What I have learned from designing a community offering

Điều mình học được từ việc thiết kế một đóng góp cho cộng đồng

Tiếng Việt, đọc tại đây.

Some of you might have happened to come across my blog about the findings from my four-week research on the student volunteer community in Vietnam, it was the first phase of my community offering design project. Here’s what I have learned from the process so far.

The scope was to get to know the community, then design an offering for them. This project has forced me to step a thousand miles away from my comfort zone. I had to become more active on social media and more persistent in following up with people. It was even harder when my community was on the other side of the planet, which was not an ideal condition for qualitative research. It was a tough but inspiring journey. I hope this post would be helpful for anyone who also works on community projects.

A quick synthesis of my findings. You can also follow my Instagram account @angie_ngoctran or hashtag #ShareACause🇻🇳 for more field notes.

Ask the right questions

Any successful research requires constant iteration on interview questions. My first interview lasted for almost two hours because I didn’t know where to drill in. After that, I took time to reflect and synthesize my notes, then revised my questions for the next one. It was a repetitive and time-consuming process. However, like peeling an onion, one layer after another, I was getting closer and closer to the root of the matter. The key lesson was that I could have easily gotten stuck in a rut if I hadn’t asked the right questions. Here are some that I found helpful to get in-depth information about a community.

  • How’s the community being built and structured?
  • What does it mean to be in or out of the community?
  • What resources within the community do people really seem to love? Why? How is information currently being shared?
  • Where are the gathering places for your community? Online? Offline?
  • What are the current challenges?
  • How to make the experience of being part of the community better?
  • What are the different roles in your community? What are each role’s goals, and what do they contribute to the community?

Tips: try to ask people questions that lead to specific examples or stories; ask the participants to show, not tell, whenever possible.

One person at a time

It was intimidating at first, especially when I did not know anyone from the community. Then one person introduced me to another. Before I knew it, I had already befriended a group of very supportive and responsive people, which led to many instrumental encounters and fantastic collaboration opportunities for my next phase of the project. The key here was to be thorough and constructive about my project and what I hoped to learn from them.

Tips: end the interview with, “Who should I talk to next?”

Always trust the process

After every single interview, I always assumed that I knew enough about the community and was ready to move to the solution design phase. Thank God that my advisors always stopped me at those moments. Throughout the whole four weeks, I practiced being a true explorer, which means to be open, curious, non-judgemental, patient and observant. I became a sponge that absorbed all the information as much as possible. I only started to synthesize all the findings towards the end of the fourth week. The most rewarding moment was when the community welcomed and appreciated my blog. The content could not have been solid and concise if I had not trusted the process.

Focus on the intention

Being aware of my intention was extremely helpful for making any decisions in not only significant steps but also small details (tone, language, call to action, etc.). One of the feedback I received from my blog draft was, “It should feel like a story and not like an academic paper or a promotional marketing piece.” I was so excited about the next phase of the project that I almost gave my blog a promotional tone, while my true intention was to share my findings with those interested in the student volunteer community and social efforts in Vietnam, thus build awareness and inspire actions.

Engage the community in the design development phase

Your community knows best. I have learned that if the solution was for them, they should also participate in the process of designing it. I have run my prototypes with members from the community a lot of times before launching the final version out and received so many valuable feedback and insights. I also took advantage of my personal network. I shared my concepts and drafts of my blog with friends, asked for their expertise and suggestions. They brought new perspectives into the work, which helped me iterate my design quickly and more effectively. Most of them became followers of my project later.

Tips: for prototype testing, be mindful about timing (whether your community is available or your prototype is relevant to them at that time of the year); thoughtful incentives and clear communication are extra points; consider a soft-launch.

I realized that I have never been alone in this social innovation in Vietnam journey. If you truly care about a community, take the initiative. Talk to them, talk to everyone, do your research and share your findings. Be the magnetic field that attracts anyone who cares about the same matter. Hard work would eventually pay off, I promise.

Some last tips: You could and should be ambitious, but you have to stay realistic at the same time; understand your capabilities, resources and timeframe, then make an informed decision.

Good luck! :)

This is Share A Cause Project blog series. Share A Cause Project is a social campaign that explores what could give the student volunteer community in Vietnam opportunities to grow, innovate, pursue their ideas for good cause and create more impactful outcomes.

How you can be part of this exciting campaign

Since this campaign aims to build awareness and inspire actions, I invite you to share it to your communities and those interested in this matter ;) You can also follow my Instagram account @angie_ngoctran or hashtag #ShareACause🇻🇳 for more field notes.

Product Designers by day, Zen practitioner all the time 🧘🏻‍♀️ One mindful moment at a time