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Each day, people in over 37 countries connect with Viamo to access critical information that enables them to make better decisions about their lives and livelihoods. Viamo team members speak with users in person and on the phone to learn about their needs and wants, they examine data regarding how people interact with Viamo’s information services, and they conduct testing to better understand user preferences on style, tone, and message. Viamo is a user-centered organization, and all of these learnings are used to constantly iterate and improve the way that our users engage with our products and solutions.

Yet with teams working across six continents and over 15 time zones, carving out opportunities to share these insights can be challenging. Information from user research, testing results, and data analyses sometimes goes no further than the country it was collected from, or the team that collected it. This means that colleagues who do not engage directly with users don’t benefit from the richness of user data insights that are collected each day.

Building Empathy 1: Testing the Prototype

Six months ago, the Viamo Design Chapter decided to take on addressing this gap by creating Via User Thursdays: an online weekly gathering, where anyone across the organization can come together to share and hear from our colleagues on what they are learning about our users around the world.

We knew we wanted this space to feel casual and engaging, but also informative. We also wanted our colleagues across many different time zones to feel empowered to join, share their knowledge, and actively participate.

We decided to dive in with a quick prototype: a fifteen-minute session linked to a simple slide deck with open slides that anyone could contribute to. We initially held the sessions on Fridays, at two different times to accommodate our global team.

We learned a lot in those first few weeks. We noticed that some colleagues were joining the session, but were hesitant to contribute, so we paused to try to understand why. We had kept the prompt deliberately simple: “Slides are open to all – drop in any pictures, quotes, or stories from users, show up to one of the sessions, and be prepared to share for a few minutes.” Now we wanted to understand: what was it that our colleagues actually wanted from this space? And how could we design it in a way that both met their needs and contributed to a more user-centered culture?

Interviews with colleagues across the company revealed three personas, each with unique needs, constraints, and opportunities related to how they participated in the Via User Thursdays community:

  • The Impact Story Seeker is hungry for stories of positive impact on users that they can share with partners or use in marketing and business development materials. They engage directly with partners or clients.
The impact storyseeker
  • The Casual Listener is curious to hear about end users, and finds it motivational and interesting, but this may not be directly relevant to their day-to-day work.
The casual listener
  • The Budding Storyteller talks to users often, and shares what they hear within their country or project team, but may be hesitant to share with a larger group.
The budding storyteller

Building Empathy 2: Improving the Platform

To meet the different needs of these three personas, we created a completely new structure for Via User Thursdays. Instead of keeping all of the sessions open-ended, we decided to rotate through three different themes, based on the three types of Viamo users:

  1. End users: The primary consumers of the information shared through our platforms and services. Users can be individuals or communities anywhere in the world from smallholder farmers in Rwanda, to community health workers in Mozambique, or pregnant and breastfeeding women in Indonesia.
  2. Platform users: Viamo’s multi-channel platform is used in partnership with global organizations to build mobile-based solutions using Interactive Voice Response, SMS, apps, and social media bots. Many colleagues use this platform daily, often managing multiple complex projects at any given time, though we tend to talk about their needs the least.
  3. Partners: Viamo partners with NGOs, social enterprises, companies, and implementing partners to meet their mobile strategy needs. This includes behavior change communication campaigns, mobile surveys and digital data collection, information sharing, and more. We care deeply about the needs of our partners and collaborate closely with them to improve outcomes and information access for people around the world.

We also made two logistical changes to make the community more inclusive. We started to offer some sessions in French as Viamo has many native French speakers and we operate in several French-speaking countries, and we shifted from Fridays to Thursdays to accommodate our colleagues across the world.

Where are we today?

Each week, our designers work together to co-create a unique and engaging Via User Thursdays session. Every session is based on learning about one of our three user groups and better understanding their needs. We intentionally seek out colleagues from around the organization who have interesting stories to share, and work together with them to build the session, always including an element of interactivity and time for discussion at the end.

Recent topics have included:

For End Users

Topic or Activity

  • Highlights from testing the usability of Viamo’s Android app with census workers in Mali.
  • Findings from style testing with different  groups in Indonesia (a foster child dormitory, villages, and the transgender community) to ensure that IVR messages are delivered in a way that the audience finds engaging and enjoyable.

For Platform Users

Topic or Activity

  • A Quality Assurance engineer sharing how the team works to ensure that all applications or features built by our developers are reliable, complete, and high quality.
  • A live usability test by expert platform users of some new features that were recently added to Viamo’s platform.

For Partners

Topic or Activity

  • A live interview with our Director of Partnerships for UN agencies, about best practice in defining UN partner needs globally.
  • An open discussion about our partners’ expectations and needs regarding reporting.

What’s next?

We are only six months into our journey of encouraging a user-centered culture, but we have already seen tangible results. We’ve had more than 32 presenters from across the organization.  Every week, colleagues from around the world engage with the sessions stating they see the weekly sessions as a place to generate creative ideas as a group, serve as a platform for problem solving, and foster knowledge-sharing about all types of users. We’re continuing to experiment and improve, and are excited to see how our user-centered culture evolves over time.



Nikki Brand is Senior Human Centered Designer at Viamo. An experienced designer, implementer, and project manager working at the intersection of technology, innovation, and social impact, Nikki has experience in the government/donor, social enterprise, and the non-profit/NGO sectors with significant field experience across Latin America, Africa, and Asia.