App Movement: a platform for the community commissioning of mobile applications
App Movement is an online platform that enables communities to propose and promote ideas for mobile applications in response to community needs, collaboratively design the concept through a series of customisable features, and automate the development and deployment of a customised app.
Through the design of the platform we hope to understand how communities can commission technologies and services in order to establish community driven information resources to improve everyday life of community members.
App Movement was launched in February 2015 and now has over 38,000 users who have created over 85 app campaigns and automatically generated 18 mobile applications to support communities in finding dementia friendly places, gender neutral toilets, and drone flying locations, and many more.
The commissioning of technology remains firmly in the hands of those with the skills, resources, and knowledge to do so. App Movement is the first step to democratising this process and enabling anyone, anywhere to automatically generate their own mobile information resource and support their community in establishing a shared information resource in response to the issues they face.
Removing the technical and monetary restrictions to developing a mobile information resource and scaffolding the process of collaborative design allows more people to engage in the creation of technologies to support communities. In order to automatically generate mobile applications the platform uses a templating approach that allows citizens to select different app templates that can be used to support their community. Currently, the platform provides two templates; a location based rating and review service (similar to TripAdvisor), and a how-to guide to share knowledge on community specific topics.
The platform uses a three stage approach to scaffold the process of participation and development. These phases are the Support Phase, Design Phase, and Launch Phase.
The App Movement process
Citizens start by creating a campaign page, known as a movement, to share their idea and leverage support from their community. Similar to a Kickstarter financial target, App Movement requires citizens to gather 150 supporters within a 14-day period for the campaign to progress into the design phase. This ensures that the community are willing to engage with the idea as well as contribute and sustain the information resource when it’s launched.
Once enough people have supported the idea, the supporters are invited to a design area where they can contribute their ideas and vote on other submissions from the community to select configurable options of the app such as its name, colour scheme, rating options, and logo.
The design area also allows the community to discuss features they might like to see, or how they intend to promote the app. The design area has been developed to be simple and easy to use, in order to encourage contributions from all members within the community.
After a seven-day period the design area closes and the winning contributions are selected. They are then used by the platform to automatically generate the native app for both Android and iOS. The platform will then launch the apps in the Google Play and Apple App stores and notify the supporters to begin using the app.
App Movement benefits
- Democratising the process of commissioning community-driven information resources through automatic app development
- Removing the technical barriers to commissioning technology
- Structuring the participation of citizens to engage in the design and development of tools to support communities
- Establishing a community around an information resource before it is launched to ensure knowledge is contributed and sustained through community contributions
- Empowering citizens to establish an alternative information resource for the collection of data that can be leveraged for the purpose of civic action
App Movement – where did it come from?
The App Movement platform draws upon our previous research deployment, FeedFinder, a location based review service for breastfeeding mothers to rate and review breastfeeding-friendly locations. Newcastle in particular has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding despite a large number of health benefits for both the mother and child, and in order to promote breastfeeding in public the digital civics research team coordinated with local NHS breastfeeding support groups to design and develop a smartphone app that enables mothers to rate and review the breastfeeding friendliness of local businesses nearby.
Launching in 2013, FeedFinder now has over 9,000 users who have contributed over 3,000 venues and more than 3,200 reviews within the application and continues to grow and support mothers in the UK as well as Europe, USA, Australia, and India. The research team at Open Lab have published a number of papers based upon women’s experiences of using FeedFinder and have observed first-hand the positive impact of FeedFinder on the lives of breastfeeding mothers.
The potential for these forms of technology has been identified by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council who recently awarded the FeedFinder project with a Digital Economy Social Impact award for research that rapidly realises the transformational impact of digital technology on community life, cultural experience, future society and the economy. The team are now working with NHS breastfeeding support workers to utilise the data within FeedFinder to improve existing healthcare provisioning through a data driven approach to understanding breastfeeding practices within the UK.
App Movement as digital civics
When deployed within a willing community, there is a high potential for these forms of technology to have a positive impact on everyday life. However, identifying these different community issues is a challenging task that is often limited by the scope of the research team.
To overcome this issue we developed App Movement. This enables citizens to take a more proactive and independent approach to identifying their own issues and developing technologies to support their communities. The platform removes the existing constraints of commissioning technology and democratises the development and design of mobile applications that support a community driven approach to sustaining information resources. Through establishing these shared information resources, we as researchers are able to understand and explore how these technologies are used within communities, but more importantly, communities themselves are able to use this knowledge to improve and overcome issues they face.
App Movement was developed at Open Lab by Andy Garbett, Edward Jenkins, Robert Comber, and Patrick Olivier.
Author: Andrew Garbett