Today, the My Best Life app is being launched in Beta! Check it out here: https://mybestlife.app/
We’ve come a long way since the project began, and now is the perfect time to reflect on our journey. We’ve committed to working in the open and have been posting short blog pieces throughout the project. Here, we bring together our thinking across three years of work.
The initial research
This project began in 2018, when NPC worked with young people in Camden to understand what helped them to live the life they wanted, and what barriers stood in the way. The young people we spoke to shared a range of issues, from language barriers to workplace discrimination and unstable housing. What everyone had in common was not knowing where to go for help. They either:
- Didn’t know help was available,
- Didn’t think that help was targeted at them, or
- Didn’t receive the support they wanted when they asked for help.
You can read the summary of our research in NPC’s report, My best life: Priorities for digital technology in the youth sector.
The hard work begins!
The next stage set out to further test the hypothesis that digital solutions can help young people to navigate services more effectively, and we worked in partnership with charities such as The Mix, UK Youth and Leap Confronting Conflict.
We also set ourselves the challenge of working in the open, which we hoped would lead to more shared knowledge and better transparency—by telling people what worked and didn’t work about My Best Life, we wanted to support others to learn from our experience and build their own digital solutions. We involved users (i.e., young people) early in the process and tested our product with them throughout the project, to allow a more relevant solution to be built by young people, for young people. But we also wanted them to gain experience, see the value of getting involved in projects like this, and not merely be a means to an end. One of our first acts of co-design was a workshop with young people, mapping the different problems they faced that we could potentially tackle through a digital solution.
For the next phase of the project, we concentrated on the first of the three problems identified by young people: not knowing help was available. This came out strongly during the workshop as “the matching problem”: young people were not connecting with the right support.
We wondered if we could help young people better identify their needs through a digital app, and/or help young people better navigate the services that are available. Rather than taking the plunge into the daunting world of native app building, we decided to focus on making a progressive web app (PWA), something that could be accessed online rather than downloaded.
Virtual design sprints
In January 2020, we announced our plans for what we would do next. We intended to find some office space to run design sprints between March and April 2020. Of course, with the Covid-19 pandemic, that never happened. Instead, the design sprints moved online in March. Using a combination of Miro and Zoom, we brought together young people and youth organisations to explore different problem areas in each sprint, including, “How might we improve the availability of services when and where young people need them?”
We chose to work on a friendly tool that would give service recommendations based on the user’s profile and activity—likes, hobbies, moods, previous reviews and so on. It would give recommendations in easily digestible categories and also keep track of wellness over time, offering support if needed. Lastly, the tool would be able to offer recommendations as you browse the web, reacting to your current interests or concerns. It’s been interesting to see how we’ve refined this concept as the project has progressed.
Once we had an idea of what we wanted to build, we went on the lookout for a digital agency partner to work with us to develop a proof of concept for this progressive web app. We learnt a lot from this process, especially the importance of getting all assumptions out on the table as soon as possible to ensure we’re all on the same page and have the same way of working. Our initial choice of agency did not get taken forward due to differing approaches to development. Following further conversations, we began working with another agency called NeonTribe, who really embrace getting stuck in, trying things in quick ways, unearthing assumptions, and getting young people involved.
For the proof of concept, we also needed a local authority partner to work with us—ideally one that was committed to improving how young people discover and access services and opportunities. We debated whether to go where there were already plenty of youth services, so we could concentrate on getting the app’s infrastructure right, or to go where there were fewer services, so we could more easily see the impact the app would have. In the end, we chose to work with Lambeth Council and take advantage of the fact that they have so much on offer for young people, giving us plenty of material for testing the concept.
Progress with our app
As 2020 drew to a close, we set out a Comms schedule for 2021, updated our measurement and evaluation plan, and began prototyping the onboarding journey for the app, testing the user journey with young people from across the UK to find out what worked best for them. As the New Year progressed, we pushed ahead and planned for the Alpha development of the My Best Life app, which meant developing our data model.
We had a couple of online sessions with NeonTribe, where we explored data modelling and defined the fields for data entry. After this, we began the process of data entry—finding out about charities in Lambeth and using information about them to test the data fields. We trialled a data collection method in a spreadsheet, and then NeonTribe configured an off-the-shelf Content Management System (CMS), changing the pre-existing fields to match the data points we had. We worked with our Young Person Steering Group to validate our approach and keep us in check with our language and tone.
We shared our new prototype in January, and then we got our Young Person Steering Group involved in the bug testing. They all had a link to the web app and we went through a series of tasks to see what they could and couldn’t do. We added a few questions at the end to see how they found the overall feel and experience of the web app.
After this, we ran multiple user testing sessions with young people. We wanted to recruit a diverse range of user testers, so we asked our existing user testers if they had any friends who didn’t access services and would be willing to chat (and we paid both young people for their time). Following two rounds of development and testing with young people from across England, we shared another prototype video in April. Recently we’ve been moving ahead on contacting charities, both to get them to update their data on the app and to invite them to get involved in the app’s future development.
The next stage
This is our first opportunity to test our concept in real-life settings, understanding how young people use and respond to the product, and whether it adds value to them. Throughout June we’ll be interviewing more young people, doing some site visits and tapping into the many active youth groups across the borough.
Armed with this rich feedback, we hope we will get closer to answering our critical question: Can an app help young people to find and access services and opportunities, that are relevant to their needs and interests?
We feel the final product has come a long way from our initial suggestions, and we’ve been blown away by the amount of support we’ve had. Now, we’d love to hear what you think of our app! Follow the activity on Twitter, or email email@example.com or nicola@firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.