Katherine Kim and Christina Sabee, San Francisco State University, iN Touch Principal Investigators, and Ed Young, iN Touch Research Assistant
Even from our first meetings in early 2009, we were excited about the possibility of using TheCarrot to improve young adults’ abilities to manage their health and improve communications with their care teams. This partnership was a way for us to explore how new technology could interface with our public health system. The platform seemed easy to understand and use on a mobile device.
So how hard could it be to tweak the existing technology for our project? The answer: hard.
Even when working with an existing technology and responsive partners, it turns out that meeting diverse needs, interests and experiences takes time, and energy and patience. So what have we learned?
- Expect delays: Our work with health care providers at San Francisco General Hospital and with our Youth Advisory Board has been invaluable for learning about the needs of our community. Providers and patients have different needs and they are not used to translating those needs into techno-speak. So, we’ve iterated, reviewed, tested and fixed to get to our final launch version.
- Be ready to coach users on the technology. One of the reasons that we decided to partner with TheCarrot was that the application was easy for us to use. But as we began to demonstrate to potential users, it became clear that they would need assistance. Users like to explore. They don’t just follow your test scripts. Therefore, we have to be ready to help them wherever they end up.
- Communicate as much as possible to the technology developers and have realistic expectations. Our user meetings are exciting because we come up with really interesting ideas about how to meet everyone’s needs. Users have great imaginations! Translating those amazing ideas early and staying in touch with the development team is critical. We have to balance users’ grand ideas with our scope, cost and timeline.
- Write up everything you need and make sure all parties understand what the needs are. Being clear about needs and interests is important in any kind of negotiation, but when engineers and users are trying to come to a clear understanding, the needs are more important to communicate than anything else. Users can draw pictures, imagine the ways that an application might work and even describe exactly the feature that they want. But until we explain clearly exactly why we want the feature (i.e., the need that has generated the idea), engineers will struggle with implementation.
- Plan, plan, plan and stay flexible because nothing goes according to plan. We understand this lesson quite well. Our brainstorming sessions from almost two years ago represent the beginning of our planning and we’ve spent about 18 months thinking, reviewing, testing, interviewing and testing again. We’re ready to see how this application works with our participants now, but it’s been a long road, and we’ve had to be flexible along the way.