CUT Group: Growing Forward

July marked the second round of the Citizen User Testing Group in Chattanooga.

The CUT group is a chance for Chattanoogans to try out civic websites and get paid for their input and time. It also lets developers see people navigate their websites so they can understand the hiccups and improve the sites.

Five Chattanoogans gave their feedback on two great civic sites: Growing Forward, the regional planning association’s explanation of its long term planning process, and Chattizen, a citizen’s guide to local government in Chattanooga.

Tyler Yount, the Civic Engagement Coordinator for the City of Chattanooga organized and facilitated the tests. The library hosted on the 4th Floor, and allowed the CUT Group to install the software needed on the library computers. It was only Tyler’s second time running a website testing session, but the great responses from the testers show that he’s a natural.

I helped write the test plans and then synthesized the results of the Growing Forward test into an informal report for the project team. With more time I would have enjoyed editing clips for the team. Watching people struggle and triumph with a website is the most direct way for a team to understand the areas that need improvement and what’s working well.

The Growing Forward project team has already dug into the results, and is quickly implementing updates. Beyond that, it’s exciting that everyone involved is cultivating their user research and UX skills. Building a lasting process for involving user testing in Chattanooga City Hall makes my heart sing.

-Giselle






Improving The Transit Experience with Open Data

We got an unexpected surprise this week - an opportunity made possible by open data.

We let Open Chattanooga know that a third-party transit app - called, aptly enough, simply TransitApp - had a “wish list" for which cities to support next. We realized that, thanks to work by Chattanooga’s transit agency, CARTA, to make their bus schedule available in an open format on GitHub, we already had the data in a format that would work.

A few tweets and a Reddit campaign later, Chattanooga was at the top of the requested cities list.

We got the developer’s attention.

We’re helping CARTA to publish their data using GitHub, a platform which developers use to collaborate and plan projects. The TransitApp developer had a few questions about the data, but we were able to quickly have this conversation in public on GitHub and address the issues.

By working to bring government agencies and developers closer together, we can make amazing things happen which have real value and improve the way people experience their cities.

Today, we’re proud to announce that Chattanoogans can get bus and bike share information in one of the most popular mobile transit applications.

Download TransitApp for Android and iOS

Are you interested in building on top of Chattanooga transit data? There are a variety of transportation data sets on the Chattanooga Open Data Portal.

Civic Hacking in Chattanooga

When Chattanooga decides to throw a civic hackathon, it does things a little differently. Over the weekend of May 31 and June 1, dozens of developers, designers, and community-minded people gathered in the Church on Main to hack for their city - and, oh yeah, for some yoga, team trivia, and that Southern staple, biscuits.

No really, we had biscuits

The second annual Hackanooga event coincided with the National Day of Civic Hacking, but there was another reason to celebrate in Chattanooga. The event kicked off with Mayor Andy Berke enacting Chattanooga’s Open Data Policy, committing the city to publishing its data online to make it useful for citizens.

We also had a soft-launch of Chattanooga’s Open Data Portal. Representatives from Socrata, Code for America, and the Library were all on hand to help people who wanted to develop on top of this new data.

Several dozen people broke off into teams and the hacking began. Participants included staff from Chattanooga Public Library, teachers from the Hamilton County Department of Education, non-profit leaders, and students from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. Ideas turned into sketches which took on form over the next few hours.

We’re excited to see the growing civic technology ecosystem taking hold in Chattanooga. See you at the next hack night!

Hackanooga 2014

It’s not too late to register for Chattanooga’s official hackathon for the National Day of Civic Hacking. Build something great for Chattanooga!

Buses, Index Cards, and Transit Feeds
On our last trip to Chattanooga, I was lucky to stay with a hostess who has hospitality in her blood (she’s the daughter of B&B owners) and thought of everything to make my stay comfortable.
On my first day at the house, she gave me this index card: a handwritten bus schedule that lists the arrival times for the bus stop nearest her house. Puzzled, I opened google maps to double check the accuracy. Then, I figured it out. 
There are no transit directions for Chattanooga in google maps. To catch a ride on the bus, you need to know the nearest stop to you and the route that best suits your journey. If you know that, you can use CARTA (Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority)’s real time arrivals site.
CARTA is a progressive, forward looking transit authority. They run free electric shuttles downtown and have sensors on every bus. You can watch the buses crawl the city at their bus tracker. So, as you’d imagine they are eager to get their General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) to google to power google transit maps for Chattanooga.
We got in touch with CARTA and offered to help in any way we can. We’re excited about this partnership. We look forward to helping develop a sustainable process for getting this data to google, and hopefully beyond: to the cities new open data portal, where any developer can use it to make great transit apps for the citizens of Chattanooga.

Buses, Index Cards, and Transit Feeds

On our last trip to Chattanooga, I was lucky to stay with a hostess who has hospitality in her blood (she’s the daughter of B&B owners) and thought of everything to make my stay comfortable.

On my first day at the house, she gave me this index card: a handwritten bus schedule that lists the arrival times for the bus stop nearest her house. Puzzled, I opened google maps to double check the accuracy. Then, I figured it out.

There are no transit directions for Chattanooga in google maps. To catch a ride on the bus, you need to know the nearest stop to you and the route that best suits your journey. If you know that, you can use CARTA (Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority)’s real time arrivals site.

CARTA is a progressive, forward looking transit authority. They run free electric shuttles downtown and have sensors on every bus. You can watch the buses crawl the city at their bus tracker. So, as you’d imagine they are eager to get their General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) to google to power google transit maps for Chattanooga.

We got in touch with CARTA and offered to help in any way we can. We’re excited about this partnership. We look forward to helping develop a sustainable process for getting this data to google, and hopefully beyond: to the cities new open data portal, where any developer can use it to make great transit apps for the citizens of Chattanooga.

At the TYPO San Francisco design talks, René Knip implored the audience to start making type.
In one photo, taken at his home in the The Netherlands, a wooden farm table is piled with cutout type, an early version of his type garland. 
The last time I was back in Chattanooga, we found ourselves at a public event without our Code for America printed banner. With René's talk in mind, I bought some construction paper and made some type. Turns out that under pressure, I default to a type with alarming similarities to comic sans! Nevertheless, it was fun to make some letters in a hurry. I look forward to making more. 
-Giselle

At the TYPO San Francisco design talks, René Knip implored the audience to start making type.

In one photo, taken at his home in the The Netherlands, a wooden farm table is piled with cutout type, an early version of his type garland

The last time I was back in Chattanooga, we found ourselves at a public event without our Code for America printed banner. With René's talk in mind, I bought some construction paper and made some type. Turns out that under pressure, I default to a type with alarming similarities to comic sans! Nevertheless, it was fun to make some letters in a hurry. I look forward to making more. 

-Giselle

Do you rent? Let’s Chat(t)

We’d like to help renters figure out if a home they are considering is affordable, safe, and livable. We’ve got an idea for a tool to make this possible but we’d like to make sure we’re on track by listening to as many different Chattanoogans as possible. 

It’s been a challenge to contact and schedule people for formal interviews. So, when James, the director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, offered us a tent at the annual Jazzanooga festival, we jumped at the chance. Plus, we love jazz. And sunshine. 

image

Jazzanooga provided a folding table. From a dollar store we bought: a bucket, bottles of water, poster board, scissors, a sharpie, and a glue stick. We made a sign which asked, “Do you rent? Let’s Chat. 5$ Gift’ We also made a ‘Free Water’ sign. Unsurprisingly given the warm weather, the free water attracted a lot more attention that the Starbucks gift cards, but both gave us the opportunity to start conversations. 

'Tell me about a rental horror story?' This got people talking, and ranting, right off the bat. Then we followed up with questions about how they found their current rental. Finally, we showed them our prototype and asked them to think aloud as they looked.

We spoke with a cross-section of Chattanooga. There was a lot of difference in access to technology. Of the people we spoke to half had cell phones with no internet access, and half had smartphones. Many did not have internet access at home, and depended on the library and other public places to get online.

While access issues loom large, there was universal excitement over the information the tool makes available. People understood the purpose of the tool immediately and said that if they’d had the data while house hunting it would have factored into their decision. 

One woman moved from a more expensive apartment to a less expensive one after losing her job, only to find out that the winter utility bill in the badly insulated new apartment ate up any savings. 

Another gentleman, who was forced to move out of an apartment complex plagued with problems, said, ”If I’d had this when moving, I definitely wouldn’t have taken the place.” He was sure the problems had been going on a long time, and would have shown up in violations data.

These were scenarios we’d imagined, and it was affirming to hear the real stories from Chattanoogans. Their fresh eyes also uncovered a bunch of interaction problems that we plan to fix in the designs

We spoke to eight people in depth, heard some great jazz, and are excited to keep developing the rental helper tool. We’re also looking forward to our next visit to Chattanooga, and more conversations.

Get paid to test out apps in Chattanooga

It is common in the technology world to develop products in an iterative fashion, with tight feedback loops from users. The goal is to build an application in close concert with user feedback so that precious development time isn’t used making something that doesn’t provide value.

Developers of civic applications, or civic hackers, are working to improve the experience of the residents of Chattanooga but they currently lack the infrastructure and resources required to complete user testing sessions. Specifically, they lack the significant time and know-how involved in the recruitment of testing subjects and conducting of research sessions. In civic technology we like to say that if “it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work at all.” With such a high standard, it becomes ever more important to make sure that actual humans and municipal residents can understand and use the app.

We’re excited to start publically talking about one of our initiatives for the fellowship year: The Chattanooga Civic User Testing (CUT) Group. The goal is to make sure civic technology works for the community by providing infrastructure to solicit and gather user feedback. The CUT group will be a standing group of paid residents available for any civic application developer or City employee through Open Chattanooga.

The project is a redeployment of the Civic User Testing group from the Smart Chicago Collaborative (cutgroup.smartchicagoapps.org). We’re working on the Chattanooga CUT group in partnership with the Mayor’s Office, Open Chattanooga (the CfA brigade) and financial support from the Benwood Foundation.

A prerequisite for good user testing and research is to make sure that the sample population of testers represents the larger group of users . Since the goal of civic technology is to make the lives of all citizens better, we are recruiting a CUT group that represents all Chattanoogans. Using data from the most recent census as the goal posts, we are ensuring a group representative of the city’s age, race, income, and digital literacy and access.

We believe that the input and feedback that the testers will have is incredibly valuable, and we want to make sure that their commitment is recognized. That’s why we are paying all of our testers $5 just for signing up, and $20 once they complete a test session.

At its core this is a community group with the civic app developers, testers, and facilitators being your friends and neighbors.  If you are currently working on some civic technology and want to put it in front of some actual residents, get in touch!

If you are interested in getting paid to test out the next generation of civic apps, make sure to sign up to be a tester! We will need to collect some information from you so that we can ensure we are building out a representative group but it is a really short process.

And if facilitating user research is right up your alley, we are always looking for some more help! Shoot us an email at chattanooga@codeforamerica.org

Zine Fest
Happening now at the library! So sad to be out of town for this great Chattanooga event.

Zine Fest

Happening now at the library! So sad to be out of town for this great Chattanooga event.