We’ve all been there. You’re trying to check a bus arrival time, or pay a utility bill, or find out if you registered to vote, but the website is confusing or you keep getting an error message, so you give up. Maybe you file an error report if you’re the proactive type, but when you go to pay that bill again a month later, it’s still not working.
A lot of the time that happens because the only people testing out a product like an app or online dashboard are the people who made it, and they know all the tricks to make it work — and once it’s done, they never look at it again.
Enter the Civic User Testing Group, aka the CUT Group. Organized by Code for Miami, it brings together locals to test out apps, websites, and other products for entities like Miami-Dade County government, then send the feedback on what worked and what didn’t back to the developers. Code for Miami was awarded funding for the project from the Knight Cities Challenge. (Editor’s note: Whereby.us VP for Product Rebekah Monson is part of the project.)
Their tagline kind of says it all: “If an app doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work.”
“It’s a huge deal. Sometimes people have the best intentions and they spend all this time and money and resources to build a thing and that turns out to be the wrong thing,” says director Ernie Hsiung.
“I kind of equate it to a puppy. You get the puppy and everyone is excited about the puppy, but the thing about getting a puppy is you have to feed it and give it water and take it for walks and pick its poop up, otherwise you have a sick or dying puppy and no one wants a sick or dying puppy.”
What is it? The CUT Group brings in members of the community to test out technology for local government and organizations. They offer $5 gift cards to anyone who volunteers, and if you actually get selected, you get $20 for showing up and testing out the product/website/app.
What problem is it trying to solve? When the people testing out a website or app are the people who built it, they’ll be able to use it even if it’s not super intuitive. Having outsiders do tests helps ensure they identify all the pain points.
“We’ve built stuff, government related or not, where we’ve spent a good chunk of time building a thing and we talk to the people and they say, ‘We’re pretty happy with the systems we’ve got… There needs to be that feedback loop.”
They also aim to test already existing products that haven’t been successful.
“Is it because people built the wrong thing? Is it because people built the right thing but are using it wrong? That conversation isn’t being had because people are too busy working on the next thing,” Hsiung says.
Where did the idea come from? A couple other American cities have done this. It started in Chicago and recently launched in Detroit too.
How does it work? You sign up at cutgroup.miami to be added to the pool of potential testers. They’ll contact you if you’re selected to join one of the research groups. (They have Spanish and Creole versions of the site as well.)
Who can participate? Anyone in Miami-Dade County. No technology expertise required. In fact, it’s even better if you don’t have any. And you get a five dollar gift card for signing up.
The more diverse the pool, the easier it is to check that the product is user-friendly for everyone.
What’s the first step? The first thing they’re testing is the Miami-Dade County beta website.