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Social Business, Well Told Story, operate in Kenya and Tanzania and run an Emmy winning multi-media initiative called Shujaaz (heroes). Shujaaz incorporates radio shows, comics, social media channels, online video and SMS and uses fictional characters to engage young people and tackle a range of social issues including the use of contraception, tobacco use and financial insecurity. The Well Told Story mission is to engage young people with the inspiration, motivation, ideas and networks they can then use to change their lives for the better; an estimated 6.5 million young people read the comic and listen to the radio show every week. We heard about the great work Well Told Story are doing after John Wade met the Managing Director Rob Burnet at an event earlier in the year. We recently Skyped with Rob in order to find out a little more about how they are using personas and user-centred design to both guide and inform Shujaaz.

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Combining multi-point data mining with in-depth fieldwork, Rob and his colleagues are able to develop insight-based persuasion strategies that are changing the way that young Kenyans and Tanzanians behave. At times, it is difficult to tell where the research ends and the communication begins. Research, co-design, delivery, feedback and engagement are all wrapped up into a nonlinear ‘eco-system’ which just seems to work. The main character in all of the stories is a boy who hacks into radio stations to get his message (driven by insight) to listeners. Young people can also follow the action in a weekly comic and engage with the story and its characters using SMS and social media, potentially directly affecting the direction of future editions. Essentially, Well Told Story has created an entire make-believe world which young people can either view from the outside or take an active part in and it’s a truly user centred operation.

We are about to embark on a set of face-to-face interviews to compile some personas to inform our latest service developments. Whilst our business is quite different, we wanted to know what we might be able to learn from the approach that Rob and his team take at Well Told Story.  

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We really like the ‘inside-out and outside-in’ approach. Starting with data and working from the inside-out provides a direction to work towards, but data segmentation can only tell you so much. Using these data segments it is possible to construct some key lines of enquiry which explore the data and delve deeper from the outside-in, using ethnographic techniques like shadowing as well as focus groups of around 8-10 people in order to prove or disprove the categories - understanding more about the human factors behind the data.

Rob explained that by starting with a set of assumptions i.e. ‘can we assume that some girls never use contraception’ and ‘can we assume that some girls always use contraception’, it's possible to ask the focus group what other categories might sit in between. This is an interesting approach as it directly involves the research subjects in the persona categorisation process. The result of this approach is a set of insight driven personas which have been co-designed with research subjects themselves, rather than being created following research with them. Rob explained, “It’s not our data, it's the audiences data, so we publish our research back onto your audience using the Well Told Story media . . . we share the personas too and tell them - this is what you guys look like. . . because if you can't say with confidence that people think that way, you don't have a persona.”

Well Told Story create a new set of personas for each particular campaign they are working on. This is a way of working which we also promote. With each set of personas, the team first look for a ‘world view’ rather than trying to focus on a specific age group or gender category. Rob told us that “if you start with gender or age you just get distracted”, which is a great tip for anyone looking to create personas.

We found our Skype with Rob and the work that the Well Told Story team are doing on Shujaaz really inspirational. If you’ve got a few minutes we would certainly recommend you take a look for yourself.

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