Member pioneers: matching tech to their needs

At the annual conference in May we gave our 300 member pioneers a new piece of tech to make it easier for them to speak to their local communities and connect people. We’re already hearing positive feedback.

two photographs side by side of alison on stage at the meeting in may. she's explaining why we're giving member pioneers new tablets

This post is about how listening to our member pioneers has helped us provide the right technology for them to do their job, and how the new tech has meant they need significantly less support from us. 

What member pioneers do

Throughout the UK, Co-op member pioneers are committed to 4 hours of paid work per week in their community. They organise events, speak to members in their local stores and raise awareness of what being a cooperative is all about. 

Where things could be better

Before May, they used their personal tablet or their own phone for their community-building work. This came with a number of problems including:

  • tech support difficulties because pioneers were using a wide range of devices
  • access issues because multiple accounts were sometimes registered on the same device 
  • no internet access at home or limited data on their personal devices
  • small screen size meaning presenting Co-op content was difficult or an uncomfortable experience

Research and requirements

We knew we could make things better but to find out how, we spoke to the pioneers themselves and our support team. We started by inviting pioneers to workshops to find out how they carried out the tasks in their communities and what they found difficult and inefficient.

The support team keep a log about the calls they receive so we also analysed those. From this research, we could put together a list of requirements that went on to inform our tech choice. 

We balanced the feedback with our vision for what the member pioneer role should look like: more time spent out in our communities and less time spent at home doing admin. 

We settled on the Samsung Galaxy 4G tablet, case and a basic Alcatel mobile handset. 

A synchronised switch on

member pioneers at the conference in may for the synchronised switch on on their new tabletsOur member pioneers span many demographics – retired, students, people who work in Co-op Food stores. They also have very varied experience with technology so we made sure that everybody’s new tablet had the least amount of steps to set up as possible. We used a mobile device manager to load all the required apps onto the tablets before handing them out. This meant that instead of having to download each app, all the pioneers had to do was log on. We also did a synchronised switch on at the conference and had help on hand for anyone who needed it. 

So far, so good for pioneers

The feedback we’ve had so far is positive. Much of it has been around the size of the tablet – the verdict has been that the screen is big enough so that it doesn’t feel ‘fiddly’ to use but that the device is small enough to carry.  

I take part in webinars as part of my role, and I also need to access social media and team drives. The tablet is large enough for a good browsing experience for all these things. 

The camera quality is much better than on my personal device which means I’ve been able to share better pictures of community activities I’m involved in with the community.

Elsa Parker, member pioneer

Pioneers have also commented that having 4G internet access takes the worry out of using their personal data. They are feeling much happier about showing and sharing Co-op video content which is great because having something to put in front of potential members or local people is far more engaging than just talking about it. 

Good for our support team too

Rolling out the tablets has also made a big difference to the volume of calls coming into the support centre. 

Before, pioneers were using a wide range of devices and systems which were not compatible with the applications required. This made it difficult to pinpoint the main cause of the issues. But now, we rarely get calls regarding Google or device issues.

Matt Davidson, CSC Community Team Manager

Matching tech to people, not the other way round

Speaking to our users, pinning down their needs and balancing them with our expectations of their member pioneer role was essential to making a good decision. Without thorough consideration, our list of requirements might have looked very different and the decision could have been made on cost alone. 

Taking time to understand how people work and what they need is always worth it.

You can find out more about member pioneers or apply to become one. 

Alison Critchley
Delivery manager

6 thoughts on “Member pioneers: matching tech to their needs

  1. Rebecca Birkbeck July 12, 2019 / 10:08 am

    This is part of a wider piece on providing the right structures and support for Member Pioneers and is a huge step forward. It has not been without its challenges but has shown how when we come together across the teams we can really move things on. Thanks to Alison and all involved across IT & Digital.


    • Alison Critchley July 12, 2019 / 11:09 am

      Thanks Rebecca.


    • Phil July 12, 2019 / 12:29 pm

      It also shows the tremendous value an Agile way of working can bring to a piece of work, and hopefully having experienced it, it will inspire Member Pioneers to role model it in their own work….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Holligan July 12, 2019 / 2:28 pm

    As a Member Pioneer I find the tablet a great asset to working on the go, and it takes the pressure off at home too as I can keep up to date without hogging the family laptop.

    I like knowing all my Coopy stuff is in one place instead of on various devices, and it means that I don’t have to go home and email someone a link when something comes up in conversation that I want to share – I can do it there and then.

    I also used it at a community meeting on the Local Community fund to showcase the application process, display this year’s causes, show how to access the membership website and how members select a local cause in ‘real’ time – if I had done this with my personal laptop, I would have had to log in to the community centre wifi etc – as well as lug the laptop about and of course, no-one at home would have been able to use it while I was out with it!

    All I can say is thank you for this investment in Member Pioneers.


    • Emily Bevan August 9, 2019 / 10:11 am

      Hi Barbara, I am unable to find your details on our outlook address book. I would love to speak to you about potentially using your comment/ feedback as part of a little recruitment piece on our careers website. Could you possibly email me on with your details so I can reach out to you. Great to see such engaged Member Pioneers. Thanks, Emily


  3. Maria Angotti July 15, 2019 / 1:27 pm

    Great blog Alison! “Taking time to understand how people work and what they need is always worth it”. So simple a concept and yet so effective and quite often gets over looked. Well done


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