Open co-design process – ruralnet|uk

Setting out to build a new website or set of online tools can be pretty nerve wracking. No matter what research and insights have been captured, how many people have been surveyed, and advisors consulted it’s hard to know if anyone will actually find what you’ve done as useful and exciting.

The syndrome of “build it and they will come” is prevalent in the online world. This has typically meant websites built from an organisational structure point of view rather than based around the audience’s needs. Many new social networking sites in the world of web 2.0 are no exception.

ruralnet|uk is turning the standard development process upside down. They’ve just embarked on a project “to help create the next generation of web services” with input from anyone that’s interested. ruralnet|uk run confernces, share information and provide support offline and on in their quest to promote a living and working countryside.

Here’s how David Wilcox has described ruralnet|uk’s approach in his post “Re-inventing your online business in public”:

For nearly 10 years Ruralnet has been running an online system linked to their work on rural community development and social enterprise. It has some core services, originally run on FirstClass, with a facility to customise for different organisations or networks, but has been very much “come to our place”. Over the past couple of years they have been experimenting with Web 2.0 tools, and moving some services across. Just before Christmas chief executive Simon Berry sought agreement from his colleagues to re-launch everything on their 10th anniversary in March.

What!!??? How do you do that and hope to get it right? Well, don’t hope to get it right yourself – invite your customers in to help you re-invent your business.

Make them co-creators instead of just “users”.

And there it is on the web for all to see at ruralnet|online – “welcome to this open co-design exercise”. The focus is a multi-authored blog with posts about philosophy, focus groups, techy stuff and much more. There is a lot of activity on the website.

ruralnet|uk generate income running online services and the “next generation” of tools is expected to contribute to this too. In terms of what we’re doing with the collaborative information project, there are lots of similarities. We’ve been talking about user-centred design, and asking our target audience what they want. I’m hoping we can be brave enough to open things up to co-design when the right time comes.

BTW: Simon Berry, who runs ruralnet||uk, rode the length of UK last year, see “Participation ride 2007 – day 3“.