product development without use

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Products are designed and implemented in various ways. The design process is complex and it is important to: define your problem, engage the citizens and identify their needs, implement with tight feedback loops, and evaluate with a transparent oversight process.

  1. Engage and align with product stakeholders.

    1. Identify the needs and shared challenges of product stakeholders - the primary, secondary and tertiary actors who affect, or are affected by, the platform, tool, or resource.
      • Analyse your ecosystem and identify users. This goes beyond your end-users - those you think will directly use and benefit from the product. It also includes the allies and opponents of those users, and the bystanders - stakeholders who may not directly interact with the product but who are indirectly affected by it.
      • As always, get to know their needs through research. Broad and shallow research can be conducted through surveys or applying prototypes. In-depth research can be done through semi-structured interviews. You will want to invest time in research and apply the mix of methods that allow you to best understand your users.
      • Explore ways to engage less visible groups in your process, ensuring that their understanding of the need or shared challenge is incorporated into your plans.
    2. Develop a product in collaboration with stakeholders.
      • Involve stakeholders throughout the design and development process, and importantly, determine and clearly communicate roles. They should not only know what you are doing and why, they should know exactly how they are contributing to the process.
      • Evaluate capacities and resources of potential involved stakeholders in two ways: i) as they relate to data and technology and the unique technical and management skills required for product development, and ii) as they complement each other - it is not uncommon to have certain stakeholders doing a task that could have been better done through a partnership that would have reduced waste.
      • Consider developing an oversight process and an appropriate monitoring framework that will give stakeholders a voice and a role.
      • Introduce accountability mechanisms, including at high level, and agree upon who shares responsibility if the product fails.
      • Develop a cost assessment and budget that considers stakeholders’ situations. If funds are lacking, think of alternative sources of financing, including partners who might already do monitoring in the field, or who have financing for a related product.
      • Identify potential risks and mitigation steps for each risk.
    3. Build a team and get them invested.
      • Engage partners at pivotal moments in your process. Contrary to popular belief, these are not at the end of phases and not only to gain buy-in. These moments should come early and often, and harness the diverse skills and perspectives to create a stronger product.
      • Match tasks to people; it is important not only to identify who are the leads and the implementers, but also to choose the right people for the right tasks.
      • Identify sponsors and ambassadors for your product, including who is willing to publicly and/or internally support what you are working on, and talk to them about a timeline and resources needed.
      • While we recommend not starting with the product solution (and instead with your problem), we also recognise that many people will do so regardless. This often results from a “best practices” mentality - exposure to a “success” and the subsequent desire to adopt it. If you have a solution in mind, remember to ask tough questions to effectively assess its appropriateness for your use case.
    Case Study: In Slovakia, citizens have the opportunity to directly make propositions to their government. For example, citizens actively use a petition mechanism addressed to individual ministries. There is also an online platform to propose topics and actions to the whole government. In this case, a mass media campaign to engage citizens resulted in only one proposal.
  1. Develop the ecosystem, not just the product.

    1. Work in stages, incorporate feedback.
      • Break up implementation into stages, consult for feedback throughout, and readjust your strategy accordingly. It is impossible to force developments or to know the needs of all users in advance, so strong feedback loops are critical.
    2. Engage in ongoing capacity building.
      • Invest extra time and energy to raising the capacities of your stakeholders to create greater opportunities for success. Think back to your archetypes or create new ones to better tailor and target your capacity building efforts.
      • Build capacity over the long-term. For example, introducing open government principles in government or technology courses in schools could influence the overall market of available capacity for open government work.
    3. Honestly assess your context and problem for implementation.
      • See if your context and timing is favorable or not. Due to administrative or organisational turnover or political economy challenges, it may not be the right time or place to launch a product.
    1. Evaluate with transparency and humility.

      1. Trigger an oversight process, and outline a clear monitoring and evaluation mechanism.
        • Identify the most relevant oversight agents: it can be Parliament or the Prime Minister in case of a strategy, or a board composed of the involved stakeholders in case of a civil society intervention. Outline who will be involved, and at what stages of evaluation.
        • Create a high-level oversight at the appropriate government level, and enable independent oversight from independent sources and CSOs.
        • Make the process transparent by publishing reports and feedback and disseminate results in an accessible way.
      2. Determine why your product is not working, if assessment offers negative results.
        • If you have already developed a product but are not achieving desired results, reflect on the process that got you there using a technical review and comparative research.
        • A technical review of components - infrastructure, tools, code, etc. - is useful to identify if you have leveraged the most appropriate elements for your objectives.
        • Conduct a gap analysis. What gaps exist that could have led to poor outcomes? They may be attributable to issues in design or development, and range from political to technical.

Beware of being tempted into creating a product without planning, as success requires thoughtfully following steps like those outlined above. At the same time, know that there are many useful products that have been developed, and that intentional consideration of different tactics can help you get there.