We are Open and here to help

By Christine Hemphill | 29th March 2020

How are you today? Wherever you are in the world, you are very likely impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. As most governments move to a lockdown status of various severity, we are all having to adapt very rapidly and in an ongoing way to the turmoil unleashed by this deadly virus. All of the team here at Open would firstly like to wish you, your family, colleagues and communities good health and safe passage through this period. We can never forget the very real human cost to this unfolding. We are very thankful specifically to the many health professionals and businesses who are operating in very strained environments to ensure we can gain treatment if needed and have access to basic services, food, communication, and utilities. Thank you for helping to keep us safer and more secure in these uncertain times. 

In the midst of this, small businesses like ours have had to adjust to the new reality quickly. Here at Open Inclusion, we’ve taken some concrete steps to ensure we continue providing world-class inclusive research and design support for our clients in the UK and beyond. 

This is a moment where the lines of inclusion and the costs of exclusion have shifted very rapidly. We are here to help you understand how people are being impacted through this period, and to support better business prioritisation to protect your most at-risk customers. Our remote consumer or staff research is available to you to inform decisions and improve outcomes.   

Helping businesses navigate difficult inclusion decisions

In this fast-moving and difficult period, it is more important than ever for businesses to understand who is excluded from accessing and engaging easily with various services, information and activities. Currently, this is most relevant to customer-facing online offerings, call centres and home delivery, as these remote services minimise health risks both personally and for the community. It is also highly relevant to consider changing impacts on staff, suppliers or business clients. 

Where services are stretched past their capacity, difficult decisions need to be made to consider how to differentiate support. Is it first come best serviced or do other criteria such as age, health status or carer responsibilities come into it? If they do, how should these characteristics be identified and managed? These are not easy questions or decisions. We don’t claim to have ready-made answer for these. However, we are here and able to help by testing alternatives with rapid inclusive research, reaching to the communities that are most at risk at this moment. 

Inclusion has shifted, as have the implications

If people can’t buy what they require online due to poor digital accessibility they may need to be exposed to shopping outside of their home. If people are not well connected with pervasive internet connectivity, have good tools or skills to use online services, they may be more exposed during this period.  Those with disabilities or long term health issues, and those over 70 are the most at risk of severe complications, pneumonia and death if they contract coronavirus. People living in the same household with people categorised as highly at-risk are therefore equally needing additional protection if we are to minimise the human tragedy of the pandemic.

The lockdown has changed the lines of inclusion and exclusion. Step-free access to a closed store is less relevant. Digital access to food, education and entertainment or health advice is far more relevant to us all. The costs of exclusion have shifted also.

For example, a fit healthy amputee may find travel more difficult, but in today’s environment doesn’t need to travel and they are not at heightened risk of complications from contracting the virus. Someone with a long term health condition such as muscular dystrophy who has set up their home and life so that they are able to manage relatively independently and disability-free conversely may be severely at risk if the digital services that they rely on crash, or have an unimaginably long queue as Ocado did last week, and where there isn’t another, equally accessible option available to them. Ocado is known to have very good digital accessibility.

The environment has changed. With new environments come new mismatches where people are excluded in some way. Any exclusion now also carries very different implications depending on the characteristics of the person and their household. We are aware of many businesses who are working exceptionally hard just now to better understand these shifts and how they can address them to best protect and support their customers, staff, brand and community.  

We are open for business – offering remote services

Ocado's website last week with a message of the lengthy delay and number in the queue following a flood of new and current customers exceeding the capability of the platform to support the demand

Online supermarket sites like Ocado’s have been inundated with above capacity demand from shoppers leading to lengthy queues and delivery restrictions

Like many businesses, our team is working from home, and has been for a couple of weeks now. Thankfully we are all set up for remote working and well-practiced at it as we all spend at least 50% of our time normally working from home.  

In addition, a few weeks ago we informed all the members of our UK-wide research panel and our in-house research team that we are stopping all face to face research and any meetings, conferences or other gatherings. This was a few weeks ahead of the government directives but we felt that it was important to protect our panel, the research team and community more broadly by helping reduce any movement and social contact. Obviously the health and safety of our panel community and team is at the forefront of our minds as many are more at risk of severe consequences if they contract the virus.

This hasn’t stopped our research though! We’re used to engaging in remote research, especially since it helps us include really hard to access demographics such as people who are very anxious about travel, or whose health conditions or disabilities prevent them from being able to participate in person. This period has provided the opportunity to leverage this experience more broadly. 

Here are just some of the ways we’re providing remote research to our clients:

  • Usability testing – mobile and browser based journeys using screen share and video conferencing software
  • Ethnographic (in home) research and diary studies – using a remote research tool with video upload, satisfaction check ins and chat capabilities
  • Focus groups – using video conference software. We’ve found this a fun and effective replacement for face to face groups, and have run simple co-design workshops this way
  • Surveys – online tools and specifically accessible alternatives
  • 1:1 interviews – as usual via video conferencing software
  • Other research activities like market research continue pretty much as before. And we’re also providing innovation and design support via remote meetings and documentation exchange.

Inclusive insight and design is more important than ever

As we continue to adapt and adjust to our new reality, it’s worth reflecting on why the world needs inclusive design now more than ever.

We are all in a situation of “extreme needs,” one where the mismatch between users and their environments is disabling a lot of people, some in old and some in new ways. As we work from home and go out less, we rely on technology more to get news, work, run businesses, catch up with friends and take care of our friends and families. Digital inclusion, as mentioned above is increasingly important. Inclusive experiences can also be powerful in better understanding our new environment. Many people with lived experience of disability have rich experiences of adapting to rapid change to their ability to travel, engage socially or other challenges that many of us are going through now. We can learn how to adapt ourselves and support our at-home staff and customers by asking more about successful techniques for managing such change. 

As always, Open is here to help support businesses and organisations, big and small, to create more inclusive experiences. With our remote research capabilities and our panel of diverse and engaged end users ready to provide opinions and feedback on products and services, we can support your business bridge inclusion gaps in our ever-changing world. Insight can, as always help de-risk difficult decisions and improve the overall outcomes. We will work with to be as efficient as we can be (both in time and cost) to ensure that this value is as easy as possible for you to add to your decisions. 

Contact us

If you would like to contact us to discuss how we can support you please reach out. We are, as our name suggests, open and ready to help.