The Rocky Road to Prototype Delivery

SrProjectBlogPost4ImageAgainst what often felt like all odds, my team and I finished a prototype of Senior Care Share — a niche social network for caregivers.  To some extent, it’s like a newborn — alive but ‘sleeping’ most of the time and with only the inkling of a fully animated personality.

There were a few challenges along this birth canal.  Some of the anticipated challenges, such as developing a technically viable solution, adhering to privacy and other legislation and building an engaged user community, have yet to come. Instead, the journey was challenged by:

  1. Defining a clear scope and avoiding the temptation to let it creep
  2. Striving to produce a compelling interface—without having every best practice nailed down
  3. Rapidly learning a tool to bring a concept to life and integrating output from another tool

Keeping the Scope in Check

Fortunately, my concept was an easy sell to anyone who was within or close to my target audience. However, with interest comes ideas and there was plenty. What about a live chat? Online seminars? People ranking products? Giving commercial entities a piece of the action?

Research, such as comparative analysis, audience needs’ assessment and optimal card sort, played an invaluable role in weeding out component contenders and uncovering gaps. These insights helped me set a sane scope of three modules: a Q & A forum (versus a live or open chat); a facilities review; and a section for rewarding participation and nurturing the community.

Striving for a Compelling Interface

As I’m still green at UX and a perfectionist, I scour the Internet for best practices on the shape, position and size of every element when faced with a wire frame task. This dilemma leads to ‘writers’ block’ but fortunately I found a UX mentor who encouraged my early ideas and designs, nudging me forward with a few principles at a time.  I also engaged a team member, initially pegged as an editor, to take UX ownership of one module, which eased the load. His work also gave me new ideas to adapt and iterate across the platform.

Rapidly Learning a New Tool: Axure

My initial plan was to complete wire frame in either Axure or Omnigraffle and then transfer to a specific prototyping tool like Invision.  When my mentor suggested completing it all in Axure, I thought I’d found a ‘shortcut.’  I quickly learned how wrong I was.

I signed up for Axure training videos to help learn this tool, while using it for these critical steps.  My colleague stayed with Omnigraffle and it took a few extra steps to merge the two wire frame types into a unified look and feel.  Fortunately, I was able to cut and paste sections over, which I knew were not perfect but looked blended through most eyes. I also cut corners by opting for the simplest interactive technique: linked pages/widgets, which proved effective to my surprise.

Before this experience, I envisioned a prototype as something more robust with more fully formed content and crystal clear transitions…but time ran out. Like a newborn that’s thrust into the world after nine months to be raised by ‘a village,’ there’s a point where a concept needs to take form and evolve with a community’s input.

Without a forced schedule, ‘my baby’ might be have been internally refined forever, possibly with lame limbs and extra appendages. With a prototype in place, I now need to explain less and the feedback I receive is focused, primarily within scope, and helping this baby grow.

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Interacting Within and With the Caregiver Community

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 11.45.24 PMAs a niche social network, interactivity will be the core DNA within Senior Care Share — the social network for Canadian caregivers. One of the site’s key goals is to convert visitors into members of the network, who return to the site at least once a month and actively participate by reading, posting or responding to others’ posts in the various modules. To guide the conversation and discourage detractor/troll behaviour, new members will be directed to review the rules of engagement. These rules will be easily accessible and enforced by the site administer, as required.

Plans are in place to develop the following two core modules within the network, with the intent to scale up to more as the site evolves:

  • A Searchable Question and Answer (Q&A) Discussion Forum (similar to Quora)
  • A Searchable Module for Ranking Senior Accommodations

In the Q&A Discussion Forum, members can interact by posting practical questions about how to best care for their senior family member/loved one. These questions can cover daily care, healthcare or even seniors’ recreation/entertainment needs, such as: Does the Ontario government cover the cost of a walker? or Which Ontario entertainment venues provide hearing devices for seniors?  Subsequently, members can interact by answering each other’s questions and posting relevant links/images.

To steer the narrative and encourage dialogue (or even visits  to the forum), the network administrator will monitor public affairs/ongoing news and regularly post timely, as well as mass-appeal, questions. The administrator will also seek and enter informed answers to many of the posted questions to grow the site’s appeal, particularly in its early days.

Text prompts and compelling icons/buttons will also urge members to interact by clicking a button to ‘upvote’ answers or enter comments about others’ answers.  The upvoting functionality will tactfully help streamline content toward practical useful information versus bursts of emotion.

Members visiting the Ranking Seniors’ Accommodation module will interact by ranking seniors’ accommodations, according to various criteria, and providing comments, based on their own experience. Members will also be encouraged to click a button to highlight helpful reviews .  To direct engagement and give members ideas, major seniors’ facilities will be pre-entered in the module and text will prompt members to evaluate them. Members will also be able to add facilities that aren’t pre-listed.

To further entice members to engage and build the site’s preliminary content, Senior Care Share’s staff will recruit and nurture site advocates. These advocates will be encouraged and rewarded (through ‘social’ credibility and other incentives) to enter accommodation reviews related to their experience or participate in the Q&A module.

As appropriate, the site will also include feature articles and interactive tools that offer ‘evergreen’ information for caregivers. One tool might be a wizard to help caregivers identify the correct battery for their loved one’s hearing aid — as getting the right match is imperative but this information is not prevalent. Other tools/wizards can be developed based on Q&As posted on the site.

Note: Illustration from PowToon application file.

Integrating Legal Safeguards to Sustain Users’ Trust

Dr. Cavoukian addressing audience.
Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Executive Director, Privacy and Big Data Institute, Ryerson University, outlines the advantages of embedding privacy in technologies, at a February 28, IABC event in Kitchener, Ontario.

Relevant Legislation & Best Practices

As my senior project is to develop a niche social media network for Canadian caregivers, it must address three key areas of Canadian/Ontario legislation:

In addition, I need to provide ‘Community Guidelines’  to ensure users act appropriately. Along with behaviour guidelines, I must embed references to privacy and copyright law in these guidelines. In addition, I must make it clear that this social network isn’t liable for undesirable outcomes, due to community members’ advice.

The third area, accessibility and AODA, outlines escalating legislated requirements that must be incorporated into all web properties to accommodate people with visual, audio, motor and cognitive disabilities by 2021. This presentation by Ad Web Com provides a clear explanation of this legislation and will be a good reference for developing this niche network. Similarly, CASL will control my solution’s need to take a ‘permissions-based’ approach to recruit members but will not impact online documentation.

I also need to adhere to copyright law, ensuring I am legally allowed to post specific content and providing credit, as required.

Given the sensitivity of personal healthcare information, which caregivers or my community members may share about their loved ones, PIPEDA is my highest legislative priority.

Safeguarding Trust Versus Legislation

Steps to address these areas falls under mandated legislation or legal recommendations/best practices. However, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Executive Director, Privacy and Big Data Institute and Ontario’s former privacy officer, is advancing a global Privacy by Design standard to embed privacy as a default in all technology. For my niche network, this means ensuring that De-identification Protocols are incorporated in the code from the onset.

Furthermore, Dr. Cavoukian positions privacy as a competitive advantage, not debilitating compliance. In many ways, I think all these legal requirements/recommendations or ‘safeguards’ can be considered a competitive advantage because they all help to win and sustain the community’s trust.  I want to keep this in mind, when I address prospective members and describe this niche social network.

Legal Documentation Models 

As examples, I reviewed privacy and community guidelines for:

One of the key tenants of transparency is making things clearer. LinkedIn, Tyze and Carezone have tried to do this in their policies/guidelines.

For example, Carezone, uses a second person voice, a reassuring tone, user-centric headings (e.g. how we protect your data) and plain language to specifically explain how it uses technology (e.g. encryption), physical safety measures (e.g. private network residing in a data centre monitored 24/7), policies and procedures to keep data private. This includes providing specific examples, such as: “We transmit your email address to UserVoice so we can interact with you through email, but we give them no further information about you.” In contrast, the Caregiving Space uses exhaustive legal terminology to explain its privacy and other guidelines, writes some sections using almost illegible all capitals, and offers vague assurances, such as: “… use industry best practices approaches about security measures to prevent the loss, misuse and alteration of the information.”  Where possible, I think it’s most effective to adopt Carezone’s voice, editorial style and more specific approach.

Both Tyze and LinkedIn go further to enhance the user experience when conveying policies and community guidelines. Tyze provides the required legal documentation, as well as a short synopsis in a conversational voice. And LinkedIn, provides friendly user-centric explanations, much like Dr. Cavoukian’s ‘privacy as an advantage’ position, and offers short (1.45 minutes or less) videos to explain user agreements and privacy. I think it will be particularly beneficial to use videos, as LinkedIn does, to explain policies and community guidelines to the caregivers network members to help ensure clarity.

Reviewing these guidelines, particularly those from Carezone and LinkedIn, gives me a framework of key topics for my network’s privacy and copyright sections. I’d like to apply Carezone’s same second person voice and plain language tone for the Community Guidelines.

For example, the Privacy and Security Guidelines should include:

  • How we collect your information
  • How we use your information
  • How we protect your data
  • Information sharing and disclosure
  • Third-party services
  • If there’s a problem
  • Reporting a problem

There are likely more topics to address in my legal documentation but this is a ‘safe’ start.

Bracing for the Thorny Challenges of a Healthcare Network

Social Caregivers Network Image

My senior interactive media project is to develop a niche social media network for informal ‘caregivers’ (i.e., people responsible for a senior to elderly family member or other loved one). Its working name is: Social Caregivers Network (SCN).

My vision is to develop: a one-stop resource to help Canadian caregivers share and quickly access trustworthy recommendations that give their loved ones the best care. Unlike the plethora of recommendations from senior care companies with a profit-driven agenda, the SCN will give caregivers access to objective recommendations, tested by other caregivers who share their challenges. It will also save time by giving caregivers access to others’ discoveries/learnings.

Having never produced a social media network, I don’t know all the challenges but here are those that come to mind:

  1. Defining Scope that Meets My Audience’s Top Priorities – Caregivers face a broad range of challenges — from finding a reliable hearing aid to making an end of life decision. While tempting, the SCN can’t cover every scenario. The challenge is to narrow the scope to a feasible mandate that delivers distinct value to the end-users. As with any interactive media project, I need to start with the audience (including key personas) and its priority needs or use case scenarios. To achieve this, I plan to survey a sampling of this audience to collect qualitative data on where the needs are greatest and criteria for success. Only then, can I select the functions/features to address these needs and define the scope.
  2. Making the Interface Accessible, Compelling and Intuitive – There is no point in producing the SCN unless I strive to follow UX best practices and ensure AODA compliance. Beyond this, I plan to incorporate testing, such as a card sort, to keep the solution aligned with the audience’s habits/perceptions as it progresses.
  3. Avoiding Scope Creep – Throughout this project, I’ll be challenged to keep tasks within this scope and ensure that iterations don’t include new mandates. This will be tough as I’m sure I’ll discover many ‘great’ ideas but believe by adhering to proven project management methodologies with effective tools, I can avoid this pitfall.
  4. Proposing a Technically Viable Solution and Finding the Resources to Bring it to Fruition – Although I have some technical understanding, it’s a challenge to not ask for something that’s impossible to build.  More importantly, I need to find the human and financial resources to complete the SCN. For this, I’ll rely on mentors within and outside the college for technical and entrepreneurial guidance
  5. Adhering to Privacy Legislation and Avoiding Liability Issues – Since the SCN deals with personal health details, it must adhere to all applicable privacy legislation in Canada, as well as possibly the US.  Similarly, I need to ensure the SCN is not liable for undesirable outcomes due to community members’ advice.  To avoid both of these issues, I’ll check applicable guidelines and invest in a legal review/opinion before it goes live.
  6. Building, Nurturing and Protecting an Engaged Community – Although a social network’s long-term value is in its community and their interactions, it must be built first and nurtured. I need to develop tactics to attract members and initiate conversations/engagement, particularly in its early days.  I also need to incorporate features to mitigate/block trolls/detractors, who can tarnish the user experience.

This is my initial challenge list but I need to proactively identify and stay ahead of others as I move forward.

Inspired by Meaningful Connections

I find the pace and potential of technological innovations exhilarating. I’m inspired by the potential to create digital solutions that are not just viewed, read or heard but those that create meaningful connections that improve people’s offline lives.

When I graduate from my interactive media management program, my dream role is to work as a digital strategist developing interactive solutions, ideally for healthcare education or health 2.0 solutions.

For my senior project, I’m torn between  two ideas that make meaningful connections with the user.  Each idea steams from topics I’m passionate about: healthcare and social responsibility.

 Empowering Patients and Caregivers

Through various roles in my career, I’ve learned how technology can benefit healthcare — from increasing productivity to improving patient outcomes. I’m inspired by technology’s potential to changes lives plus thrilled to have played a tiny role in the process.

More recently, my healthcare work has included contracts with Ontario’s Community Care Access Centres, who provide homecare and other services to seniors.  This experience, combined with caring for my 90-year-old mother, showed me the challenges Canada’s senior citizens face. It also made me acutely aware of shortfalls in our current system.

These shortfalls make it difficult for family members or caregivers to navigate the system and access the best supports for their loved ones. Unfortunately, the average consumer is not well-versed in seniors’ diverse needs but for a growing number of players, it’s a booming business. This scenario makes its hard for caregivers to find clear, unbiased answers about the steady stream of services, medications and other ‘must have’ products sold to seniors.

Much of the information I’ve learned about resources and remedies for seniors’ conditions, comes from my work, research or word-of-mouth. Once uncovered, objective answers about what form to use for a walker rebate, trusted Personal Support Workers (PSWs) for emergency respite care or the ins and outs of sleep apnea, are gold. I’ve shared them with friends caring for aged relatives.

I wonder however how much time we could save others if we shared these insights with a broader network? After all, we use social networks for professional development, news, childcare or how-to ideas. Why not have a social network for caregivers to share insights about senior care options in a specific province or for specific conditions? With our aging population, I think this is a practical interactive solution to pursue.

Maple Syrup with Worldwide Value

I’m  also inspired by Canada’s benefits and our opportunities to make meaningful connections with other cultures. In 2012, I took a ‘voluntourism’ trip to Peru to help promote a socially responsible jewellery factory. I brought a maple syrup gift for my host Peruvian family. They placed it in a back cupboard, where it likely still sits unopened.

The challenge is people in many cultures don’t eat pancakes and don’t know what to do with maple syrup.  So ‘what if’ we could create a website with a database of authentic international recipes that use maple syrup?  Students, tourists or NGO workers could access and print a maple syrup recipe for their destination country (in English or the country’s language) and present it with their maple syrup gift. This solution would enable us to ‘act local but think global’ on a small-scale and make a positive first impression of Canada, as an inclusive country.

Both ideas have merit. The caregivers’ network idea is huge but links with my long-term interest to work on health 2.0 solutions. The second is truly Canadian and timely, given this summer’s Pan Am games.

Maybe I should just flip a coin or a pancake?  What would you choose?