Co-operate: why we prioritised ‘What’s happening’

Co-op is a commercial business and our profits go back into our communities. Our mission is ‘Stronger Co-op, stronger communities’. Earlier this year we wrote a post introducing Co-operate, an online platform aimed at bringing communities closer together. Co-operate will host a ‘suite’ of connected products that make it easier for organisers and volunteers to make things happen in their local community.

What’s happening‘ – a product that lists events and activities that benefit Stretford – is the first product in the suite that we’ve built. This post is about how and why we prioritised this one.

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 09.45.26

Understanding the problems

At the start of the year, me and user researcher Simon Hurst gathered, reviewed, grouped and analysed the previous research from agencies, our own Digital Product Research team and other Co-op teams. 

It was clear that if someone wants to make something happen in their community, they need to overcome at least one – often many – of these problems:

  1. Fund raising. 
  2. Recruiting volunteers.
  3. Promotion and raising awareness. 
  4. Finding a location or venue. 
  5. Finding, getting or buying equipment.
  6. Communicating with and co-ordinating volunteers or attendees.

Usually, a digital delivery team would look at all of these problems and use prioritisation techniques to figure out where they could deliver the most value, most easily, before working their way down a list of stories. 

But we didn’t. 

We know there are good digital and non-digital services that adequately solve some of these problems. For example, organisers use Facebook and physical message boards to promote events, and they communicate with their volunteers through Whatsapp groups. But those services aren’t connected, which means users are having to navigate multiple services to make their community event happen.

We knew that if we only tackled one of those problems, our product wouldn’t offer communities anything they couldn’t get from better established ones – we’d actually become part of the problem.

Our over-arching hypothesis

We formed an over-arching hypothesis that has helped frame our strategy for the first 12 to 18 months:

A variety of unconnected digital tools and services aimed at helping people make things happen in their local communities already exist. We believe that offering a range of connected products will make it easier for people to organise and participate in things that benefit their community. We’ll know this is true if people use 2 or more Co-operate products.

Why an events listing is our first Co-operate product

Despite the fact that another place to list events didn’t address the most urgent user need, we prioritised work on Co-operate’s events listing product What’s happening for several reasons:

1.Broad appeal means more value added

What’s happening brings a range of events and activities into one place and we knew that most members of the community would find something of interest to them – it could be a book club or health walk, a martial arts class or knitting group. Starting with What’s happening felt sensible – we knew it would create a buzz because it’s useful to so many organisers and potential attendees. 

screen grab of the stretford what's happening page. shows 6 events.

2.Good for galvanising a new team (and for satisfying stakeholders)

There had been 18 months of stop/start research into communities and deliberation about whether to continue before our current team became involved with the project. Because the Co-op is synonymous with communities, our stakeholders were investing a lot of trust in us to deliver. 

Whilst our natural instinct as a product team is to see user problems for ourselves, it felt wasteful to start again and leap back into another discovery. In the weeks it would have taken for us to complete another discovery, we pulled together as a team and designed prototypes based on what we’d picked up from the research done before. The fact we hadn’t been involved in the initial research perhaps helped us move more quickly because we were less precious about it – we were just desperate to get something into users’ hands and see where we could add value. 

It worked out well for us because we learnt a lot, quickly; the users in Stretford, and the stakeholders. 

3.Technically, it’s relatively simple

From an engineering point of view, this isn’t a challenging product which meant we could design and build something rapidly, get it into people’s hands in Stretford, listen, observe and make improvements frequently and quickly.

4.Build it once, reuse it loads

What’s happening is essentially a searchable, filterable list – a format that we think could ease some of the other problems we’ve seen too. For example, the build could help make it easier to find community spaces in your area; equipment you can borrow; community groups to join or volunteering opportunities. Building this now means it’s likely to speed up other products we build because we’ll reuse and repurpose it and hook in different content.

Thinking ahead and prioritising accordingly

Balancing and satisfying user needs and commercial needs is our top priority in Co-op Digital. But in Co-operate’s case, it was more efficient for us to lay some groundwork first. Choosing to focus on What’s happening as the first product meant we could move quickly and boost team and stakeholder morale, and thinking ahead about what would be sensible and beneficial to us in the future influenced what we built first. Every project is different and has a different backstory, but these were the right product decisions for this product. 

What’s happening with What’s happening

At the moment What’s happening covers 4 communities (Bollington, Sale, Urmston and Stretford) but we’ll soon cover the whole of Trafford. We’re experimenting with ways to measure its impact – for example, is there an increase in participant numbers at the events we feature? This is the common challenge of tracking people as they move from the digital to the physical world. But we like a challenge.

We’re continuously iterating the product in response to user feedback. If you have some for us, use the ‘share your feedback’ link at the bottom of each community page in What’s happening.

Ben Rieveley
Product lead

Co-operate: an online platform to bring communities together

We recently launched Co-operate, an online platform aimed at bringing communities closer together.

So far, our research has told us we should be designing something that makes it easier for people to:

  • start local groups and find others to team up with
  • find a community space
  • club together financially to reach a goal
  • come together and campaign for something they’re passionate about

As always, we’ve started small. We’ve restricted Co-operate to one area for now: Stretford in Manchester.

This post talks about the research that’s shaped the product, what we’ve done so far, and why Co-operate is so very ‘Co-op’.

Community is part of what all co-operatives stand for

The Co-op shares many values with other co-operatives including ‘self-help’ (members joining together and making a difference) and ‘self-responsibility’ (every member supporting their co-op’s activities and using its products and services and encouraging others to support it too).

‘Concern for the community’ is one of the Co-op principles. One of the ways we demonstrate this is by giving 1% of what members spend on Co-op branded products to a local community cause of their choice. Since we launched the new Co-op Membership in 2016, £31.7 million has been invested in around 4,000 community projects thanks to members’ 1%. This has supported a range of community groups including adult literacy classes, youth clubs and schemes that bring isolated older people together close to where they live.

Our new Co-operate platform is an extension of these values and principles. It aims to help communities to make changes autonomously through co-operation – it’s a natural fit for the Co-op.

Clarifying the problem

Last year Co-op started to look into communities. The previous exploration and tests showed us that the combination of people and technology can make it easier for people to co-operate. Over the years, we’ve interviewed volunteers, charity workers, social entrepreneurs and community leaders to find out what’s stopping local communities from coming together to make themselves stronger.

Their research reaffirmed our assumption and we’ve recently been able to clarify the problem: People find it hard to connect and make things happen in their local community.

Poster that says: People find it hard to connect and make things happen in their local community.

From this, we set our vision: Build the one place to go to make things happen in local communities.

poster that says: Build the one place to go to make things happen in local communities.

Ambitious, bold and exciting.

Starting small and locally

As with all digital products we knew that we would need to start small, test, learn and iterate. We decided to do a series of hyper-local trials across Greater Manchester and build collaboratively with users in those areas.

We started in Stretford by assembling a small, multi-disciplinary team and behaving like a start-up. We wanted to build a lean version of the service so we could learn quickly, without wasted effort. By manually adding content ourselves rather than building an expensive content management system, we know what is useful.

Listening to users

We’ve been talking to community organisers in Stretford – the heroes who have managed to start groups that benefit the local area. They’ve told us about the challenges they’ve had to overcome and the ones they’re still struggling with. Most told us:

  • promoting events time-consuming
  • finding more volunteers is hard
  • co-ordinating volunteers is difficult
  • getting access to funding is complicated
  • connecting with other organisers doesn’t happen often

A lot of this is consistent with the research that was done last year. But we are now in direct contact with these people, and see them as an extension of our team. They are the subject matter experts – they’re living and breathing life in a community every day and pushing to improve things for many.

First feature: a ‘digital noticeboard’

As a result of listening and observing, we’ve built a product that pulls together local events and activities that benefit the local area in some way. It’s a kind of digital noticeboard for Stretford called ‘What’s happening’.

Photograph of Co-operate's What's happening in Stretford

We’ve set up a simple, flexible architecture using our Heroku prototype platform along with Contentful, Algolia and Gatsby.js. This lets us quickly try things whilst at the same time being secure and performant.

To get to this point we:

  1. Took photos of all the noticeboards in the area.
  2. Analysed the information and grouped it into categories.
  3. Set up our content management interface and added in the information.
  4. Tested it with users (Stretfordians).
  5. Improved the UX and re-wrote some of the content to make it clearer for users.

You can see this at co-op.co.uk/co-operate.

Next time, we’ll share why we started with a ‘What’s Happening’ product and the next product that we are starting to develop.

If you want to get in touch, email us at co-operate@coopdigital.co.uk

We’re particularly interested in understanding what you’d need to know before you would commit time to helping out in your local area.

Ben Rieveley
Product manager

We’re opening up data to meet customer and member needs

Opening up some of our data will help us meet our customers’ and members’ needs better and help us play a bigger part in their lives and their communities.

By ‘opening up’, we don’t mean we’re about to start selling our customer or member data, we mean we’re starting to build a platform that makes our data more accurate and makes some of it (not confidential stuff, of course) easier to access. This is really important because teams will be able to build useful things more easily.

We started building our platform by looking at our location data for our food stores and funeral homes. This is the addresses, the coordinates and associated information which includes things like opening hours, facilities and directions.

It’s important that the data for each store or funeral home is both accurate and easy to access. Here’s what we’ve been doing to make sure it is.

Making sure it’s accurate

Firstly we built an improved food store finder around user needs.

image shows the new Co-op store finder. it shows a search box for the user to write a location followed by search results. on the right it shows a map with pins to show the results.

We put a feedback form on the finder so users could tell us if the data was accurate or not.

image of the store finder feedback form. it shows a shop's details and underneath there's a box asking: 'tell us what's wrong with the details above' and a submit button.

We learnt that our latitude and longitude co-ordinates were showing many stores in the wrong place on the map. We also found out through user feedback that many stores had the wrong opening hours and some of the facilities needed updating too. Each one of these things needed to be accurate to meet the main user needs of a store finder.

To make things better, we put some tactical fixes in place to make the data more reliable. It’s actually just a temporary measure while the Food team undertakes the huge challenge of rebuilding how it manages, stores and maintains its data. So, right now the accuracy is better but there is still much more to do.

Earlier this month we released a new version of the funeral home finder. We’re hoping that the feedback form on there will help us quickly uncover any inaccuracies with our data like it did with the store finder. Of course, we might find that users are less compelled to give feedback given the journey they may be on. We’ll wait and see and make changes if we need to.

Making data easier to access with APIs

We built the store finder in such a way that it uses an Application Programme Interface (API). APIs turn webpages from static words and pictures to dynamic, contextual information sources by connecting them with databases. Mulesoft explains APIs well in an online video.

For us, creating APIs is the first step in making our data easy to access and open because it provides a widely understood way for developers to quickly start building things that use our data. We chose to build a .JSON API as it’s a machine readable format that is also quite readable for us humans too.

Now, both internal and external developers can build their own services and interfaces featuring Co-op location data. Co-op Digital teams have used the Location Services’ API to build a product finder, the Membership team have used it to create prototypes to test and of course, we have re-used it for the new Funeral Home Finder.

image show two overlapping screenshots from product finder and a prototype form the membership team. both use the location services API

It’s good for us to work with our internal teams to learn the best ways to build and support APIs.

Not just for Co-op teams

Fair Tax Mark is our first external user who has used the API for its Fair Tax Map. From this, we’re learning how to support and improve the API for third parties.

screen shot of the Fair Tax map

We’ve got plans…

We’ll continue to collect, prioritise and build requests for new features, as well as helping wherever we can to improve how the data is kept up to date within the business. We’re also working with a cross-team bunch of engineers and developers to agree a common set of principles and standards, so that our APIs are consistently easy to access. We’re experimenting with how we can make them easy to find in one place, where non-developers can see what’s available and developers can get quickly get their hands on our data.

We’ve had a play with Swagger, a popular open source framework for presenting APIs.

screen shot of what it looked like when we played with Swagger to make our API accessible

It’s basic but the intention is that we’ll style it up in the Co-op brand and add useful content. So it might look a bit like this.

Image contains same information as one above but styled in a more Co-op way.

It’s also likely that we’ll introduce access keys to help us support users better and ensure that we can manage demand.

These are all good first steps for the Location Services team. If you have thoughts on this stuff, leave a comment below. We’re particularly interested to hear ideas on how you could use Co-op Data.

Ben Rieveley
Product lead

Co-op Finder Alpha Update

In my previous post I talked about the work we’re doing to improve our store and branch locator. We’ve continued to improve our new Co-op Finder Alpha and added a page for each store.

All the updates have come from:

  • user feedback from the form on the page
  • user research sessions
  • comments on the blog
  • messages on Twitter

So, if you gave us some feedback, thanks very much. You’ve helped to shape our service for colleagues, members and customers.

Design

Here’s a couple of the design changes we made.

We improved the text input box and how we show the ‘use my location’ option. This was because our users were confused when we tested it out:

image 1

We have reduced the space taken up by the list and map tabs. It was pushing the most important information too far down the screen:

image-2

Local pages

Users asked us to show facilities and services for each store. We’ve added a link to more information that goes to a page about each store. These pages are essential for helping people find stores more easily on search sites. They give us a great opportunity to test new features about a store and its local community.

Information accuracy

Most of the feedback we received was about:

  • opening hours
  • the accuracy of where the pin appears on the map 
  • the need to quickly update information about stores that have closed or changed ownership

The good news is that we’ve improved the accuracy of the location coordinates from 17% to around 88%. That’s around 3,500 stores now with an accurate pin on the map.

There are lots more improvements in the pipeline and we’ll keep you updated here.

Our show and tell is every Wednesday, 10th Floor, 1 Angel Square in Manchester at 10.15-10.45. All colleagues and Member Council members are welcome.

Ben Rieveley
Product Manager, Location Services

Co-op Finder Alpha

Co-op-Finder-Alpha
Co-op Finder Alpha – list results view

We’ve made live our Co-op Finder Alpha. Have a look https://alpha.coop.co.uk/finder.

If you’ve ever used our old store locator, you’ll see there are lots of things that aren’t in the new one. There’s a reason for that. We don’t know whether it was useful or not, in fact there’s a lot we don’t know. 

We’ll use our Co-op Finder Alpha to learn more.

We do know a lot of people choose to come to our website to use our store locator to see whether we are open, usually around those times when opening hours in general are not obvious, like Sunday evenings and national holidays.

We also know that the next most common thing customers need, is to know where the nearest Co-op is to a specific location. 

We’ve kept a few obvious elements, like telephone numbers and links to get directions, but other than that we’ve removed anything that we don’t have an evidenced user need for.

There are two opportunities for users to provide feedback on the experience itself and whether the information is correct, through this and further user research we will understand better what needs to be there.

We’ve already learnt a lot and have some solid improvements in the pipeline that we’ll make live shortly.

Our show & tell is part of the coop.co.uk session every Wednesday, 10th Floor, 10.15-10.45 – all colleagues and Council members welcome.

Please let us know what you think.

Ben Rieveley
Product Manager

Transformation observations

We’re going for it. Shifting a massive chunk of our digital development programme to continuous delivery. That gives me butterflies!

Having run a team of ‘UXers’ that all ache to work in a proper Agile way has been a challenge. We often found ourselves reliant on a super-human delivery manager (namecheck: Victoria Mitchell) to hold back the mountains of Waterfall documentation and ‘sign-offs’ to enable us to work in our Agile bubble. It didn’t really work.

By bursting that bubble and working alongside the business, engineering and operations we are immediately… but I’m not going to espouse the virtues of that here, there’s plenty bigger brains that have done that.

I just want to share some early observations from a UX team perspective as we make that change:

1) We all do UX

We don’t call ourselves a UX team anymore, we are part of a design team. We are all responsible for the user experience: marketing, IT, designers, shop colleagues, call centre colleagues, CEOs… it’s how we work together that delivers the experience. I believe our artists-formerly-known-as-UXers have a key role in evangelising their ingrained user-centric principles across the business. Ensuring everybody is focused on delivering a service that meets people’s needs.

2) Lose the IT and Business/Marketing divide

Being in ‘Digital’ I have often been the buffer between Marketing and IT, the former feeling restricted and stifled, and the latter feeling criticised when all they want to do is keep the business safe. Not only does an understanding have to break out, but the boundaries need to be removed completely. Have multi-disciplined teams, delivering specific products not departments emailing huge documents over ‘the fence’ ensuring they are safe from blame of failure. We now have a team of Engineers, Delivery Managers, Business Analysts, Interaction Designers, Content Designers literally sat side by side delivering the ‘thing’.

IMAG0004
Our multi-disciplined team in post-it heaven

3) Find, empower and trust super-smart decision-makers

Another massive change is required to make this work. The multi-discipline team can’t do their thing if the business isn’t able to provide decisive direction at the same pace. This is where our next challenge is. We need rapid, smart decisions and for that, rapid, smart, decision-makers who are trusted and empowered to take responsibility for their product. Enter product managers, new roles to the Co-op, but very much needed to ensure that the transformation happens. It is these folk that will play a vital part in ensuring the Co-op can transform now, but continue to help a modern Co-op respond rapidly to members’ and customers’ changing needs.

Are you a product manager? Contact Polly Haslam to see if there’s an opportunity for you.

 

Digital Designer wanted

Hello, me again.Image of Ben Rieveley

I mentioned that there’d be more jobs coming soon, well here’s another great opportunity to join our growing band of digital co-operators.

Our ambition is bold: to re-create the Co-operative for a digital era, and demonstrate a different way of doing business for an increasingly connected community. To achieve this we need to ensure the visual impact of our digital services communicates our brand whilst meeting our users’ needs.

Photo of Co-op Design Studio team

We need you to produce, creative, coherent and consistent design across all digital channels for our family of businesses. You’d be joining our Manchester based design studio and support the Digital team by providing the visual design that helps us communicate our message and deliver a truly user-centric service to our customers online.

If you are a naturally creative person with a keen sense of business context this could be the job for you. You’ll need to be passionate but not precious, a collaborator with the confidence to present and explain ideas to both the digital team and colleagues throughout the business.

If you’re interested then take a closer look on our jobs board and submit your CV.

Have a great weekend!

Ben

Find me on twitter @barthelmess