A few months ago we told you about the changes we made to our Star step and the Participant Star application in version 3.0. You can read the details here and I’ll summarize below. In this post I want to tell you about the changes we’ve made in our 3.1 version which is rolling out now to all customers.
Star Step 3.0
One of the biggest changes we made was having participants Star the thoughts of others without a Facilitator “grouping” and “cleaning them up” first. This is a much more authentic way for participants to learn from each other. As a result of not grouping, there are generally way too many thoughts for a single participant to prioritize (or Star), so we also introduced “sub-setting” which shows each participant a random sample of other participants’ thoughts plus their own. As part of the sub-setting, we also simplified the Star step by showing only nine thoughts at a time on a “page” and showing each participant three pages. So in total, each participant sees a subset of 27 thoughts. We use an algorithm to ensure all thoughts are seen as equal a number of times as possible.
Star Step 3.1
The feedback on the changes we made in 3.0 was really positive. Our customers saw how participants could learn more from one another by hearing each other’s real words. But we thought we could do more to make the Star application itself easier to use.
That was our focus for the improvements made in 3.1 – usability.
The most important change was to display all of the text for each thought, without requiring the user to take further action by clicking to “read more”. This is more than just a usability change – it’s fundamental to our process. By making it easy for participants to see all the text of a thought, they are much more likely to learn from each other and really appreciate different points of view. We did this by putting each thought in its own “tile” and arranging these tiles in a 3×3 grid.
Next, we worked to fit the application to tablet devices that have less screen space and are also touch-oriented. This meant the “affordances” (fancy name for things you click on) had to be big enough for a finger. It also meant we had to de-clutter the page design and make sure only the absolute essentials were on the page. So we moved the question and instruction text to its own page and made the question text easily accessible by a click affordance on the Star page. This makes it simple to get at the question text without using up scarce screen space.
One of the things we know from user feedback, is that some participants don’t seem to understand that they only have a limited number of Stars to assign – what we call the Star quota. We use a limited pool or quota of Stars to “force” participants to prioritize. By making participants choose amongst the thoughts, requires that they consider each and every thought more carefully. It’s more cognitively demanding than simply rating each thought out of 5 on its own – but we believe it’s core to what we do. It’s not like rating movies on Netflix where each movie’s worth to you is independent of all the other movies. It’s as if we asked you to name your favourite 10 movies – now you have to compare them and decide which is best. This is harder, and in the case of other participant’s thoughts, we believe is well worth the extra effort.
We’ve worked to make the pool of Stars more obvious. It now sits at the top-centre of the page. And we’ve added animation, so that when you click on a Star to assign it, the Star “flies” into place.
We’ve also made it easier to assign Stars. You simply click on the Stars to assign them – just like in Netflix. Unassigning is also easier – you just click on the lower Star value and the extra Stars will “fly” back to the pool at the top.
Finally, we made “flagging” easier. We allow participants to flag thoughts that will be hurtful to a person or group identified in the thought. In many processes we “moderate” the thoughts to try to get rid of these hurtful comments, but we may miss some. So we provided an affordance (an icon of a flag you can click on) to flag a thought. This then requires you to provide some text explaining why you think that thought is hurtful.
Star Step in Context – Greater Insight.
We have 3 steps: Share, Star, Discover – each has its own unique value in our process. The key thing about Star is it leads to greater group insight because participants have to actually think about other people’s thoughts in relation to their own and prioritize which they think are most important. These Stars become the basis for the Discover step, where decision leaders gain insight about the priorities for their group of stakeholders as a whole. And participants gain insight because they can now see what they as a group care about most.
What’s most important about how we continue to improve the Star step and the Participant Star application is that we keep improving how our process works. Participants now see each other’s “raw” thoughts – all of the text so they effectively hear the authentic voice of that thought’s author. Also, it’s now easier to compare thoughts and assign Stars. Our goal at Thoughtexchange is to keep providing even greater insight for greater good.