When we re-launched Ushahidi last October, I expected to spend the subsequent six months focused entirely on iterating -- finding things in the software that lacked polish or created problems, and fixing them. But the reality is that we’ve spent the vast majority of that time listening.

Sure, Ushahidi poured time and attention into adding heaps of important new features. But our most demanding work centered around establishing reliable ways for Ushahidi users to tell us about their problems, goals, and ideas.

We started by installing simple-but-critical communication tools, like an always-on, real-time messaging tool built into Ushahidi.com and all the deployments connected to it. Everyone at the company -- developers, project managers, financial operators, designers -- committed to talking with users about their efforts to start an Ushahidi deployment, learn how data flows through it, or import data into it.

These conversations helped us spot users’ most common questions, needs, and requests. But we wanted to dig a little deeper before simply building a list of changes and throwing it over the wall. Instead, we interviewed and mined requests from 73 early adopters in November 2015, essentially asking, “If we designed Ushahidi specifically for your deployment, how would it work?”

We wanted to stop guessing who the typical Ushahidi user is, and how they needed the software to work. Instead, they told us.

Who uses Ushahidi

We learned that the people who need Ushahidi typically fill at least one of the following roles:

  • Executive: Makes decisions from deployment data.
  • Project Manager: Sets up and owns the deployment.
  • Developer: Installs and customizes deployment.
  • Operator: Manages data and tasks in a deployment.
  • Gatherer: Submits posts as a team member.
  • Responder: Responds to posts in the field or virtually.
  • Reporter: Submits posts as a citizen.
  • Receiver: Receives aid in response to a post.
  • Viewer: Visits a deployment to learn.

What Ushahidi users need

We also learned that people rely on Ushahidi to help them tackle three core functions:

  1. Data collection: Record data privately, using any device, through customizable forms.
  2. View, share, and analyze data: Communicate insights through accessible data visualizations.
  3. Workflow and collaboration: Configure a system for triaging and responding efficiently to actionable information.

Rinse and repeat

With more concrete direction from Ushahidi users, we spent the next four months assembling simple prototypes, re-connecting with many of the same users, and asking them if what we had cobbled together rang true. We polished the design decisions that worked, and revised the ones that didn’t.

An early prototype we tested in January 2016.

At the same time, we conducted two remote, recorded usability studies with 20 anonymous participants. By April, more than 100 users had worked directly with Ushahidi staff to shape what they felt were the most pressing ideas to improve Ushahidi.

The last prototype we tested in March 2016.

After multiple rounds of feedback and prototyping over six months, we felt confident we had zeroed in on some important insights that we needed to respond to right away, including:


Each of the three core functions -- collecting, analyzing, and creating a workflow around data -- demand tools and visualizations tailored to them. So we’ve created discrete “modes” within Ushahidi.

Elevate the most important tools

Viewing and filtering a deployment’s top-level data is critical to understanding what the deployment is trying to communicate. So we’ve elevated the visibility of these controls and information in the modes that beg for them.

Suggest what should be done

Whether you’re looking at a map of a recent reports or configuring your deployment’s data sources, it needs to be clear what Ushahidi expects you to do at any given time. So we’ve assembled a visual design system that makes it more clear when Ushahidi is asking you to edit, add, remove, or simply review the data on your screen.

Moving fast

The moment Ushahidi users indicated to us that the proposed changes would have a meaningful impact on their work, we got to work on bringing them into the software. And we’ve raced to make sure they’re in users’ hands in June.

But that will only mark the first step in responding to what users have told us -- and continue to tell us.

Many users articulated a need for their team to stay organized around task assignments related to managing data and tracking progress. They also developed a clear concept for alerts, triggered both by data they follow and user-defined logic (like “alert me when more than 20 posts located in my vicinity are awaiting moderation”).

So among the first new features to tackle will be a “Tasks” mode, a non-intrusive way to serve up alerts, new ways to share Surveys, and improved tools to manage the security of sensitive data.

We can’t wait to work with y’all again on what comes next.