Context Matters: Understanding the Why

Linda Middleton, Innovation Analyst, City of Barrie

Horse Shaker was an app that used to be available in the Apple app store for $.99.  It was a simple app – you shook it and it made horse sounds.  It was designed to entertain children.  But little did the designers know, it would quickly become popular to a completely different audience.  Horse photographers soon found out that if they shook the app to make the noise of a horse, the horse they were filming would perk up and point their ears forward – just in time for that perfect shot!  Sales went up but without understanding the context, the designers created new shakers– cow shaker, pig shaker, etc.  – but they didn’t sell the way the horse shaker did.  While the designers used the “adapt and adopt” approach, they didn’t fully understand context or the clients’ needs.  Context matters!

Context matters when we are designing services and products for our employees or citizens too.  We need to fully understand our end user needs before we build something, and then get feedback on it to make sure we’ve hit the mark.  If we haven’t, we tweak it until we do.

At the City of Barrie we’re looking at our Innovation Recognition program and taking this user centred design approach (a.k.a. Human Centred Design).  We’ve reached out to both staff and management to find out what they would like to see in a recognition program.   We’ve conducted three different surveys – 1 to our innovation newsletter subscribers, 1 to our previous award winners, and 1 to our senior leadership team – to get input from a variety of different audiences.  We also have over two dozen volunteers who have signed up to participate in a design workshop to build our recognition program from the ground up, incorporating the feedback we received from the three surveys.   The volunteers come from many different areas of our organization so that we can understand the different points of view and break down the silos between groups.

We are also questioning the purpose of an innovation recognition program – the Why.  The original program was designed to spread the word about innovation and remind us that innovation is everyone’s job.  We wanted to shine the spotlight on innovation that was already happening around the City of Barrie. We wanted a way for people to share their stories.   Is this still the Why?  We don’t know yet, but we are about to find out.  Our workshop is scheduled for April and one of the first things we are going to do with our workshop is make sure we clearly understand the purpose of the program – the Why – the context.  We don’t want to adopt and adapt our existing program and end up with a cow shaker on our hands!

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