Intro to the Needfinding Framework

There is a system of people, relationships and technology that create the right environment in order for an Internet Freedom Tool (IFT) to be effective and widely used. How do we begin to understand that “system” or “environment”? How do we identify and engage with intermediaries and users to inform the tool development process? How do we use a deep understanding of users’ needs and reality to create more effective, useful and useable tools?

This Needfinding framework is an approach to help the creators of such tools, as well as intermediaries and researchers associated with them, address those questions.

You can find a print version of this framework here.

Human-Centered Design Research

One of the most effective approaches to deeply understanding a person or group of people is human-centered design. This approach, which taps into empathy as a source of innovation, has been proven effective in industries from social services to financial services to product design. SecondMuse has created a framework for applying a human-centered design approach to the realm of Internet Freedom. Applying this framework can simultaneously complement and push tool development further in addressing the needs of the users they are meant to serve, resulting in more usable software, increased user engagement, growing user bases, more effective training curriculums, and more. We have an opportunity as a community to explore its application to the IFT space. This approach is the start of that very important community conversation.

Research Methodology and Process

During the creation of this framework, SecondMuse spoke with a range of developers, designers, trainers and others working in the Internet Freedom space and found a broad and consistent desire for ways to better understand user needs. Supporting these groups, particularly those involved directly in the development of Internet Freedom tools, in gaining a deeper understanding of what is happening in the lives of users will allow them to have a bigger impact through the tools that they create. Some of the things we heard from developers in particular were an interest in:

  • A clearer picture of who the user really is.
  • Knowing what is unique about a certain group of users and what is shared across user communities in the IFT space.
  • Knowing who to talk to, when to talk to them and how.
  • A process to understand how security and privacy fit into a user’s life priorities.
  • Understanding what makes a user adopt a tool or not – especially their tool.
  • Where to start if they want to include users in the development process earlier than seeking feedback once a tool is released.

These and other topics informed the design of the empathy-based Internet Freedom Needfinding Framework. Needfinding is the process within human-centered design that determines the needs of an individual and/or community. It is the foundation for developing compelling solution that reflect what is happening in the world. What you find in this framework is designed to be a resource that can complement what you and your team are already doing – help you to think about where you are in your own process, how users fit in and the questions you have related to your target users. The following are the components of Internet Freedom Needfinding:

This framework is a series of exercises, templates and guidance that will help you and your team begin your journey to a deeper understanding of users and thus further improving the reach and impact of your tool. Each section has 5 main parts:

  1. Definition – a description of the activity and methodology
  2. Overview – a preview and summary of the section
  3. Why – lays out the purpose of this activity and what you will gain from doing it
  4. How – takes you through the steps and mindset to adapt the activity to your use
  5. Example & Additional Resources – provides you with a sample of a document that shows how the SecondMuse team used the same method in the work that informed this project. This may also include other reference materials like books, blogs, examples, etc. to look into if you would like to learn more about this particular approach.

Additional Resources

Although this framework is inspired by human-centered design, this is not an attempt to replace that methodology. If you are interested in learning more about that approach we encourage you to seek out institutions like Stanford University’s as well as books and online trainings like 101 Design Methods by Vijay Kumar and GameStorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo, and Acumen Fund’s Human-Centered Design for Social Impact series with, just to name a few. There are numerous resources out there. The purpose of this section is to share with this particular community (Internet Freedom tool users, tool developers, advocates, funders, intermediaries, etc.) a selection of the techniques and approaches that were used to gain understanding into the perspectives of developers and users, specifically in Dharamsala and Reykjavik, to understand their needs.