For this study, nine domestic helpers were recruited via snowball sampling from two local churches. We made use of snowball sampling, as it is a useful technique for reaching difficult to locate participants like migrant workers. In addition, given the sensitive nature of some personal experiences, it was important for the researchers to build rapport with the community before the women would agree to the study. All of the participants were females, 26–39 years old, and from the Philippines. In terms of working experience, some had worked in Singapore for a few months while others had worked for 10 years.
We divided the participants into three design teams, each consisting of three participants. Collaboration with the participants took place over three sessions, each lasting between an hour and ninety minutes: (1) a focus group, (2) a design session and (3) an evaluation session. The entire study took place over a period of four months.
As none of our participants had any design experience, we began the focus group with an explanation of the concept of participatory design. Drawing upon prior research, our study defines participatory design as “a democratic approach to design by creating a platform for active end-user participation in the design process” . To encourage active participation, we stressed that all aspects of the proposed solution would be open to the participants’ suggestions and feedback. Following this, participants were asked to share how they currently made use of technology to share stories with their families, and any problems they faced. They were then asked to discuss their initial ideas for possible solutions. Finally, the participants were provided with a cultural probe pack consisting of a Polaroid camera and writing material and given between two weeks to capture significant personal experiences for discussion in the design session. As Gaver explains, cultural probes are designed to provoke inspirational responses and provide fragmentary clues about their lives making them valuable in inspiring design ideas that could enrich people’s lives . More importantly, given the participants’ work environment, we felt that probes would allow us to gather tacit information in an unobtrusive manner. We shared suggestions for use of the camera, such as capturing significant people, places or events in their lives. At the same time, we stressed that such suggestions were for inspiration only and that the women could be as creative as they wanted.
During the design session, participants were asked to present the photos and the stories they recorded using the probes. Next, they were asked to group their photos to uncover dominant themes. We also paid attention to the intended audiences of the stories and how the women hoped to share their experiences. After this, the participants were shown three existing storytelling applicationsFootnote 1 to familiarize them with common features and interfaces. The remainder of the session was devoted to coming up with usage scenarios and features for the proposed solution. With the exception of the first group, the other two groups were presented with the design ideas proposed by the previous groups and asked to critique and build upon these designs. It is important to note that this critique was done only after each team had finished proposing their ideas. We chose to adopt this “mixing ideas” technique as it remains a useful way of merging individual ideas into larger, collaborative ideas .
Between the second and third session, a low-fi mockup of the prototype was put together by the researcher, which was then evaluated by the design teams in the final session. During the evaluation session, participants interacted with the mock-up and provided feedback on the system. For example, to evaluate the usefulness of the reflective prompts, participants were asked to create a story using one of the prompts. Prompts that were deemed unsatisfactory were then removed.
Following the sessions, the researchers carried out inductive coding on the researcher notes taken during the sessions, as well as on the probe pack materials gathered by participants. As Seidman points out, inductive coding is useful for condensing raw textual data into a brief summary format and to establish clear links between research objectives and the summary findings from the raw data . From this, we were able to sort low-level codes into broader themes. For instance, suggestion, topic, inspiration were grouped into the theme of prompts or triggers.
Having described our study procedures, in the following sections we will present the key findings from the focus group, followed by the results of the design and evaluation sessions.