An assessment of Hackstudio's progress towards their mission statement through interviews and observational research.
Team project with Moire Corcoran, Julie Brown
For our "Intro to Observing Users" class, we were tasked with appying the ethnographic research techniques we were learning to a place or person. I thought this would be a great opportunity to find a real client to partner with. Hackstudio was a place near my train station that had always intrigued me and I felt would value what we could offer them through this project.
Hackstudio is a physical space run by a group of passionate individuals committed to fostering creativity in others. One way they do this is through their youth program where mentors coach kids (ages 10 - 18) through finding personal passion projects and bringing them to fruition through an incremental, goal-oriented approach.
The Hackstudio staff wanted us to talk to and observe the kids in their program to assess whether they were having success at teaching kids to pursue their genuine interests through a deliberate, goal-oriented approach.
How are we doing
with our youth program?
Before observing our first youth session, our team created a detailed research protocol outlining our objective, questions we would ask the youth and staff mentors, and a photo shot list.
ETHNOGRAPHY + INTERVIEWS
The Hackstudio staff gave us full access to talk to the kids and to roam the space. In addition, we conducted in-depth interviews with the staff to deepen our understanding of Hackstudio's mission. Lastly, we photographed many different interactions, physical artifacts, and environments.
After each visit, our team would debrief in-person or on the phone to talk through our observations and take note of any emerging themes. After our final visit we printed out all of our photos and sorted through them multiple times into different categories. Each round of sorting brought new understanding and points of view. Finally, we synthesized our observations into overarching insights and turned those insights into multifaceted solutions.
PERSONA AND JOURNEY MAP
After this project concluded, I used the data to map the youth along four binary attributes. Doing so revealed 3 distinct categories of youth, each with a similar type of experience at Hackstudio. This exercise helped to articulate the different kinds of challenges youth encountered at Hackstudio and, more importantly, what type of youth benefited most from Hackstudio's approach to mentorship.
Here are a few key observations from watching and speaking to kids, parents, and Hackstudio staff that informed our insights.
Woodshop very popular
Much unused space
From our observations we crafted 3 key recommendations that addressed what we believed to be their greatest gaps and hence opportunity areas.
Some kids learn better with more autonomy and some learn better with more guidance. Employing the Foursight and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) tools can aid a mentor in deeply understanding a kid and providing more informed coaching.
Encouraging kids to work together on team projects would open up a new dimension of learning and mentorship. Furniture could also be rearranged to foster the synergy and learning that comes with working near one another. Lastly, working together is a great way to form lasting friendships, turning Hackstudio into a bona fide community.
Taking pride in one's work is important for building confidence and learning to be detail-oriented. Hosting occasional showcases would provide an objective marker for kids to work towards and would give them a greater sense of completion at the close of a project. Such a showcase could potentially clarify or reinforce for parents Hackstudio's goal and increase their desire to be involved.
This project culminated with a poster and paper for our class and a presentation of our findings to Hackstudio's founders and top staff.
To hammer home our recommendation for stronger interconnectivity between groups and spaces, we presented the metaphor of Hackstudio being a city. The whole, we posited, would be greater than the sum of its parts.
Our final report contained everything we had learned about Hackstudio and all of our findings through our observational research.
Our main poster gave a general assessment of their program and more detailed suggestions for how to improve the experience of the youth in their sessions.
The Hackstudio staff was impressed with the thoroughness of our research and how directly our solutions addressed the gaps we identified. Our assessment validated many of the concerns they had and they appreciated our outside perspective.
Field observation led to some key insights
Many of our most intriguing insights came directly from our field observation and subsequent photo sorting. Our insights around body language, mentor-youth engagement, and the build environment would likely have been entirely missed if our research approach had only included interviews.
Would refocus on interviews with a broader group of stakeholders
If given the opportunity to redo the project, I would focus more heavily on interviewing the kids, understanding more deeply what they understand to be the goal of Hackstudio and why they want or don't want to keep coming back. I would also have looked for more opportunities to interview parents, specifically to discern what value they see being passed on to their children. This refocusing of interviews would have clearly revealed the general perception of Hackstudio from the participants' sides. A simple comparison between this view and the staff's articulation of their goals would have uncovered any misalignment and would've given the staff a definite answer as to whether or not they were succeeding.