Piloting digital storytelling as a service design tool

This post is written to compliment my workshop “Piloting Digital Storytelling as a Service Design Tool” at the Service Design in Government Conference (Edinburgh, 7–9 March 2018).

The slides from my workshop are available here (Google Slides)

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The smartphone is equipped with the tools to be able to record and capture the stories of our users. The potential to produce high-quality video on a small device, alongside sound and basic editing functions, means that when we are in the field, we can also ‘bring back’ the authentic voice of the user to be able to show others what we’ve found.

Meet Shona.

Shona is a volunteer for a disabled person’s housing service in Fife, Scotland. Her volunteer role focuses particular around the ‘self directed support’ (SDS) initiative, where the Scottish Government offers personalised funding for people who a disability to be able to chose their own care plan.

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Shona took part in a workshop on digital storytelling (in 2016) to be able to tell her own story using video on her phone. One of the challenges for Shona was although she wanted to help out with the SDS work, her ability to tell her story at all events was made difficult due to her own disability. She was not able to attend all the events, as much as she’d like to tell other people about the benefits of SDS for her.

By recording this short two-minute video alongside a member of staff from the organisation, she was able to capture her thoughts in a way she felt comfortable to share on YouTube, but also for the organisation to use to show people interested in learning more from people who actually were in receipt of the SDS funding.

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It me. Glasgow, 2016.

Over the last 10 years, I have worked at intersection of action research, digital and community empowerment , with a focus on capitalizing on major events (such as Olympics and Commonwealth Games) by facilitating practice-led digital projects that support digital and media literacies. I have developed skills in film-making, citizen journalism, workshop facilitation and design, as well as interests in alternative opportunities for education — with the Service Design Academy being a natural fit to begin a new chapter.

I often think about what it means for Shona to record and tell her story— and how this differs from collecting information using a different type of service design method that you might have used and experienced. From this, I have been exploring how my research-digital-community background can be translated and utilised within the service design community.

Smartphone as a ‘swiss army knife’ of digital storytelling

Look around you. Over the last decade, how we both access, spread and — even produce — information has been transformed through the use of digital tools and the growth of mobile broadband and personal smartphone devices.

People hanging aboot on their phone

The smartphone is the default mobile phone that one is offered when they go to purchase a new phone — with 95% of people owning a cell-phone and 77% percent of phones on the market now being smartphones (Pew Internet, 2017).

A smartphone equips us with the tools to find out information on the go, and to share thoughts and comments on what we find. It also gives us the ability to access recording equipment — such as photographs and video — that can be used to illustrate what we see around us. A fantastic tool for a service designer to help us capture and amplify the work we do.

As service designers and user researchers, this provides us with some other options when it comes to both accessing and making contact with our users, such as connecting with them on social media and other online spaces that they occupy. By recognising that our mobile phones can be used as a service design tool, we can explore different ways it can be used to find and tell stories in a digital and engaging way.

Audioboo(m), 120 audio interviews (recorded on a mobile app) and tagged #citizenrelay, capturing the voices of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay (Scotland wide, 2012)

The role of storytelling is important in service design. If it is about capturing the stories and thoughts of our users or being able to present the findings back to our peers in a representative and respectful manner that can help shape the design process. Storytelling is how we use the information we have found in a creative and engaging way.

One way of doing this is combining digital storytelling with observational research (or an ethnography), you are immersing yourself in the world of other people to understand them better. Using video can be one of the quickest and literal ways of capturing what you have found.

For further reading, Steve Portigal and Bas Raijmakers have collated their top 10 videos of ethnographic research on the Usabilla blog. The link here.

Encouraging people to tell their own stories using digital platform

Videos produced as part of the Dundee and Angus College Good to Great Day (August, 20170

We aren’t always required to captured the stories ourselves. Many groups are using digital to tell their own stories without the mediation of a recognised process that we might see with a journalist or a researcher.

There is recognition that there is value in giving people a voice online, but also using techniques such as creative writing and social reporting where trust and empathy can be built in order to allow for individual users to capture and tell their own stories about a service.

Mindwaves is a mental health community news programme which was originally set up by the Mental Health, Addiction and Suicide prevention department of the NHS in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. They use both creative writing, amateur journalism and photography and a technique called ‘social reporting’ to support users of their service explore positive stories of mental health recovery. With the support of creative professionals, every story, article and multimedia piece of content is produced by people who have engaged with the mental health services of NHS in Glasgow, empowering them to tell their own story.

MindWaves News

You can also encourage people to contribute their own stories by providing clear instructions and prompts to record their own videos.

The Practical Service Design community coordinated a “voices of the community” project ahead of their presentation at the Service Experience Conference in San Francisco this year. They reached out to their community to record a short video contribution and to upload it to youtube for them to use as part of the exhibition. To help people do this, they provided a set of instructions and two sets of prompts, depending on how much experience people had.

Practical Service Design — Faces of the Community

When user research meets digital storytelling

Recording live feedback sessions using Twitter video (Designing Healthy Weight Dundee, October 2016)

When you decide to use film recording as part of your user research, you have to recognise that this will change the experience in relation to your user research. You must consider if filming and capturing information is appropriate.

The expectations and how you approach a person will change. When you put a camera on a person, you are changing the context in how they might answer your questions, they will not be anonymous, they will be associated directly with the footage — both visually and what they chose to say.

They need to be assured about how the footage will be used, the context of the research and how they can chose to opt out.

Filming on your mobile: Getting Started

Documenting the Torch Relay — Kirkwall, 2014

The natural step from reporting back from a user interview is to produce a video case study. A short video interview with a user that can be used in presentations and it comes directly from the person, rather than the researcher mediating their experience.

You must respect people’s feelings and experiences around being filmed — and respect that permission to record for an observational piece of research is different from recording for social media or even for an archival research project to be stored for public use in the library.

Before you turn your camera on, you must be absolutely sure about where it is going to go, how it will be used and that you’ve let your participant know. By reassuring your interviewee, you will build trust and your participant will feel more comfortable to share their thoughts on camera.

You must never film people without their permission and must always identify where the footage will go and how it will be used. You must not deceive your participant — recording an interview for a team presentation is not the same as recording an interview for social media. Think about your audience and your purpose.

It sounds scary, however, there are ways that can help your participant feel comfortable about being recorded and when used properly, video can help illustrate your research in fantastic and potentially influential ways.

Tips for recording in the field

It doesn’t take much to turn your smartphone into the ‘swissarmy knife’ of media making. The phone will have the ability to record video and to download ‘film-making’ style application to support basic editing and sharing. There are also things that you can do in making your video better and to give the smaller lens and microphone on the camera the best chance at recording good footage.

Holding the smartphone

Horizontal video ftw! (Architecture Design Scotland, May 2016)

Think about how you hold the camera, horizontal is always better as you might want to show your video on a bigger screen and it should be the same shape as the television. Vertical video, although it works for some platforms (such as snapchat and periscope), it leaves black spaces up the side.

The smaller the device, the bigger the wobbles will be when you try and hold your camera steady. A visit to your local pound shop to pick up a ‘selfie stick’ — or a monopod — and for less than the price of your lunch, you have both a device to hold your phone steady — and an attachment that converts your phone to be screwed into any tripod.

Thinking about sound

A clip-on mic will make your footage (especially interviews) a lot more enjoyable for the viewer

Similarly, the hands-free headphones that come with your phone can be used as a makeshift microphone (or have a look for smartphone microphones such as the iRig)- with the ability to listen and record sound at the same time. If you chose to record without a microphone, make sure you are in a quiet space and there are going to be limited distractions. Think about when you use YouTube, we can tolerate shaky video but the poor sound makes a video difficult to follow.

Improving the light

Think about backgrounds, how you frame the shot — and hold the camera steady (Transplant Stories, July 2017)

When you are filming, try and get as much natural daylight as possible — the camera lens and sensor on a phone is ok, but it does not let is as much light as a traditional camera lens, so you need to help it by using daylight. Think about where you are filming, in front of a window will darken people’s facial features. Or if you film people facing into direct daylight, they will squint (and they’ll look like they are in pain!) Try and control this as much as you can by moving around to get the best quality light.

Download a professional mobile video application like “Filmic Pro” (between £2.99-£10) and you have control over your audio levels, white balance, focus and quality of the footage.

Know your rights, media activism on a mobile for Scottish Trade Unions Congress, June 2017

However, I’d like to emphasis is that all of this can be done with the phone already in your pocket — and it is less about the additional technology that you plug into it. The extra technology can improve the quality of your footage, allow you to improve your skills and take the next steps — but the exciting part is being able to do with the phone you have already: you should be able to use what is in your pocket already and focus on developing your practice rather than worrying about being on top of the technology.

A video can replace 500 words of text. And I’ve used a lot of text to explain this point so far. Video can illustrate an activity or an action in a universal way, that everyone can watch from the position of your users.

Here is a video I made during the Observational Research Masterclass for the Service Design Academy back in November 2017. This was recorded on an iPhone 6s, with no microphone — by capturing the workshop in this way, I am able to document and amplify the moments when you get people in a room together.

Of course, this is a just a whistle stop tour to the process— and the only way you can get better is by trying it out, practicing ethical and seeing how digital storytelling can compliment and engage with your own work. 99% of citizen journalism, digital storytelling, making movies on your phone (whatever you want to call it), is empathy, working ethically, gaining access to the right people, building trust and confidence to ask the right questions and capture then answers respectful (all essential qualities of service design) — 1% is pointing your camera in the right way.

With this in mind, how might you see digital storytelling being used within your own work?

How would you use this to gather user research?

Can you see potential to document process?

How could you use this as a prototyping tool?

If you are at Service Design in Government, come find me and my camera — I’d love to capture your thoughts, catch me on Twitter @jennifermjones

I would like this to be a useful resource for the service design community, so please let us know what I’ve missed out and I will revise. Apologies for any howling omissions — regard this as a rough prototype.

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