the participants take, while also always asking questions and listening carefully. In this way, we were able to gather important inputs from the participants, who were all very committed. It was obviously important to them to be able to contribute to the further development of the platform. They shared many valuable thoughts with us and also openly expressed suggestions for improvement.
Once again, the topic of wording was very important. How terms are used is still inappropriate for some participants. With regard to care and support, the language is very sensitive, and we notice again and again that even in different German-speaking countries such as Austria and Switzerland, these linguistic nuances differ significantly. Further, it also became clear that for younger users the platform seems to be more intuitive to use than for older ones. With regard to navigation and understanding of the app, there seems to be more need for development than with regard to topics concerning accessibility or usability.
We can also derive important insights from the third round of workshops:
- Allow enough time
Depending on the user group, some participants are faster in processing the use cases, while others need much more time. We should therefore keep in mind that even well-defined user groups can still be very diverse within themselves.
- Create an appreciative atmosphere
Workshop leaders should always be aware that the participants are not in their usual environment but are entering the world of the workshop leaders. Thus, the setting alone creates a power imbalance that can quickly trigger stress and uncertainty among participants. Especially with the method of “Concurrent Think Aloud”, participants make themselves vulnerable, especially if they do not navigate the platform confidently. It is therefore important to create a comfortable atmosphere, and to mention at the beginning that it is not about the performance of the participants, but about the platform and its user-friendliness.
- Exercise restraint
It is easy for workshop leaders to quickly feel the impulse to intervene or to want to help the participants. Hence it is essential to exercise restraint. It is important to wait until the participants are able to carry out the “use case” on their own and to intervene only if they ask or give up. Until then, it is better to focus on the thoughts that are spoken aloud and to take notes of them, as well as to document the navigation paths. It can also be helpful if two people do this so that as little information as possible is lost, or to record the screen activity (e.g., using Snagit software). Although co-creation workshops are an interactive format, the challenge is to find a good middle ground of getting people talking but being rather less active yourself. It’s all too easy to embarrass someone by having a quick laugh or jumping the gun. Participants are often navigating the platform for the first time, so it’s important to consider how to ask questions. This requires being sensible.
Next steps and outlook
The documentation of the workshops will be summarized in a table where all project partners will compile their results. After a joint discussion of the results, they will be technically implemented and the platform will be further developed in order to be available for the “field trials” starting next year (2022) in a version that is as user-friendly as possible.
In the field trials, potential end users will regularly use and test the app over a period of 12 months. For this purpose we look for volunteers in Switzerland. This is a test run of the platform, where fictitious examples will be used.
We are excited to see how the platform will appear for the “field trials” and look forward to an exciting new year.
Ericsson, K. A., & Simon, H. A. (1993). Protocol analysis: Verbal reports as data (Revised ed.) Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kulak, D., & Guiney, E. (2012). Use cases: requirements in context. Addison-Wesley.