Help us make our mental health meet-ups better

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. During last year’s, Tom Walker wrote a post about why and how he set up Co-op Digital’s mental health meet-ups. A year on, Tom’s left but our fortnightly gatherings remain.

Now feels like a good time to kick off a conversation about what we can do to make sure they’re as helpful as they can be.

We’re looking for your suggestions.  

The idea’s still the same

Simon Hurst and I run the meet-ups now. It’s important to make it clear that, like Tom, we’re not doctors either. We’re not qualified to diagnose a mental illness and we’re certainly not qualified to prescribe remedies.

But the meet-ups are a place where colleagues can speak freely, in confidence, and know that they’re among empathetic people. A year on, this stuff is still the same.

Meet-ups are still open to everyone, they’re still informal. There’s still no minutes, no register, no pressure.

But the numbers have dropped

Recently, we’ve noticed that fewer people are coming to meet-ups. Of course, that could be seen as a really good thing – people don’t feel that they need the meet-up anymore because they’re feeling happier and healthier.

As much as we’d love to believe that, we don’t think that’s the case.

Time to make changes

The lunchtime meet-ups did a job. They got people within Co-op talking about mental health, often publicly, often openly. They helped reassure people they didn’t need to feel ashamed and that they weren’t alone.

It’s clear from speaking to people that even though there appears to be less demand for a mental health meet-up every other week, the idea of it existing, the idea of it being there if it’s needed, is comforting.

However, it’s time to adapt to meet people’s needs. We asked people who attend for their thoughts.

We learnt that:

  • some people find getting out of the office, in the fresh air, over lunchtime helps them most and, ironically, the meet-up was messing with that
  • everyone’s busy and taking time out in the middle of the day isn’t always easy

In response to that, here’s what we’re thinking of trying:

  1. Arranging walks – mental health meet-ups where we can walk and talk and take people out of the office.
  2. Drop-in slots – spreading out the times when we could meet up so there’s no set time and support’s there as and when it’s needed.
  3. Changing the day of the meet-ups.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Your feedback matters.

Mental health first aid training

We recently invited Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) into Co-op Digital and a handful of colleagues took part in a mental health ‘first aid’ training course. The idea is that we can look after team mental health and morale better if we have ‘first aiders’ who recognise early on when team members are struggling.  

In theory, agile teams are fairly healthy. Relatively speaking. Agile ceremonies like daily stand-ups and fortnightly retros act as check-ins with the team – they’re places to bring up struggles, blockers and concerns.

But the take-away point from the training was that we all need to learn how to listen. In Digital, our job is to solve problems. Because of this, it’s easy to throw ‘answers’ out to colleagues who are struggling. The training taught us how effective just listening, without proposing solutions, can be.

Help and be helped

Co-op Group offers advice on setting up a mental health support group. There’s also an Employee assistance programme.

And there’s us, in Digital. You can request to join our dedicated and private mental health Slack channel.

We’ll continue to be here, in whatever format works for our colleagues and friends. Your feedback will shape this. We hope to hear from you soon.

Becky Arrowsmith
Engineer

Making the move to user research

User research helps make products and services that work for the people who use them. It takes loads of different forms including lab sessions and interviews, onsite visits and analysing data but, regardless of its form, it must be present throughout the design process. And even after the thing is live.  

Moving into a user research role

I’ve worked at the Co-op for just under 2 years. I originally joined the Analytics and Optimisation team, but for the last 10 months I’ve been a user researcher at Co-op Digital.

User research really appealed to me because it’s about listening to users as well as looking at data. My old role was heavy on the quantitative side of things: I evaluated data collected from user journeys and improved the experience for users. Good user researchers consider both quantitative and qualitative research so I’ve been working on my qualitative research skills. Now I feel even better equipped to help teams design the right thing.

User research at Co-op Digital

I applied for a user research role after seeing the work that our now Head of User Research James Boardwell and the team were doing with wills. The multidisciplinary team was working in an agile way to build a digital service to make it simpler and quicker for Co-op customers to get a will.

I saw how both data and qualitative research fed into the design process. User research formed the basis for discussions and the team could test ideas, put them in front of people and iterate them quickly. The whole team came to user research sessions so that everyone saw first-hand how users behaved when we put prototypes in front of them and asked questions. The team analysed the themes that came out of the sessions together which meant that everyone had a similar idea about where the design was heading.

Everything moved so quickly and decisions were based on things that the team had seen or heard. At each show and tell the team knew so much more than the week before – they’d added another piece to the jigsaw. They’d started small and built the right thing, quickly. I loved watching their progress.

My first taste of user research

Supporting James was my first experience as a user researcher. I joined the Wills team during a sprint focused on increasing the number of people making it to the confirmation page. I already had good experience in this from my previous role but here I also got to see James talking to people, showing them the prototype and doing qualitative research in lab sessions.

The data I’d collected told us what was happening with real people using the website, and James’ conversations with people told us why it was happening. The data showed that the exit rate from the ‘Your details’ page was disproportionately high. Qualitative research told us that people felt uncomfortable giving their personal details before knowing exactly what the service offered. Changing the order of the pages, so, giving the user more upfront information, resulted in more people completing the form.

The 2 kinds of insight complemented each other. You can read more about this in James’ post, User research and sample sizes.

Learning how user research works in a product team

I spent 6 months working with the Membership team too. User research gives us the chance to test things to make sure we’re doing the right thing for users. This way, any decisions we make are better informed.

Working on Membership opened my eyes to other ways of doing research too. It’s not just about interviews. We:

  • used qualitative website feedback and quantitative analytics to compare what users told us with what they actually do
  • visited stores to find out what our members and customers talk to colleagues about
  • spoke directly to members

It’s about analysing all available resources.

Leading my first project

Photograph of a user research session. Shows 10 members of the Electrical discovery team talking about and analysing what they've seen in the user research lab.

For the last 2 months I’ve been leading the user research on a discovery in our Electrical business. This project has helped me learn a lot about how user research informs service design through techniques like customer journey mapping and service blueprints. Service design is a fairly new way of thinking at Co-op Digital so leading this project was sometimes challenging, but we’ve got a strong user research community at Co-op Digital and support and advice was always available if I needed it.

Hard work, but worth it

I think the biggest challenge for a user researcher is using all of their observations and data to find the need, and working with the team to translate these into things we can work on.

User research encourages teams to take a more balanced approach to design. It changes the way teams work and brings the business and digital sides of things together. It’s a way to stop people jumping to conclusions about what’s ‘right’ because we’re using evidence to make decisions. And ultimately, that’s going to work better.

If learning about how people behave and why sounds interesting and you want to help teams build the right thing, quickly and cost-effectively, get in touch with James Boardwell or leave a comment on the blog.

Vicki Riley
User researcher

Immediate changes in Membership reporting lines

As we develop our membership services proposition across the Group, and now we’ve welcomed Roberto Hortal into the Group as Director of Membership Products and Services, Nathan Warner will step into the role of Interim Head of Membership Proposition, reporting to Roberto.

Working closely with the members leaders groups, Nathan and Roberto will be responsible for developing our member proposition and will immediately focus on our operations and financial plan for 2017, concentrating on membership service delivery and implementation.

Rufus has a huge responsibility in the next few months: to represent our Membership proposition externally to our Council and FRTS. Along with owning and delivering our Community strategy including Co-op Campaigns, Partnerships and Ethical Trading positions and internal and external communications.

Roberto, Nathan and Rufus continue to work as part of the central Digital team.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Supporting the Manchester Digital Skills Festival

Last week, Co-op Digital sponsored the Manchester Digital Skills Festival, an event that promotes careers and collaboration in tech, digital and design. Students, graduates and educators from local schools and universities had the chance to meet more than 180 digital organisations from across the north west.

Photograph of hall with attendees and speaker inside Manchester Town Hall

Co-op Digital contributed to an experience day where a group of 13-14 year old pupils from a local Co-op Academy came into The Federation; a talent day for students and graduates with an interest in the industry and a conference day aimed at starting conversations between digital organisations and educators.

Getting young people interested in digital

During the festival the need for digital organisations to engage with people at a younger age was flagged (again) as a good way of improving diversity in the industry.  

With this in mind, we invited pupils from a local Co-op Academy into The Federation. We gave them an opportunity to get a feel for what it’s like to work in the tech community by spending time with some of our communities of practiceThey also took part in user research, coding and agile delivery workshops.

Pupils working collaboratively on a lego project

There was a chance for digital organisations to talk to educators from local schools and universities. The 2017 skills audit was a big talking point and Rob Bowley, Head of Engineering, was part of a panel discussing key issues flagged in the report.

Bringing more digital people to the Co-op

Principal Engineer Gemma Cameron talked about the Co-op’s culture and values and how they help us build products and services that meet the needs of our members, customers and communities.

Over the past year and a bit Co-op Digital has attracted loads of fantastic digital talent. People who care about doing the right thing for our Co-op colleagues, members and their communities. We’re looking to encourage diversity in the digital and design community, and we’ll be recruiting more great people throughout 2017.

You can find out more about a career at Co-op Digital and follow Co-op Digital on Twitter.

Matt Eyre

Championing a better way of doing data

Blue background with white text that says 'championing a better way of doing data.'

We want to bring the Co-op difference to data. That means going beyond what is simply required by law, and instead infusing the way we collect and handle data with the Co-op’s values.

Practically, we want the Co-op’s data to be: correct and up to date; secure; available to those who need it within the Group and easy to find, understand, connect and augment. That will help us make decisions based on data. We’ll arrive at better decisions more quickly because the information we need will be easy to find and use. It will also help us spot new opportunities across the business, quickly, creating new opportunities because we are joining the dots. We’ll also be able to build better relationships with our partners because data that is well-maintained and with consistent standards can act as common language between us and them.

So, how do we get there? Well, we all have a role. We’ll need to set common standards and provide tools and ways of working needed: data principles.

As importantly, we need to create a culture at the Co-op that isn’t complacent about data and problems with data, but instead fixes those issues at source. We should think and care about how data is used once it is created. Everybody has a role to play in data. Thinking about data and asking how to use it and why will become a habit.

Some of this isn’t new and many people at the Co-op have been doing good work for a long time. Helping and supporting those people to continue to do their jobs is important. That’s why we’ve been convening and meeting with Data Leaders, and why we’re including colleagues from data teams across the business to work out what values we want to hold our data to from now on.

Data and the Co-op values

To help us think about this, we’ve started to look at how Co-operative values like self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity and equity might manifest in data.

We’ve come up with a Data Principles alpha to help colleagues working with data at the Co-op. The principles are based on workshops we’ve had with colleagues, and we’re going to be running more user research sessions to make sure that they are relevant and helpful for colleagues at every level. We’ve done a few versions of data principles, and based on colleague feedback on previous iterations we’re sharing what we’ve learnt publicly.

Important themes

1. Data is part of everything

The data function does not work in isolation. Everyone does their bit to collect and create  good data, which can be used as the basis for making decisions. We are focused on what Co-op members and customers want and need, and respond to that quickly. Colleagues have the necessary tools to do so, and are trained in how to use data and to spot opportunities.

2. Clarity is for everyone

We will communicate how we use and collect data in a way that both specialists and non-specialists can understand. We’ll use consistent terms and standards that are externally recognisable, as well as use plain English to help members meaningfully consent to how the Co-op uses their data.

3. One version of the truth

Major data sets will have a designated owner and steward, who is in charge of keeping them updated, accurate and complete according to defined goals. All significant data sets will be listed and visible to all staff in a Central Data Catalogue, rather than relying on local duplicate, or inconsistent versions.

4. Co-operating safely

We will use data across the business where appropriate and ethical. We encourage co-operating about data, safely and securely, working together for mutual benefit.

We’re still testing these and we’re keen to hear colleague, customer and member thoughts on them. If you have feedback on these principles, leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Catherine Brien
Data Science Director

Making it easier to become a member

Last week we announced we’ve reached the 500,000 new member mark since we launched our new Membership in September last year.  

Earlier this year we also said that we want a million new members in 2017 and with that in mind, it’s really important that first-time users can register as easily as possible. That’s why, in our last sprint, the Membership website team focused on improving the user journey and reducing drop-outs.

Completing the online registration

To get an online member account you have to register on the Membership site. If you’re already a member then it’s a case of registering your card (or temporary card) you bought in store.

When we looked at data, only 34% of people who started to sign up as new members, ie those who hadn’t got any kind of membership card from coop.co.uk/membership were completing the journey.

Improving things for this user group is key to achieving our target of a million new members this year. Someone signing up here is potentially a new member that we might never see again if they leave the site at this point.

Something didn’t quite add up

Google Analytics told us that we were losing a significant number of people at the point where we asked new members to pay £1. At first we assumed that paying £1 was too much for some customers. But the 34% successful sign up rate didn’t match well with what we were hearing from users we’d talked to. We found that although some people questioned why we charge £1, their reactions didn’t indicate that a massive 2 out of every 3 of them would be put off by it.

From this, we hypothesised that the poor conversion rate might be down to people who were already members arriving at the £1 payment page. They would have already paid to join, so they could be the ones leaving at this point.

There are over a quarter of a million members with temporary cards who haven’t registered them yet. We know that after 28 days the chances of a card being registered falls dramatically so designing a user journey that helps temporary card holders succeed first time and become ‘active’ is vital.

How we improved the user journey

To solve this we added in another step into the process for anyone wanting to join as a new member. The important interaction change we made was to ask the customer if they had a Co-op card, rather than asking them to remember if they were already members.

screen shot of the 'check if you're a member' page showing the three types of membership card
We included images of the old ‘honeycomb’ card, the new blue card as well as an image of a temporary card as visual prompts. From there, if they have a card we take their membership number and direct them to sign in or register. Now, they don’t see a screen asking them for another £1. We only let people who say they don’t have a card progress further.

It’s working

Our latest data shows that 58% people who are routed to join follow this journey successfully: they pay £1 and become members. That’s a significant increase. Those we now redirect automatically to register are completing their journeys successfully too – which in its own way is important.

As an aside we’ve also reduced the risk of members duplicating their membership by joining online when they already have a membership number. This reduces the burden on our call centre, which currently is the only way members can link their accounts if they have more than one.

What we’ll be working on next

Our next improvement is looking at the sign in journey.

So if you haven’t done it yet it’s now even easier to join us!

Derek Harvie
Product manager

500,000 new members since September

We’ve passed the 500,000 new member mark since we launched our new Membership in September last year.

With the additional 500,000 members (531,000 is the latest figure) we have 4.16 million active members. This is fantastic because it means that there are now 4.16 million people who are earning 5% for themselves and 1% for their local cause when they buy Co-op branded products.

Celebrating 4,000 local causes with films

There are now 4,000 local causes which members can choose to give their 1% to and we were lucky enough to work with Shane Meadows on a series of films about some of them. On Monday we held a screening of the director’s cut – a combination of all the films in the series. We invited some of the people Shane featured in the films as well as local Co-op colleagues and Co-op Council members.

photograph of people watching the join us film at the screening

Hard work is paying off

I’d like to thank the whole team for their hard work making things better for our members and the local causes our members support. Of course, we’re not finished yet. We’ve already said  we want a million new members in 2017 and Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow is one of the 90,000 members who joined us since 1 January.

Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow holding up his Co-op membership card next to a Co-op colleague

You can keep an eye on our progress on our Membership data page.

If you haven’t already, sign up to become a member. Join us.

Rufus Olins
Chief Membership Officer

coop.co.uk/colleagues: we’re listening to your feedback

Just before Christmas we launched coop.co.uk/colleagues, a website where colleagues can find the things they need to know about working at the Co-op. In my previous post Welcome to coop.co.uk/colleagues I explained that we built it because we wanted to make information more easily available for all colleagues, not just those who have access to the work computer. Providing one, open place to access information from lots of different older Co-op sites.

The site has been live for around a month now and, just as we requested, we’ve had a lot of feedback on it.

What people have been saying

The site allows users to leave anonymous feedback on every page. We’ve had more than 70 pieces of feedback which were almost all positive. People said:

  • “It’s great that this stuff is now so accessible”
  • “Huge tick. Transparency. Access for all, particularly CTMs (customer team members), who have little access to back office policies”
  • “Easily accessible especially when you’re not a work”
  • “Much easier to navigate than finding information on the intranet”

But we know we’ve still got more to do. People also said:

  • “Don’t we have a whistleblower number or a risk hotline?”
  • “In the opportunities section could there be a link to a section about opportunities for study and self-directed learning?”

We’ve read and thought about all the feedback and now we’ll start using it to help us, improving the site plan developments and content changes. This is all part of working in an agile way.

But we know we’ve still got more to do, it’s not finished, we’ll keep iterating.

Spreading the word

When we launched in December we deliberately didn’t promote the site very much. We wanted to give ourselves time to gather feedback and think about at any issues. Now, we’re starting to share the site with more colleagues.

We posted about it on our colleague Facebook page and got some more feedback.

Written feedback from two colleagues in our Facebook group.

We wanted to help colleagues without access to their work computer to find out about the organisation they work in. Now we need to find the best ways to tell them about the site that will help them do that. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment below.

Peter Brumby
Digital Channels Manager

Making a will can be daunting. We’re trying to change that.

How changing where we give content has made our digital service easier for users.

I’m Joanne, a content designer working on the wills digital service. We’re building a new way for people to tell us what they want in their will.

Content design is finding out why people come to a web page – what they came to find out, order, apply for  –  and giving them this information:

  • in a way they understand
  • through the most appropriate channel
  • at the time they need it

How and when we give users information is critical for our service.

Why we need to make wills easy to understand

A lot of people find wills intimidating because of the complex terminology used. When you make a will you’re asked to make decisions about your:

  • ‘estate’ (the things you own when you die)
  • ‘executors’ (the people who manage your will when you’ve died)
  • ‘beneficiaries’ (the people or charities you want to leave things to)

We’re asking people to learn new concepts and unfamiliar terminology. We then ask them to make important decisions based on what they understand of these concepts. We need to make this easy, so people can be certain they’re making the right decision.

How we started trying to make it easy

We started by breaking up definitions of complex concepts using short, simple sentences and paragraphs written in a clear way. We presented this content over a few web pages before showing a screen asking the user to fill in the related question.

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

We know users tend to read very little on the web – studies show only 16% of people read web pages word-for-word . We thought that by forcing users through these pages of information, it’s more likely that they’d take the time to read them, and therefore more likely that they’d be able to make an informed decision.

Initially it seemed to work. People commented on how straight-forward it seemed – it felt easy, not complex.

But, people were impatient

The further people got through the form, the less they were reading. They were scanning the pages, clicking through them quickly, and missing a lot of the information.

When they were asked a question, they skipped back and forth between screens to remind themselves of the concepts they needed to understand to answer. One person took pictures of the pages before moving on.

People were finding it time-consuming and frustrating.

And, we knew it was likely that this frustration would increase if users:

  • were in a busy environment
  • had short-term memory problems
  • had English as a second language

We realised we couldn’t truly rely on users reading, understanding and remembering the earlier information, even if we knew they would have passed through it.

We needed to rethink where and when we gave users information.

Make it easier, make it successful

By asking users to read information on one page and remember it later, we were increasing the mental and physical effort we were asking them to go through (called the ‘interaction cost’).

Having to go back to be reminded of information – finding the back button, clicking it, waiting for pages to load – also increases the interaction cost.

Research shows that usage goes down as the interaction cost goes up. So, to give our service a better chance of success, we needed to lower the effort involved to use it.

Give information at the point it’s needed

So we moved the information to the same page as the question – to the point the user needs to refer to it to make a decision.

In places, this made the pages long.

Screen shot of part of the wills digital service

So, we:

  • kept the sentence and paragraphs clear and succinct
  • broke up lists into bullet points
  • interspersed the content with logical subheadings

This makes the text easier to scan – users can jump to the section they need without having to travel to a separate section or memorise information.

We’ve reduced the effort required to use our service and reduced frustration.

We’re giving users what they need, when they need it.

Joanne Schofield

Hack Manchester Junior

This week the most brilliant young minds met for Hack Manchester Junior, at the Museum of Science and Industry as part of the Manchester Science Festival.

Hack Manchester is a 24-hour coding competition where teams of four people turn up to create a product that meets a brief, and present it, in just a day. A junior version runs over two days and is open to young people up to 18.

The junior event this week had over 110 entrants take part in hacking challenges. Coop Digital was joined by our fellow junior challenge setters Siemens, Thales UK, Greater Manchester Police, Cancer Research UK, Clockwork, GCHQ and Web Applications UK.

Our challenge was: “Make something to help people experiencing loneliness’. Tom and I had the tough task of judging the winner of the challenge. We decided that HackHorrors, who were one of the youngest teams to take part, deserved to win. They created a website that allows people who can’t get out of their house to ask neighbours to pick up provisions for them – they wanted to ‘Create a Community on your Street”.

We were happy to see two of our other entrants win prizes too. Team GCHQ>NSA, who created a game for lonely children to play, won the best school/college team challenge. Team Not Yet made an interactive robot you can speak to, for scheduling events. They won Best In Show.

For me, one stand-out team was Null Is Not Defined – four girls from Loreto College who took the Thales challenge to ‘Protect the bank’. They team created working facial recognition software in just two days and won their category.

This weekend it’s the seniors’ turn as Hack Manchester returns on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 October. Around 350 people will be taking part in the 24-hour hackathon (which actually runs over 25 hours because the clocks go back this weekend). Emer Coleman and I will be judging Co-op’s category. I’m really excited to see what the seniors come up with, the juniors are quite an act to follow.

You can buy tickets to Sunday’s awards show.

You can see the full coverage of the Hack Junior event day 1 and day 2.