Expanding CUTgroup Detroit

 |   Kelly Kowatch, Director of the Office of Professional and Community Engagement, UMSI

The University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) Office of Professional and Community Engagement (OPCE) is excited to announce that this fall we will be expanding our partnership with Data Driven Detroit (D3) to expand the impact of the Civic User Testing Group (CUTgroup) Detroit initiative, supported by the Microsoft Cities Team. OPCE, D3, and Microsoft are committed to increasing the connection between D3’s CUTGroup Detroit and UMSI students, who are studying user research, evaluation, and design. This will help D3 provide more user testing services for the community and will provide our students with real world civic tech experience.

The University of Michigan School of Information launched the OPCE in 2017 as a means to establish strong and mutually beneficial relationships with a wide variety of community organizations.  The School of Information has had an ongoing presence in Detroit since 2010, when the School’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) was offered to the city’s nonprofit community as a capacity-building service learning program. As part of ASB, students spend one week, often in teams, working with a public sector organization on an information project. The OPCE launched a fall version of this program in October of 2017, supporting D3’s efforts to form a regional data collaborative known as the Metro Detroit Data Alliance.  A team of 12 students spent three days conducting exploratory interviews with potential users and partners of this initiative.  The students identified key requirements and needs for a number of different user groups, and developed graphical presentations for D3 to use in further building support for the data alliance.  

In the coming year, the OPCE team is excited to again bring students to Detroit as part of the Alternative Fall Break program in mid-October. This year, they are once again planning to work with D3 on their CUTgroup initiatives. School of Information students are well trained in a variety of user research and design methods, and are often eager to perfect their skills through a wide variety of engagement opportunities.  Working with D3 is an ideal way to augment the organization’s ability to facilitate CUTgroup user sessions more efficiently and to be able to provide the community with more opportunities for CUTgroup engagement.  Through collaboration on at least two upcoming CUTgroup user testing projects, students will work with D3 staff to develop protocols for the user testing sessions, and to run the 30 minute one-on-one sessions in which users from the CUTgroup population test out products.  These products could include tools that are currently under development at D3, building off of exploratory UX research conducted for Detroit Public Library, and usability evaluations for tools designed by the City of Detroit.  There are roughly 400 Detroit residents signed up for CUTGroup Detroit; by incorporating the highly skilled School of Information students in to the D3 process, more residents will be able to participate, increasing the amount of feedback that developers will be able to use to make sure tools they create are useful for their intended audience.

Beyond gaining skills through facilitating the CUTgroup sessions, the OPCE is always seeking to expose students to the challenges that everyday people experience in their daily dealings with civic entities. These can be very different than those identified by doing user testing for novel apps or for enterprise software user testing for major corporations.  It is our anticipation (and our goal) that students will become more socially conscious information professionals and ideally, apply their skills to work that pushes the social norm for what is acceptable in the user experience for all types of people.

Kelly Kowatch is UMSI’s Director of the Office of Professional and Community Engagement.