UX Discovery – Practical Action

A UX discovery process for Practical Action’s Zurich Flood Solutions Catalogue knowledge sharing system.


The problem

Flooding is a big problem in many parts of the world. Helping communities prepare for flooding by learning from other affected communities in different parts of the world, sharing this knowledge,  and helping governments to be better prepared for response and managing risks is a valuable enterprise.

Practical Action commissioned Aptivate to do a UX discovery process for the Flood Solutions Catalogue. This formed part of the wider Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, made up of the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), the International Institution for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Centre (Wharton).  We were also asked to develop a central resource with a key aim of providing information and support resources for communities affected by flooding and the organisations that support them in Peru. We aimed to run a UX discovery process and to train Practical Action in Lima to continue this work independently. My role was as a Spanish-speaking UX lead.

The UX discovery process

We interviewed the main stakeholders in the project; these included community members from the river Rimac area of Peru, community leaders and national institutions that have a local presence and a large scope to react to flooding. Aptivate worked closely with Rob Cartridge, head of Practical Answers from Practical Action and also trained collaborated with Sapkota from the Nepalese Practical Action office, who provided valuable insights into the main issues.


Google community for the UX discovery phase


We made extensive use of Google+ community to contain all of the audio and visual output, as well as all the resources. This enabled a quick sharing of content and a very effective way to feedback to the users whilst keeping files together. We set up workshops in Lima with people from the community on the river Rimac. This gave us the opportunity to really learn about people’s lives and the issues they faced. It was a very interactive and hands-on workshop, which really helped people get to know each other.  As you can see from the image above – all stakeholders took active participation in the workshops.

Language and translation

The workshops in Peru were run in Spanish and sometimes in English – particularly the second day which was just Practical Action staff. Sachin and Tom didn’t speak Spanish so we brought in an Interpreter who would sit with them and translate quietly as we were going along. I’d never been in a situation like that before and it was a little distracting as I couldn’t help but pick up the translations. There was a lot that wasn’t translated – the small talk that carries a certain amount of valuable information. This was lost on Tom and Sachin. Once we got back to the UK I translated all the personas, user stories and other outputs into English to be included in analysis and reports.



A persona created as an example to group


A persona created by participants. We created 12 in total

Some of the polished off personas – translated into English

persona-eduardo-discovery-practical-action-jay-alvarez-ux-designer-aptivate (1)

What would you do with $100,000

One of the more successful activities during both the Peru and UK workshops was to create a little competition for participants. Each group was given a hypothetical budget on $100,000 to spend on a perfect system. They had to select and prioritise ten key user stories (what we called Epics) that would cover the key needs for their personas (each team had a couple of personas). They had some time to discuss their choices and to prepare a five-minute filmed presentation to senior staff. We had printed out some fake money and had some boxes of chocolates as prizes. Everyone hugely enjoyed the presentations and it created an amazing sense of purpose. In Lima, this was more pronounced. Groups were composed of people who were in one way or another involved with the problem of flooding. This ranged from a teenage girl from the flood affected community to a national government official, with a volunteer fireman and local government representative in the middle.


The presentations were really very good. A lot of thought had gone into them, and hearing them presenting their perfect systems, I realised that they had really designed them. They were very proud. One participant from one of the flood affected community told us all at the final go-round feedback, that he had come along to the workshop with no idea of what designing a website would be like and no idea of how he would have any possible input into that process. He said that after the day, he felt really happy that he’d taken part and felt that he really did understand that now and it had inspired him.


User Stories, sorting and prioritising

The second day of workshops were dedicated to the more arduous task of picking all the sticky notes off the personas and converting them into well formed user stories. Once that was done we all got around the table to sort them out into clusters and to prioritise them according to what the participants had flagged as their top needs.



Stage 2 – UK Headquarters

Back in the UK we worked at Practical Action headquarters. It wasn’t clear to some of the participants in the workshop what they were being involved in. We received feedback that a better introduction to Agile practices and UX would have been a good idea to start. The UK workshops generally focused on joining the dots about how a system such as the Flood Solutions Catalogue would actually work and how the different partners would be able to produce and publish the resources in a centralised way and to facilitate the bubbling up of quality resources from flood affected communities. We explored user journeys using the user stories as well as sorting and prioritising all the cards.


Presenting personas back to group


story mapping


We spent some time analysis the outputs from workshops and translating all content into English.




The final report

The outputs of the UX discovery phase were a collection of media assets, training materials, UX deliverables, reports and tender document to facilitate with the development of the project.

Key learning that we aimed to communicate in the main report included recognising the gap of trust and communication that exists between local community members and local government. We made a bold suggestion that apart from the great work that Practical Action could make by creating regional and international resources, they should also consider appointing a person who’s job would be to run social media groups and online communities of practice and to meet regularly with local government to help bubble up good ideas and pass back resources developed centrally.

The Flood Solutions Catalogue is currently being developed by Practical Action.