Last week we launched ‘Co-operate: get or offer support during coronavirus’, 9 days after the UK Government announced lockdown.
We knew that lockdown would have one of 2 effects on people:
- I need help.
- I want to use my time and skills to help people.
This post is about what has made it possible for us to change direction and respond to emerging user needs quickly.
Co-operate has always been about community
Co-operate, an online platform that helps bring communities together, launched last May. We wanted to make it easier for people to come together and change their communities for the better.
Co-operate allows you to:
- see what’s happening – find local events and activities that benefit you and your community (fewer are going ahead during lockdown, of course)
- find volunteers – if you’re an organiser and would like to find people to help to run a community event, activity or group
- add an event – list a community activity or event
- see ‘How to’ guides – for advice, tools and templates to help you make good things happen in your community
- read inspiring stories – good things that had happened as a result of people coming together in their communities
We wanted to help people come together to make good things happen in their community.
We were growing region by region as we learned what worked for each community – we were live in Leeds, Bollington, Trafford. Next up was Camden.
But the lockdown meant communities were no longer able to come together in person. The clean-up initiatives and walking groups we were encouraging, now couldn’t happen.
So the way Co-operate brought people together needed to change.
The need for community and co-operation is stronger now than ever
Our priorities quickly shifted to meet the emerging needs of our communities.
We wrote guides to:
- help organisers move their activities and events online
- teach people how to attend an online activity or event
- give tips to help stay healthy and entertained at home
We contacted the organisers who had events on Co-operate to offer to help move them online.
Supporting online communities over geographical ones (for now)
Focusing on online activities caused us to think about what we meant by community – it was no longer just geographical. Activities and events could be viewed by anyone with internet access. Co-operate was now catering to a national, rather than a regional audience.
Despite the many and varied changes we were adapting to, it was overwhelmingly clear that the main aspiration of Co-operate remained: people want to support each other and do good.
So, our priority became finding a way to allow people across the UK to ‘get or offer support’ in their community.
There are a lot of initiatives being formed, and online activities and events being set up at the moment. We want to help people make sense of everything that’s available and direct them to the most relevant place to get or offer support.
The service went live on Co-operate on Wednesday 1 April. As of today (7 April) so far we’ve had:
- 343 people asking for support
- 3,217 people offering support
We wanted people to be able to use this service as soon as possible. We’ve worked hard, been confused, and had a lot of Zoom calls to try and get this up and running.
Here are some things that have helped.
Collaborating through a crisis
We work in a multi-disciplinary team. That means we have the skills within the team to get a digital service up and running. But this service has relied on the expertise of so many more. We’ve been working with organisers in communities and Member Pioneers, as well as colleagues in marketing, legal, risk, membership and customer relationship management.
We have regular calls, daily check ins, fortnightly show and tells and work together in shared documents.
And we work in an agile way. That means we start small, test it, get feedback and improve it. Working in this way means it’s been easier to adapt to changes quickly – we’re not tied into pre-internet-era ‘big IT’-style technology.
It’s not always been easy adapting to other team’s priorities, and sometimes the level and range of input has felt overwhelming, but getting expertise from so many areas and professions means we’re:
- working transparently and collaboratively to get things right (or as right as we can) from the start
- reducing duplication of work across Co-op
- delivering a service faster
- creating a service that works for more people
Using a tried and tested design system
We’ve written, designed and released the service within 9 days.
We wouldn’t have been able to do this so rapidly without the established design patterns, components and content style guide within Co-op’s design system.
Our team includes people who are new to Co-op, freelance designers working for Co-op and UsTwo, a design agency working with Co-operate. The design system has allowed people with little or no experience of designing with the Co-op brand to:
- write in Co-op’s tone and style – a style that’s clear, inclusive and respectful
- create designs that are visually consistent with other Co-op services – making it easier for people to recognise it as a Co-op service and trust it
It’s meant we can move fast without sacrificing design quality.
Ryan Hussey, Interaction Designer on Co-operate said: “I’ve found the design system has made mine and Rob Swift’s designs a lot more consistent. It’s made throwing new landing pages, like the ‘How to…’, a lot quicker to design and standardised the build for the software engineers.”
Learning that ‘enough’ is better than perfect
We’ve been designing how to ‘get and offer support’ at the same time as working out the operation and processes that will hold it together. There’s understandably been a lot of discussion, changes of direction and boundary-moving while we’ve been working this out.
This means that content and designs have been changed or thrown away as we gain more certainty about the service. We’ve iterated and adapted as more information becomes available. And we’ll continue to do this.
The ever-changing nature of what we’re doing means it’s impossible to create a perfect service. We have to create, build and release quickly if this is going to be useful for people. There’s no time to obsess.
Instead we’ve learnt that ‘good enough’ is more useful than ‘perfect’. Our priority was to get value into the hands – and homes – of our users as soon as possible. We started small and we’re learning and iterating fast. The service will change, adapt and grow over time as we understand more about how it can be useful to people.
If you’ve signed up to ‘get or offer support’ we’d love to get your feedback. This will help us make it better for the people who need it most.
Thank you to everyone at Co-op who has helped make this service real, and to everyone who has offered support.
Coming together to make good things happen is more important than ever. As Adam Warburton, Head of Digital Products, said:
“Now is the moment that community is in the consciousness of everyone in the country. Now could be the start of a new community movement.”
We hope so.
The Co-operate team