As the memories of the National lockdown begin to fade and residents start returning to the office full time, for many, the consequences of lockdown still remain an everyday reality.
The stories beneath the data
When analysing metrics from the Eviction Project’s Google Analytics, we are clearly able to see that although much of life has returned to normal — the increase in traffic to OpenUp’s Evictions site (evictions.org.za) has not subsided. When discussing this matter with an official from the Rental Housing tribunal, he disclosed that their experience has been much the same - throughout all provinces in South Africa, as they are receiving numerous cases of pending evictions.
Quantifiable web analytics can be a good measure of a tool's success and are an important part of understanding the users’ needs. However, these measures or metrics provide us with a partial understanding of who the people coming to the site are and what they want to achieve. By looking at interactions with our users, we can begin to unpack the very real human story that lies beneath the data. This inevitably leads us to ask the question: who can provide better assistance to vulnerable tenants: a human or a computer?
Evictions Project Case Study
This case study highlights some common themes experienced by people facing eviction in South Africa. It looks at a situation whereby the Evictions Projects Manager (PM), Katlego, received a message from one of our Eviction Guide users requesting assistance with their eviction situation. The case study shows how Katlego was able to use the knowledge and skills learnt while working on the project as well as the guide itself to assist the user with information. The case study helps bring light to what would normally be a number (or metric) which inturn helps us understand the stories beneath the data. By reviewing this case study, we can start to unpack the data and begin to answer the question: who can provide better assistance to vulnerable tenants: a human or a computer?
“I saw [a message] that was coming from the OpenUp Facebook account. So I went to go read it, and I found out that it was directly linked to the project that I managed [Eviction Project]. So it made sense that I respond to it.”
In the extract Katlego discusses how one of our users reached out for assistance using Facebook messenger. He explained that after replying to the user on Facebook, they responded by giving him some more information about their situation and requesting assistance about what to do.
“She [the user] gave me some details like she was sleeping in her car. Like those kinds of details, which I can't really help much with, except for at least being aware that the situation is very urgent.”
Using experience gained from managing the project as well as information directly from the Eviction Guide, Katlego was able identify which part of the eviction process the client was currently experiencing, and what the best actionable steps would be for the user to take.
Katlego explained that the user had not had any other means of finding assistance as she did not have any mobile data.
“I didn't refer to the online guide as she only had access to Facebook.”
It was for this reason that Katlego took the decision to search the guide himself based on information provided by the user (instead of linking the user directly to the guide), and to provide the user directly with information that could help her in her situation.
“So I went on the website [evictions.org.za] of the Evictions guide, to read through it — and kind of got those directions to refer the user to their closest law clinic.”
Although the user who contacted Katlego may have known about eviction information being provided by OpenUp, due to their current situation they were unable to access and use these resources without human assistance, leading us to believe that eviction assistance may be more than just an information problem.
The Process of Learning
By taking a retrospective look at this case study and reviewing the various themes that emerged, we can begin to unpack the lessons learnt, and take the opportunity to identify ways to improve our tool. The case study clearly highlights the numerous benefits of having this type of information freely available online, and how the guide plays an essential role in filling the void of eviction information that is currently available online and that is applicable to South African residents going to an eviction process. This process also helped us identify a number of ways that the digital guide can be improved and enhanced.
More than just an information problem
A key learning for us is how important it is to never make the assumption that users rate of adoption of a tool will be the same. When coupled with the layer of vulnerability firmly associated with being evicted it is not surprising that information and technology alone does not fulfil the needs of these users. The case study highlights how users coming to the eviction site might be experiencing vulnerability and therefore may be impaired in their ability to access the appropriate resources or to solve their problem. This may also be as a result of other factors such as financial issues, mobility issues and mental health issues.
So which is better? Human or Computer?
Despite being well positioned in the space to attract the attention of people in need of eviction assistance the current project team still requires certain capacities or partnerships to provide more human assistance to users facing eviction. By evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of our project we now have a better understanding of where there are opportunities to connect with other organisations.
Based on this experience and others, we would say that support is best suited to a hybrid approach of both technology and human interaction. In other words, assistance is best when it's a combination of human and computer. If you would like to explore this case study, click here to see the full article.
OpenUp is an organisation committed to working in the eviction space through the Evictions Project. If you or any other organisations that you know would like to collaborate, please contact Shaun Russell for more details, or visit the Evictions Guide here.