Monday, 8 April 2019

The challenges of building a living lab prototype

Last year we made the decision to develop something more concrete to present and discuss – a prototype of sorts that would hopefully elicit a more active response from potential users and allow us to modify our ideas in view of the feedback we receive. This turned out to be quite challenging since, in our case, the “prototype” is a web page. While the content that we want to put on the website is fairly straightforward (e.g. profiles of institutions, individual advisors), finding a good way to navigate the information available on the system proved to be challenging. Some of this is due to our lack of expertise in web design, as there are most definitely a set of simple solutions that any half-decent web designer would propose on the spot. However, the main issue was actually structuring the content in such a way that was intuitive for a farmer or advisor. 

Visualising the platform has been a valuable experience as it forced us to confront the fact that we had been working with a very abstract idea of what the platform would be. This has not necessarily toned down our ambitions, but we will have to spend more time thinking about how to present the information (which, I guess, will also be useful when thinking about the web-based engagement strategy). I tend to prefer hierarchical structures, as in most cases there is a clear logic behind them (see below). 

Based on what the facilitator and I have discussed, however, our idea would probably approximate something between Eurostat (clear vertical logic) and Wikipedia (hyperlinks upon hyperlinks to other pages), and the topics would have to be grouped in a way that made sense to its potential users. In order to do this, we have chosen to involve the users in the creation process and ask them how they would organise the information. This will be done at several meetings in April and May. Then we will organise a meeting with advisors and a web designer.

In working on the platform, we were also forced to deal with the fact that our first ideas of what should be included in the presentation/prototype assumed a great deal of knowledge on behalf of the potential user. This, however, implied a somewhat paradoxical situation wherein the user was actually sufficiently informed to pose a very specific question but would also be willing to use a platform whose purpose was to make life easier for people who are struggling to find information and maybe do not have a clear idea of what they need to know. Our initial approach, therefore, assumed a user who would actually find the platform unnecessary. When we started working on the overall design and structure of the homepage we started asking more basic questions.

Finally, it was suggested to us at the recent meeting in Leuven that we should have a more focused and thought-out approach to getting feedback from people. The suggestions were more or less to (i) make it clear what kind of feedback, and on what specifically, we want, and (ii) use simple methods that do not force the participants to expend a lot of effort. 

Overall, working on the prototype/demo has been a valuable experience and the feedback we received at the third WP3 training event in Leuven will hopefully streamline our approach to getting feedback from potential users and involving them in the creation process in a manner that does not feel contrived.