“Tipping points exist throughout life, they occur — through a culmination of smaller process changes and eventually reach a point where the threshold for adoption is met and an idea, trend, technology or social behaviour is adopted.”
Change. Like it or not
For many people change is an unwanted yet constant experience we all go through. When it comes to actioning change people behave very differently. Some people's natural tendencies are more maladaptive as they find change difficult to cope with, while others adapt to small and larger changes daily without too much difficulty. In the field of technology development, researchers are constantly asking themselves what makes people acquire specific actions or behaviours or simply put, what makes them change.
The term ‘tipping point’ refers to the moment at which a threshold for adoption is met, and an idea, trend, technology or social behaviour is adopted.
At this point, these small changes culminate into fixed, more long term changes (or the adoption of a new behaviour). Keeping this in mind, the tipping point can sometimes be seen as the opposite of the phrase, "the straw that broke the camel's back” as it promotes the idea of the ‘final straw’ as a positive consequence spurred on the intended change.
As organisations interested in social change (through resident and government action) it is important for us to focus on the tipping point for users adopting our digital tools. Our research should focus on the point at which people will incorporate the systems or technology into their daily lives. By understanding what the tipping points are for adoption of digital solutions , we can focus on the processes that lead to them, thus improving the likelihood of people using the tool. In this article, we will discuss our exploration of ‘tipping points’ when designing and developing technology for Community Advice Offices South Africa (CAOSA).
Tipping Points, design and development
Tipping points exist throughout life, including the adoption of technology systems — as people’s ideas grow and change they may be drawn towards the adoption of new ideas or, in our case, tech systems. The tipping point focuses on the impact that minor process changes have on the overall impact of critical movement towards adoption of the change.
When designing and developing the Case Management System it was important to explore our assumptions around what the tipping point would be for adoption of this digital solution by the Community Advice Offices (CAOs). For the project to be a success we needed to understand the ‘driving processes’ that would persuade the CAOs to replace their paper system with digital systems. Understanding of the tipping point came from a rigorous process of user-centered research. We conducted user interviews to find out exactly which processes the workers at CAOs felt were most valuable, and the features that they felt would improve their current workflow. This research helped our team in two important ways:
- By adopting this method we gained our information directly from future users of the system — this helped us when designing and developing the system as the teams were able to test their assumptions and work iteratively. Through this research we explored the various thresholds that were important to our users.
- The second important outcome of the research was that it helped promote participation and action from the working group as key early adopters or users of the system.
Through research and onboarding conducted with the working group we were able to understand what system processes were the most important to Community Advice Offices. By designing a system based on the process needs of the working group which forms a (representative sample of the broader CAO community), our goal was to ensure that individuals have the necessary motivation to adopt change.
Exploration of the Findings
By exploring the product and system tipping points when designing and developing the Case Management System we learnt three fundamental lessons that helped guide the project design.
- If people are able to understand how the potential change is the better course of action that is going to offer them the least resistance with the most benefits they will be naturally inclined to take this option.
- Direct users have the clearest understanding of their needs. Even in cases where users are unable to articulate their technological needs, this does not mean that they don't have an understanding of how to deal with the problem.
- People are more likely to adopt change if they are part of the process of development.
In this case, the tipping point was created by designing a system that makes it easier to collect information for the users, as well as to improve their accessibility to the data. These benefits to the user will ensure that they adopt the system into their workflow.
“In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.” - Malcolm Gladwell
This quote by Malcolm Gladwell helps to conceptualize and understand the role that tipping points play in reaffirming peoples potential for change. Exploring the tipping points of our system taught us how users are willing to change towards the adoption of a digital solution if they can understand its purpose, realise the payback (power of intelligent action), and have a way that they can be actively involved.