Creating Technology for Social Change

Call to Action – creating a platform for voice services

An exciting project for the team this year has been the development of New Day New Standard, a hotline that informs nannies, housekeepers, elder caregivers, and their employers about the landmark Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, passed in New York State in November 2010.

In the seven months since it launched, the average call on NDNS lasted 3 minutes and 17 seconds. That’s an exciting figure, given that it’s much longer than you’d expect the average user to spend looking at a web page. May, launch month, was the peak month for usage, although NDNS has continued to attract callers: usage rose again in October, when callers spent a total of 490 minutes on the line. We’re now in a position to do more research with our users to find out which functions and stories they engaged with the most.

We at the Center and our co-design partners in the NDNS project believe there’s a lot of potential to use interactive voice hotlines for a variety of civic purposes. After White House officials learned about NDNS, REV-‘s Marisa Jahn was invited to present at the first-ever White House Safety Datapalooza, a symposium hosted by White House CTO Todd Park, highlighting innovations that use open government data to empower people in making safer decisions. Marisa demonstrated a prototype of another application built on the same technology as NDNS, ‘Miners Matters.’ MM is a service that gives miners and their communities access to mine safety data and workplace rights information, developed in collaboration with the Center.

Right now anyone can (in theory) build a similar service using the VoIP Drupal Module¬†– if they know how to code in the VoIP Drupal scripting language. So last week we brought together our partners REV-, UX designers, software developers and service design experts from our community to think through the design of a open source web platform that would allow any community group to create an interactive hotline like NDNS. We’re calling the platform Call To Action (C2A).¬†

Over three days we compiled user stories detailing all the possible individuals who might interact with an NDNS-like service, reviewed inspiring GUIs from other services and spent many hours drawing ideas by hand, reviewing, redrawing and iterating our designs. This semester a team of Computer Science undergraduates from course 6.170 have been working on the foundations of C2A for a class assignment, and we used their project as a prototype to help frame our discussions.

Sketches of interactive voice service GUIs

As a result of the workshop we’ve settled on a GUI that we think captures the ability to set up the most typical hotline template within 10-15 minutes, but also allows groups to build a service from scratch if they prefer. Our ambition is that the platform will handle all aspects of the service creation process, from mapping out the ‘voice tree’ to recording and storing audio. We would like the platform to integrate more analytics, which would allow us to see which parts of a service are most popular – and at what point most callers are hanging up.

As well as generating a VoIP Drupal-based hotline, we’re also working towards making C2A a simulator of the phone call experience, so that service creators can test from within the app and end users can try the service through their computer as well as by phone.

We’ll be developing Call To Action at the Center over the Spring semester. Once it’s in alpha we’ll be working with partners and potential users to test it out, and we’d love to hear your impressions and experiences, too.