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

Helping member pioneers and local causes get to grips with social

The Social team has been running online tutorials to help colleagues, new member pioneers and people from local causes use social media to create a community.

You can join our tutorial about Facebook communities on Thursday 6 July from 5pm.

Working together

Part of a member pioneer’s role is to get people talking about what matters most in their local community through meetings and events, and to encourage people to volunteer and co-operate on worthwhile causes.

My role as part of the Social Media team has some similarities. Our team’s purpose is to spread the word and encourage people to engage with their Co-op, but we do it online rather than down the local community centre. It made sense that our team shared some of our online community management skills with the new member pioneers. We wanted to help them promote their work and talk about what being a co-operative means in a wider sense.

Figuring out how we could help

The Social Media team met our member pioneers at their induction day to get a feel for how we could help them. We wanted to speak to them to find out their level of knowledge around social media before we spent time and money on designing training materials we thought they might need.

Photograph of a table with post it notes with notes from member pioneers written on them. Notes include: 'when to use @ handles' 'can we use co-op in the account name' and 'what can we use asset wise on social?'

The things they wanted to know more about were:

  • which social channel is the right one for them or their cause
  • how to set up a new Twitter account
  • how to find people in their community on Twitter and who to follow
  • what ‘trending’ means
  • what type of thing they should tweet
  • what a hashtag is and how to use one
  • how to get started with local PR

Live broadcast tutorials

When we knew where member pioneers needed support, we could put together tutorials to help. We’ve been hosting them on YouTube Live then making them available on YouTube for anyone who missed out.

We broadcast our first tutorial ‘Getting started on Twitter’ a few weeks ago and welcomed around 30 live viewers including colleagues, member pioneers and people from local causes. People could ask us questions in the live chat as we were going along and we’ve had over 400 views of the recording too.

Our second stream was about ‘Creating content to share with your community’. In it, our social media content planning manager, Cat Storey, talked about what makes good content and how to present it.

You can watch these videos on our YouTube playlist and give us feedback to help us improve.

Join our social community of practice

We’d like to keep the conversation about effective ways to engage with people going. We listened to member pioneers and set up a Facebook group where we can chat and share advice and ideas. If you’re a member pioneer or work closely with one of our local causes, join our social community on Facebook. Hear from you soon.

Scott Bennett
Social media community manager

Join our tutorial about Facebook communities on Thursday 6 July from 5pm.

Rufus Olins: recruiting for Member Pioneers and paying £9 million to local causes


Rufus: Hello, I’m Rufus and I’m doing the weekly update this week because Mike’s away. I want to talk to you a bit about Membership and community, because this is a landmark week for us. There are 2 big things that are happening that I’m going to tell you about.

The first is we’ve started recruiting for Member Pioneers. We launched on Friday, a big campaign so that we’ve got 50 pioneers at the Co-op in time for the AGM, and we’re building to 1,500 pioneers.

That is a huge moment for us as we reinvent our concept of pioneers from what they were in 1844 to a 21st century version, where we have someone connecting people in every community in the UK, and improving people’s lives.

So, we got off to a great start and we’ve already had, on the first day, 40 applications or expressions of interest in the role. And that’s just the beginning. The applications are open until April 10th and we want a really high calibre of committed people that have got an appetite to make their communities better. So if you know anybody, or would like to do it yourself, please don’t hesitate to go online and fill out the form. It’s a really easy process.

The second initiative I want to talk to you about is the pay out that we’re giving to local causes. On April 19th we’re going to be paying out £9 million to 4,000 local causes. It’s a huge milestone event for the Co-op and signifies a moment where the world can see that we’re moving from being about financial transactions, which are important, to really participating and supporting those causes in our local communities.

We’re doing a social media campaign, there’s going to be celebrations in every store throughout the UK, and we’ve highlighted 46 beacon stores which are really special and will be great examples of what the best really looks like. If you can go and support your local store and get a taste of what’s going on and develop a relationship with the local cause, that’s what we’d like to see so please look out for it on April 19th and do what you can to take part.

Rufus Olins
Chief Membership Officer