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Notes from the Microsoft Mobile Citizen Summit: All Sessions

These are draft notes – please excuse typos.


Dan Kasun, Microsoft Public Sector

Key Points:

  • Leveraging technology to make government better and more efficient is to advance ideals of freedom and democracy
  • Time has never been better for mobile computing – we have reached a state in the business where the network is almost always there for almost everyone in the world; devices are as available as humans themselves
  • Care givers in rural areas are using mobile technology now for optimized health care (mobile technology now available by Microsoft) – analytics are sent via mobile for care givers to conduct their visits based on need

Key Note Session: How Mobile Technology Has Been Used in Political Campaigns

Session Description: This panel discussed how mobile might be used by campaigns of all stripes in 2012. We will discuss what’s been done so far in the 2010 elections and what we might see going forward. Includes a brainstorming session with the audience on what kinds of mobile outreach they’d want to see in the 2012 campaign cycle.

Each panelist spoke about how mobile technology was used in previous campaigns and how mobile technology would influence future campaign strategy for engagement and information sharing. The following key points were discussed.

Katie Harbarth, Associate Manager of Policy, Facebook; Courtney Sieloff, Senior Strategist, Revolution Messaging, Women in Politics in Technology

  • Why political campaigns are different than others and how does mobile fit in?
    • Mobile has historically been in the new media department (anything new that people didn’t want to touch since 2004); but it needs to be its own group
    • Many just assume mobile is just SMS
    • Everyone wants SMS/mobile to be the next ATM, but they can’t figure out where or how to put mobile into their campaigns successfully
    • Instead of putting website on materials, put the mobile code there instead to encourage users to search for more information
  • Develop and incorporate a mobile strategy – encourage the digital person to be on senior staff (so that users can talk directly to the candidate)
    • Need to teach people on the campaign how to use these tools (spread the responsibility to many users to encourage wide-scale adoption)
  • Development of mobile technology for corporations versus campaigns – How are they different?
    • They have different timelines, and different data being used for different purposes – recommend using analytics to gather data to explain reasoning (educate the users)
  • Is there a need for a new app in future campaigns?
    • Recommend using mobile video to disseminate taped responses to others’ advertisements immediately on the phone and publish online instead – faster response to existing following audience
    • A lot of tools already out there, but need to be better integrated
    • Campaigns should incorporate more pictures and post for tagging to encourage interaction and involvement, from audiences, speaking events, etc., make your campaigns more personal
  • How will mobile be used in 2012?
    • Mobile technology will be used for fundraising (through mobile browsing, not text)
    • Mobile advertising, basic campaign activities updates will be more mobile (that’s where the people are)
    • Text will be used as two way communications
    • Text to video –video will be used via mobile and then sent to the audience as a personal message
    • Sharing of polling info locations, etc. via mobile technology
    • Integrate efforts and make sure everything works together (not just app or web), make sure one updates the other, remind people to revisit the website
  • What about security? Fear of sharing too much about campaign details?
    • Fear of the unknown keeps people from using mobile technology, a fear of what might happen – to combat this, there is a need to empower citizens, volunteers, and in general, be more open (and train) to trust the sharing of info
  • What’s the most important demographic segment in 2012?
    • Latinos are already a group of people who use mobile and texting a lot, 10,000 Latinos turn 18 every day – this demographic will need to be focused on
    • Older block of voters who are starting to use technology are using technology via mobile, but not necessarily on desktop (due to lack of broadband sometimes)
    • Text for lower income as well will be needed
    • Younger audience are less likely to respond to text campaigns
  • What about apps?
    • You need at least a mobile version of your website if not a full app
    • Check-in-type of technologies (Foursquare, Facebook Places, etc.) will allow for narrowing down of conversations into friend groups and location-specific groups from the larger audience and will help with engagement
  • How to handle errors, mistakes via mobile technology?
    • Recommend tweeting “oops” to make it personal, own the mistake
    • Should allow mobile technology to listen, respond, and engage
  • How are you building mobile tech and mobile engagement? What are your resources?
    • Campaigns may need to source it out, unless you have a staffer who can do many things
    • Vendors often offer a scale of apps to buy from cookie cutter to very specific to satisfy different budgetary needs

Panel A2: Designing Mobile Roll Outs

Session Description: What are some important considerations in designing a mobile roll out for my organization? How to go about nailing down the right app app concept, functionality, target platforms, and specifications, and get the buy-in necessary to bring the app/s to fruition?

Moderator: Julian Mellicovsky, Director of Mobile Strategy, Intridea

Panelists: Mike Lee, AARP Digital; Yoshi Maisami, Intridea, Laura Cochran, Gannett, Katie Joul, National Geographic

Each panelist spoke about mobile development conducted at their respective companies and organizations. The following key points were discussed.

Challenges, Best Practices, and Key Points:

  • How did you go about starting your mobile roll out in your organization; what was your approach?

    • The older the content is, the harder it is to use, due to copy right, other restrictions, etc.
    • Start with the audience, interview extremes, talk to target audience to identify requirements for the app
    • Document all insights and record paper trails to learn from errors over time
    • Don’t just think about how you as an agency/org consumes information, think about the users too
    • Do a media landscape review, stay flexible to see and catch changes over time
    • Arrival of the IPad was a wake-up call for mobile app development – the volume of purchases shows a trend toward mobile technology
    • You need leadership buy in for mobile development to push forward at your agency or organization
    • Find out where your users are and develop there (they are not necessarily hanging out on your website)
    • Work with users to identify requirements for mobile development
      • What the audience wants to do, to learn, etc.
      • Cross platform?
      • Bi-directional communications?
    • Use a phased approach to development – it’s hard enough to get people to understand why mobile strategy is important. The next step is to prove to them that the app is necessary by establishing and meeting goals, using metrics to prove success over time, and produce results for internal stakeholders that will encourage them to want to move forward with the mobile strategy
    • Do one thing well – mobile technology is not a desktop experience. Choose one thing and focus on it. Come back to feature later and ask yourself if you are just doing that job – don’t add too many features; the more there are, the worse the experience
    • What are they key challenges/decisions faced during the mobile development process and how are they dealt with?
      • Staying focused in one core area, what are you trying to accomplish? Features need to be prioritized (then change priorities once the app is rolled out with a phased approach to better fit the audience use in reality over time)
      • Should you focus on an app or a mobile web site? Decide based upon who the audience would/could be, and use a phased approach (first the web for everyone, then the platforms for specific audiences, more sophisticated experience)
      • Getting the app off the ground is the hardest part, talking too much, too much input, too many people – use key stakeholders ONLY, go a little rogue and include only the following people:
        • Tech
        • Content
        • Mobile
        • Ad sales
      • Keep it as quiet as possible until you are fully developed, ready to go, have one manager on your side (for leadership buy in and top cover)
      • Keep developers in the group, don’t step around to the manager, it will kill it
      • How to deal with security issues: Use Case: Voice of America/Broadcast Board of Governors – a mobile app for VOA news from Iran, to include mesh networks, proxies, to keep the app going when Iran shut down the web. Some issues were:
        • IPhone/Android OS didn’t support Farci (developers must know what the audience has to know (they had to download the package to tranlate)
        • Would have to be offline capabilities (good portion of user experience was when there was no web connection)
        • Didn’t want single communications flow only – wanted audience to submit photos, built in functionality to take photos and submit, had to be careful there was nothing that would tie device id or location to photograph and info shared
        • Research mobile banking industry for ideas on security and GUI
      • Best applications are often produced by citizens for government use from public data. Agencies can leverage citizen engagement by making data open and available and encouraging outside development, then bringing it back into support within the agency for official use – get the data out there and trust the public to develop the apps themselves. However, there are a few issues:
        • Brand issues
        • Consistency issues
        • Less resources required though
      • Build a good user experience for adding content and make it fun in order to make it successful
      • Open data is very important, do it yourself is very prevalent in technology development these days
      • When encouraging outside development (by citizens) make sure the agency owns part of the conversation with the constituents who are consuming the data. Reach out to them – agency needs to have a part of the experience, either work with the developer and help fund it/sponsor it, etc. (hackathon, etc.) or build an app and provide data, provide an API and allow developers to make the app better, through a widget, ask for feedback, etc.
      • Social media team helps with buy in and development over time and can serve as a champion for web and app development in an agency
      • Consider the fact that three years from now, there will be more mobile web than apps – agencies might not want to develop an app now, since it will take a long time to finalize, think about what will be hot in three years instead. Apps are quick wins – underneath is the mobile web, which is more organic, slower growth, and will catch up with app development over time in function…focus on mobile web!

Panel B4: User Experience

Session Description: You might have the most innovative, cool, world-changing mobile site/app…but what if your target audience can’t figure out how to use it? You will learn how to get into the minds of your mobile users and understand how to design effective and usable mobile user experiences. We will discuss methods for conducting user research throughout the design process from ideation all the way to the launch of your mobile product

Speaker: Andrew Schall, Spark

The speaker discussed user experience and how to integrate user feedback into mobile development to ensure successful apps. The following key points were discussed.

  • Challenges, Best Practices, and Key Points:

    • Things to think about:
      • How to integrate user experience and feedback into development lifecycle
      • Why user feedback should be integrated into development
      • What happens when mobile experience is bad? The user deletes it. (less forgiveness in mobile than in web)
    • The Development lifecycle
      • Research is the foundation for all mobile development (or at least it should be). The following must be considered in mobile experience:
        • Environmental factors
          • Distractions (multi-tasking removes focus from one app)
          • Disruptions
          • Connectivity issues
          • Physical (lighting, color, and contrast, etc.)
        • Human Factors (a person’s physical and mental characteristics)
          • Overall “Tech-Savyness”
          • Experience using the device
          • Demographics
          • How are they comfortable using the device, comparability to other devices currently being used (e.g. difference between Apple products, experience from one translates to the other, etc.)
          • Attention span
          • Personal experiences and preferences (security, privacy, etc.)
          • Ability or disability to bend to social pressures (downloading because of a popular trend)
          • Ethnicity and cultural differences
          • Physical differences
        • Technology Factors (types of technology being used)
          • Device features and limitations
          • Operating system
          • Compatibility issues
          • Connectivity and app size/features to download
          • Accessories
          • Battery power
    • How to take user considerations into development
      • User personas – represent hypothetical individuals based on research
        • Tasks (how user uses mobile technology)
        • Apps already downloaded on the phone
        • Description of personality
        • Challenges/distractions/disruptions typical of a persona
      • Where does this information come from?
        • Contextual inquiries (field research)
        • User interviews
        • Focus groups
        • Baseline usability tests
        • Surveys
        • Diary and longitudinal studies
    • Prototyping
      • Start with a sketch (valuable to do as a group versus alone, bring people in from technology who understand the capabilities versus just user experience, bring in the business people to help with budgetary constraints)
      • Start with strategy and think about focus – don’t go right into design
      • Use wireframes, but stay within a mobile screen size for usability purposes
      • Build clickable prototype – MockApp (prototyping tool)
    • Design: How do we take all of the important content, navigation, interactivity, etc. from our full website and convert that experience into the mobile world?
      • Identify user priorities based off of analytics and then build those into mobile
      • Consider content length in mobile form
      • Don’t focus so much that you lose usability of the app
    • Usability is:
      • Effectiveness: can users achieve what they need by using the product
      • Ease of learning: How fast can a user who has never seen the interface learn to use it? (first ten seconds is important)
      • Efficiency of use: How fast can a user complete the tasks?
      • Memorability: Can users remember enough to reuse the interface effectively?
      • Error prevention
      • Satisfaction
    • How to evaluate for user experience:
      • Effective navigation
      • Relevant content
      • Good presentation
      • Efficient interaction
    • How do you motivate a user and what do you think about?
      • Will they click?
      • Will they read?
      • Will they look?
      • Will they interact?
    • Tools for usability success:
      • Usability testing
      • Focus groups
      • Feedback
    • Sample size needed for usability testing
      • 5 users represents 80% of usability problems (Virzi, 1992, Nielsen 1993)
      • (5 users per persona/user group)
      • Recommend setting up user group/personas and then usability test for each

Panel C6: Engaging and Empowering Citizens through Mobile Technology

The Federal government can better serve citizens by reducing the effort to get critical information. TSA, after looking at the most frequently requested information from its Contact Center and most frequently visited web pages, built a mobile web application and iPhone app to get that information right into the hands of travelers. This involved understanding customers and meeting their needs.

Going one step farther, TSA empowered app users to use a crowdsourcing function to provide real-time wait times at security checkpoints. Now passengers can help other passengers better prepare. The more people that use the app, the better it is for everyone.

Moderator: Megan Kenny, TSA Idea Factory

  • TSA developed a mobile application called MyTSA to engage the public and inform them about TSA-related information. The following key points were discussed.

    Challenges, Best Practices, and Key Points:

    • App was developed for travelers to assist them in travelling and to help promote efficiency across the travel environment, prevent bottle necks and problems through enhanced information, etc.
    • App empowers the public to improve airport security
    • What the app does:
      • Can I bring my…(can type in items to find out if you can bring them on the plane: information is coming in from the public who enters this information or asks these questions to field agents)
      • What ID can you use? (and what are the expiration restrictions)
      • Medical and baby exemptions?
      • How long is the line at my airport? (based on search and geolocation) – information comes from the FAA, provides security check point wait times – from crowd-sourced data (input into the app by the user)
      • What happens if I lost my ID? (and other guidance)
      • Graphically depicts weather over airports for real time situation in red/green/yellow
    • How the app functions
      • Decided early on to allow sharing of information
      • Agency decided to allow for humorous entries – very top down
      • App seen as fresher and newer than the website, people assume the website isn’t updated as often and therefore the information is not as correct – especially as the App allows for user input
      • Next iteration will post information to website and app from the same source
      • Took two years for development, most in the last four months (buy in, etc. at the front, actual development at the back)
      • Developed in an in-house IT strategy program
      • Also has a mobile web application
      • 500,000 potential users (downloaded the app), 10,000-40,000 users active per week
      • The app has decreased TSA call center volume in general
      • No user involvement in development of the app; piloted internally
      • Takes information from the field for intelligent updating of content (depending on changes in airline regulations, etc.)
    • Engagement
      • Organic press from the user community, through iTunes, etc.
      • Notifications from app stores when new upgrades occur; Apps.gov
      • Travel and other news sites, Government Computer-related news, etc.
      • Included in larger engagement strategies – no engagement strategy specifically for the app (or marketing)

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Lovisa Williams

Thanks Sara for sharing your wonderful notes from the Mobile Citizen Summit. We will be posting the videos from the livestreamed sessions in the next couple weeks complete with a recap video and more. Thanks again!