User engagement and making the most of it
User engagement is vital to ensuring the success of a project as it provides real life input early on in the design stage of the process – but traditional face-to-face processes have been severely disrupted by the pandemic.
In this blog, Veronica Hawking Project Manager – ISCF Community of Practice, examines the barriers to traditional user engagement strategies and how to work around them.
When we think of ‘user engagement’ and ensuring people who will be using a service or product are involved in shaping its design and delivery, typically we imagine a group of people sat round a table together sharing their experiences and opinions with post it notes, flip charts, markers (and the all-important tea and biscuits).
It’s a scene that largely hasn’t been possible for the best part of the last year, yet the need to involve users in product and service design remains as crucial as ever. This is the case for the innovative projects funded by UKRI’s Healthy Ageing Challenge, which Ageing Better delivers a Community of Practice to support.
Working with Humanly, we brought together the Trailblazer projects from the Community to look at the barriers to traditional face-to-face user engagement caused by COVID-19 and how to overcome them. By sharing experiences, considering user perspectives, and comparing approaches, we identified a number of ways to do this. These are published in our new thematic paper, Remote engagement: Removing barriers to inclusion in the context of COVID-19.
As part of the report, two of the Trailblazer projects we work with, Business Health Matters and Blackwood Neighbourhoods for Independent Living, shared best practice from their recent experiences, which are captured in the report as case studies.
The takeaways from this work could support businesses, third sector organisations and researchers to engage more meaningfully with the potential users of their services, products and resources without needing to be in a room together. We hope these considerations will lead to high quality user engagement long after the pandemic is over.
Our top ways to improve remote engagement:
1. Break down the barriers to digital engagement
Digital engagement is the primary method many organisations are currently using, but it’s vital to identify and overcome potential barriers – whether around access to equipment or confidence using it. Techniques included 1:1 training sessions; allowing an extra 30 minutes at the start of sessions for technical set up; and having a dedicated facilitator on hand via phone during sessions to troubleshoot problems can make a huge difference.
2. Consider alternative methods to user engagement activities
Remote doesn’t need to simply mean moving focus groups to Zoom. Other options to consider include using postal kits, such as a diary study, dictaphone or disposable camera; mapping someone’s journey through a service via phone or digital whiteboard and sending a copy in the post for their review; or gathering feedback via an online survey.
3. Identify and breakdown barriers in participants’ living environments
When conducting remote engagement, it is also important to consider the person’s living environment and the barriers they may face, for example whether there are other people at home, and how loud and busy the house is. There may be certain times of the day that need to be avoided due to caring responsibilities, and some residents may feel uncomfortable at the idea of opening up their home to strangers via a video group call. Considering the different circumstances of participants allows these to be easily overcome – in these cases, by simply shifting timing of activities or reminding participants cameras can be switched off.
4. Adapt your delivery to make it as accessible as possible for participants
Adapting to remote methods has the potential to support and even increase participant engagement. Creating shorter sessions may help participants stay focused, and for longer engagement pieces, letting the participant complete these in their own time can allow for more individual reflection. For those with English as a second language, consider translating posted activities or involving a translator in discussions. Where literacy could be a challenge keeping the language simple and using tools such as picture cards could work well.
Perhaps the largest lesson – and the most obvious, considering the subject matter- is the importance of putting yourself in the participants’ shoes to consider the barriers they may face. Some of these may be obvious, and many have a simple solution, once they are identified.