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.
Understanding the problems
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:
- Fund raising.
- Recruiting volunteers.
- Promotion and raising awareness.
- Finding a location or venue.
- Finding, getting or buying equipment.
- 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.
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.