Just don’t call him an environmentalist

I was recently in Queensland visiting family and caught up with my Dad and step-mum for a few days. My Dad’s a straight-talking feller. He’ll tell you in no short terms that he doesn’t agree with those environmentalists and greenies. He doesn’t really like them much…

While we were there he reminded me how the three large water tanks they have on site provide all the water they need, year round pretty much. He complained that he was still having to pay council for “the pipes that run past my front door”, as he’s now off the grid for water supply.

Whenever we go fishing he’s very careful to make sure our catch meets the size limits set by government. If something is even close to undersize, it goes back in. He laments the big fishers’ impact on his local fishing grounds, and gets antsy when he spots local fisherman flaunting the rules. He’s friendly with the local patrols, while quietly cursing the Government for introducing Marine Protected Areas.

He’ll often suggest we go for a drive in his Toyota 4WD (on it’s third engine rebuild) around the local area (the Redlands Shire) and talk us through the changes he’s seen as this once rural farming area, with rich, volcanic red soil, is converted into suburban estates, townhouses and apartments. He’ll tell you about the farmers of the area, past and present, and how this productive, now peri-urban, land is being lost to developers. (He’ll also quip that they can’t afford to run the car as much as they used too…)

We’ll walk around his property and he’ll show us with (justifiable) pride the vegetable plot, the fruit trees, the mangoes coming into season, the massive avocado trees, the pineapples, the strawberries. Each season he notes he doesn’t have enough friends with which to share the abundant produce that comes off the land. (Thinking about this I’m lamenting not taking more photos when we were there…)

He shares an anecdote about how a friend got the water in the local creek, which runs through the bushland to the back of his property, tested for pollution and sent the results to his local member. He’ll mention how the recently released government report failed to mention his creek in it’s “report card” and how he and his friend took it to the local media resulting in pressure being applied and the figures being followed up by the local member.

While we’re sitting watching (his 80″ LCD behemoth1 of a) TV he’ll explain how they turn everything off of standby using a remote switch device, and explain with pride how efficient the consultant found their kettle. He explains how they’ve saved a lot on their energy bill (which is about 1/3rd what is being touted in the mainstream press as an “average” bill).

He demonstrated the in-home energy monitor that helps them to work out where their energy usage has gone. He’ll lament how the compact fluoros he installed don’t dim, and how the Government’s impending ban on new electric hot water heaters has forced him to go out and buy one now for when this one reaches its end of life. And don’t get him started on that carbon tax.

My life partner Angela ascribes many of my aspirations and environmental awareness to my Dad’s influence. I have to agree (and something that I’m proud to say). My Dad has more “environmentally friendly” features to his property than I could even dream of achieving. And, as is probably apparent, he’s full of contradictions (as we all are).

Just don’t call him an environmentalist. Or a greenie. He just wouldn’t stand for it…

  1. I actually don’t know what size it is, but it’s bloody huge…

Reflections on Flavour Crusader at Social Innovation Sydney

Fc blog 500px

I’ve just gotten back after running a very short workshop session to test the Flavour Crusader application at today’s Social Innovation Sydney meetup and I wanted to take a short moment to “braindump” (more than reflect) about the session while it’s still fresh in my mind. (See my previous post for more background on the project.)

First up, thanks to everyone who participated in the workshop — we really appreciate the feedack. And I’d like to especially thank the volunteers that helped Sharon and I facilitate the session — Angela, Miream, Penny and Tony especially. And also thanks to Michelle and Kate for creating the space in which the session could occur.

While we (obviously) haven’t had a chance to really dig into the more detailed reflections, even the top-level feedback that came out of the session has been really helpful.

About the prototype

For those that weren’t able to attend, if you have an iPhone, feel free to preview the web application. Please bear in mind that this is a very early prototype outlining only some of the core features that have been discussed/considered. In the vein of the “lean startup” the aim is to deliver a “minimum shipping product” to get early feedback and verify/validate design directions before progressing further. It is not fully accessible (we are rapid prototyping using HTML/CSS and JavaScript, but have not tested widely) and today we identified some issues running on Android devices, so your mileage may vary. Adding the app to your home screen on the iPhone and launching from there will give you the best experience.

There is a feedback mechanism inside the application, so please feel free to send us your thoughts and suggestions if you do use the application.

As mentioned previously, the session today aimed to evaluate how well the application, in it’s current form, supported people in the following scenarios:

  • You are on your way home from work and thinking about cooking a dinner with fresh, local produce
  • You are planning a dinner party on the weekend and you want to base it on fresh, local produce
  • You are in a store choosing your fruit and veggies for the week and you want to find out if something is in season

This approach is broadly aligned with the “Can do” phase of Les Robinson’s Enabling Change model. (We’re also giving some consideration to some early social features for the application, especially to create the sense of “Satisfaction” to support sustained adoption. And of course days like today are in part about building “Buzz”, “Invitation” and “Trial”.)

Workshop scenarios

To do this we set up three different “stations” in the room to provide a mock context for each of the scenarios outlined above:

  1. A “bus” where participants were encouraged to consider “on your way home”
  2. A “kitchen table” with recipe books and shopping lists to plan the weekend dinner party
  3. A “store” with a combination of local and imported produce

(I’m hoping that Tony’s photos will provide a visual illustration of the session — I’ll post some links here once they’re online.)

Each participant was given a sheet with areas to reflect on the process they undertook around each scenario, and participants that didn’t have an iDevice (or Android phone) were provided with one, or buddied up with someone who did. The aim was to get participants put themselves into these particular contexts and use the application to support them.

Today was a sort of prototype for the workshop format itself. I’ll be running it again in a few weeks’ time with my uni cohort (and potentially at other foodie events in the future), incorporating a lot of the learnings from today as well. The first lesson about the session format was “more time”: we elected to run a 30 min session, which is clearly not enough given the level of engagement participants gave us today. Next time we will allow for more time at each station.

Another was that with a (somewhat unexpected) large turn-out — we had over 20 participants in the room — we needed a way to allow for group discussion within each station. And thirdly, we found that when participants focused on the “reflection questions” we provided, they were less active thinking about the context of use — e.g. actually using the application. All great learnings to apply in future.

(If anyone who attended wanted to provide further feedback I’d love to hear from you in the comments to this post…)

Early reflections/next steps

One thing that seems reasonably clear, even from early “debriefing” of the session, is that Flavour Crusader’s tight focus on efficacy — that is, providing assistance in how to prepare and fresh produce, including deeper integration between produce items and recipes — is definitely the right path. The challenge with so many great ideas will be to keep that tight focus, and not try to implement everything!

That said, I’m really looking forward to digging in further to participant’s reflections — I’m certain that there’s some great nuggets in that feedback as well. Given the great level of participation, that may take us a little longer than anticipated! But I can’t think of a better problem to have 😉

FlavourCrusader at Social Innovation Camp

A little while back I put a call out for folks that were social media savvy and interested in food to do some interviews for a uni assignment.  The interviews went really well (thanks to everyone involved!) and I’ve been remiss in not reporting back on progress since then.

For my uni assessment I produced two reports and a set of design personas to support the development of the FlavourCrusader project:

  1. Local food production and cosmopolitan localism (PDF 99 KB)
    This paper examines some of the drivers behind the emerging trend towards local and organic produce and the related growth of farmers markets: sustainability, health and safety, quality and taste, and food as experience. It then explores local food production as a form of social innovation, considering its potential for expansion using social technologies.
  2. Report on design research with urban local food customers (PDF 157 KB)
    Reports on the findings of interviews with 5 social media savvy food lovers who purchase locally-produced food.
  3. Personas (PDF 1.7 MB)
    Design personas reflecting the user research and learnings from the initial report looking at local trends etc.

Since that work was completed, myself and the team at Zumio have been working with Sharon Lee, the project lead for FlavourCrusader, on a prototype of the core functionality of the application. The core focus of the prototype is a seasonal food guide and recipes, as these were the core elements identified through the interviews as being useful in a mobile application.

Next Saturday (26 Feb 2011) we’ll be running a session at the Social Innovation Sydney (SI Syd) event in Paddington to get feedback on this prototype. Sharon has done a guest post over at the SI Syd blog about the FlavourCrusader session.

As Sharon’s post points out it’s still very early days — we’re really just trying to provide the bare bones functionality to start getting feedback about what the issues/barriers are and where we should go with it next. Specifically, we’re trying to provide support for the following scenarios:

  • You are on your way home from work and thinking about dinner. How would you use the application to help you choose your dinner?
  • You are planning a dinner on the weekend, how would you use the application to help you plan?
  • You are in a store choosing your fruit and veg for the week and you want to find out if something is in season. How would you use the application to determine this?

There may have other situations where it might be useful, of course — we’d be interested to hear of those if you have any ideas.

Using it “in real life” is obviously the best way to test — so we’re really looking to understand how people go about these things and how, if at all, the app might help. So the session will involve a bit of fun role-playing as well as more straightforward testing.

Our hope is the session will give us an understanding of:

  • How well does the app support this process currently?
  • What frustrations or barriers are there?
  • What needs to be added for people to be able to achieve these goals with it?

In any case, if you’re able to make it down to SI Syd next Saturday — we’re hoping the session will occur just before lunch — I’d love to see you there and get your thoughts.

Project on local markets and social technologies

As part of the core subject of my uni course each semester each student undertakes a self-directed project.  The projects can be of varying shapes and sizes, ranging from more theoretical (such as my report on design thinking and sustainability) to the more practical.

This semester I’m undertaking something in between — part research, part practical — centred around this semester’s “theme” of sustainable food production.

Sharon Lee’s “FlavourCrusader” concept (then called “What’s for dinner”) was selected as one of the projects to be explored at the Australian Social Innovation eXchange (ASIX) Social Innovation Camp held in March 2010.

The long-term vision for the project is to:

  • connect urban food-lovers (“foodies”) with the origins of their food
  • increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables (with improved health outcomes)
  • strengthen local economies threatened by supermarket chains

It hopes to achieve this by using social technologies, such as mobile phone applications and Twitter to either promote in-season, fresh, locally-grown, and sometimes organic produce.

In the short-term — and as a first step — the project is seeking to develop a local in-season food guide with a mobile application form-factor.

Such a system has the potential to make purchasing in-season, local produce more convenient, with multiple flow-on benefits:

  • Provide additional marketing/selling opportunities for local producers
  • Reduce food miles
  • Create direct connections between the urban community and local growers, with social, economic and sustainability education benefits

The emphasis of the service, from the end-user perspective, is convenience and good, quality food, rather than the sustainability outcomes.  In this sense it differs from some existing products/services that are out there.

In keeping with my philosophy of human-centred design, I believe the service’s success is dependent on an understanding of motivations, barriers, needs and context of use for producers, local markets and customers.

My project this semester is designed to provide some additional insight into each of these participant groups, including exploration of:

  • What are the key drivers for existing customers (e.g. those that attend farmers markets) taking advantage of farmers markets
  • What are the barriers to existing customers buying local produce (e.g. of those motivated participants, what stops them from buying more regularly)
  • What level of interest exists in such a service among the existing customer base
  • What is the current level of use of social and mobile technologies with customers, producers and markets (e.g. @PrahranMarket on Twitter)
  • Similarly, what drivers/barriers/interest exist for such a service for potential customers — e.g. those that are interested, but for whatever reasons aren’t as active as they would like
  • What are the needs of producers (including local markets)
  • What level of interest/capacity is there to utilise such a service
  • How, if at all, would such a service link with other digital platforms such as FoodConnect

I’m posting all this as I could use some assistance.  Firstly, if you have any resources/pointers/contacts etc. that you think would be useful for the project, I’d love to hear about them.

Secondly, I’m looking for participants for some interviews related to purchasing locally produced food — either people that shop at farmers markets etc. and buy locally, or those that would like to, but for whatever reason aren’t able to do it as regularly as they’d like.  I’m also interested in folks that are using social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.) that fit this profile.

The interviews would be about an hour long (at most) and could be done via phone or in person, at a time that suits the participant.  I’m happy to pay for a meal if the interview happens around lunch or dinner 😉

If you are someone, or know someone, that might be interested, please leave a comment or email me on gyoung AT pobox DOT com.