RightsCon, the world’s leading event on human rights in the digital age, was held online this year during the month of July 2020. Internews’ Ashley Fowler led a session entitled, “Ensuring users have a voice: collecting and integrating user feedback.” Since 2015, Internews has partnered with digital security trainers, design experts, and open source tool teams to improve the usability and accessibility of open source privacy and security tools. Valuable user feedback collected from across the globe has ensured that users have a voice in the design and development of the tools they rely on. This panel was composed of digital security trainers and accessibility experts who have experience collecting feedback from at-risk users as well as designers working with open source tool teams who have implemented usability and accessibility improvements based on user feedback. Below you can find highlights from the panelists, who shared lessons learned, best practices, and responded to questions about collecting and integrating user feedback.
Moderator: Ashley Fowler, Technical Program Officer at Internews
Why is it important to involve users in the design and development of open source tools? How do we sustain feedback loops between at-risk users and open source tool teams?
Panelists highlighted that many open source tools are developed in North America or Europe, far from the communities that heavily rely on these tools for their physical and digital security. Tool teams that do not have direct access to end users struggle to understand the specific needs and threats they face, sometimes resulting in tools that are difficult to use or neglect to account for people outside of North America and Europe. Involving users and creating sustainable feedback loops is critical to the success of any privacy or security tool.
Feedback should not only be collected towards the end of the development cycle, but rather gathered throughout the entire process. Developers must ensure they have structured the process to power continuous feedback loops. For open source donors and funders, it is important to ask how the projects you’re supporting are incorporating feedback from at-risk or marginalized populations. Not only is it important to ask, but also demand that it is included and fund the work.
Nancy noted that it is imperative to also include people with disabilities in the design process of the tool, and seek their feedback early on in the process, in order to build more accessible tools.
Web Accessibility Guidelines exist and can support the inclusion of people with disabilities. Learn more at https://w3.org/TR/WCAG21/.
Are there simple ways to integrate feedback collection into existing training or engagements with end users?
There are lots of lightweight and fun ways to collect feedback! Panelists shared several methods they have used, emphasizing that you can even collect feedback over dinner or coffee. In fact, making it a no pressure, lightweight social event helps people feel more comfortable and results in more accurate, real feedback. If you are conducting a more formal digital security training, you can wander around and observe how people are interacting with the tool and identify where they are facing hurdles. Collect those insights and pain points as feedback you can later send to the tool developer. It can be particularly useful to identify a co-trainer or “observer” whose sole responsibility during a training is to watch and document user behavior, capturing specific feedback that can inform tool teams.
Listening groups, surveys, and trainings are all different channels for collecting feedback. Check out the UX Feedback Collection Guidebook and the Okthanks Exploratorium for more activities! There are also initiatives like USABLE and the OTF Usability Lab that can fund user engagements or design and accessibility support for open source tool teams.
What role does trust play when collecting user feedback?
Empathy is an important factor when collecting feedback. We feel closer to things when we feel connected to the humans who designed them. When you can connect a tool developer directly with users, it helps to build trust and understanding, which in turn improves feedback and the tool! Users will be more likely to engage if they know that developers are interested and their feedback will be heard. Even if you are not able to connect users directly to developers, make sure to let users know that their perspectives matter!
It is also important to stay in touch with the users so that you can follow-up as they continue to use the tool. You can reach out to them to share any development or feature updates as they happen, capture any pain points that may have emerged as they become more familiar with the tool, and get feedback on any changes that have been made.
What prevents users from providing feedback to developers?
It is hard to make sure that development teams are listening. Collecting and sharing feedback requires your time and resources. If you feel like your time and expertise are going into a void, what’s the point? Additionally, connectivity continues to be a huge challenge - both internet connectivity and human connectivity. Digital security trainers, or others skilled at connecting with a particular community, can play a huge role in bridging that gap.
Developers face obstacles as well. Time, access, and resources are obvious challenges. Oftentimes, small tool teams simply may not have the bandwidth to review and act on all of the feedback coming in from users. Internews’ USABLE project has worked to mitigate some of these obstacles. Through the USABLE project, Internews offered financial support to digital security trainers to compensate them for the additional work of collecting and packaging feedback in ways that are easier for developers to receive and act on. For developers, Internews provided funding support for tool teams that were willing and able to implement some of the changes requested through direct user feedback. This approach has been helpful in making sure feedback is not only shared with developers, but also put into practice.
How can I get involved?
Whether you are a digital security trainer, a SAFETAG auditor, or a designer who wants to collect user feedback to help improve open source privacy and security tools, please reach out! We also encourage open source tool teams wishing to integrate user feedback into their design and development processes to connect with us. We have a robust network of community members eager to make tools more usable for those who need them most. Email us at [email protected] today!