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iDigest for small group Bible study

Partnerships

Designer

Program manager

My role

Research design 

Execution

Synthesis

Share-out

Duration

3 weeks

Deliverables

Research protocol

Research presentation

Impact

Provided insights and recommendations to guide design of the next version of app

Background

Since 2019, a non-profit startup, Gracetech, started to develop a mobile app, iDigest, which aimed to gather high-quality spiritual learning materials from around the world that are available in Chinese and share these materials with Chinese Bible study small group leaders and members in the US. 

 

Gracetech launched the first version of the app iDigest 1.0 at the end of 2019. iDigest 1.0 focused on digitizing and reformatting two spiritual books. It provides limited functionalities. People can read verses in the Bible and type answers to the guiding questions on mobile phones. 

 

iDigest 1.0 has been adopted by a small group in a local Chinese church in the greater Seattle area, and is used to guide their monthly study of one of the books.

iDigest screenshot.png

Challenge

As a non-profit start-up, Gracetech has very limited resources. They had not thought about including UX research in the past. In the next version of iDigest, Gracetech wanted to add more Bible learning materials and add functionalities that could provide a better experience for small study groups.

 

The program manager asked me to help with understanding the target users' needs and suggesting new functionalities for the next version of iDigest.

 

Approach

I first interviewed the founders, program manager/designer, and developers. This helped me gain a good understanding of the team's wants, needs, and expectations.

"iDigest should be a mobile app where spiritual leaders can engage groups of brothers and sisters to nurture their spiritual growth and improve their relationship with God." - Founder, Mike Guo

I created a multi-method research plan:

  1. Competitive Analysis to identify competitors and opportunities. Gracetech had not conducted this kind of analysis previously to see who has built any similar tools to support a group study.

  2. Participant observation and focus group to see how the app was currently used by the small group in the local Chinese church that had adopted iDigest 1.0 in their group study.

  3. Interview more group leaders to learn how they lead the group study and explore the potential value of iDigest to support them in leading Bible study.  

Competitor analysis

​How I did it:

In the Chinese market:

  • In Appstore, search for any Chinese Bible study related apps 

  • Sort the first one hundred apps into different categories until saturation achieved.

What I found:

  • The top three types of apps:

Bible reference (23%)

Worship songs and music sheets (18%)

Christian organizations (14%)

 

  • None were built for supporting group study in the Chinese market.

 

In the US market, I found two mobile apps (WordGo and Carry) that were designed specifically for supporting group Bible study.

After the analysis, it appears there are a lot of opportunities and space for improvement for iDigest. 

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Participant observation and focus group

​How I did it:

I participated in and observed a two-hour group Bible study on a Friday evening. The group leaders of this small group adopted iDigest 1.0 to guide their monthly study on one of the books on iDigest. 

After the Bible study, I asked the questions of the group leaders and members about their thoughts on using iDigest 1.0.

What I found:

For group leaders, there is a big gap between their expectations and the reality. 

Before the group study:

Most group members already used iDigest to read the study content (i.e., Bible verses, spiritual book) and answer the guiding questions.

During the group study:

Group members actively participate in the discussion and sharing their thoughts about the study contents and guiding questions.

 

Then the group leaders would feel more confident about the learning outcomes. 

 

Friday evening is NOT the only time the members use iDigest.

Expectations

Reality

Before the group study:

Most members did NOT read the content and answer the guiding questions.

During the group study:

 

Most group members kept silent and passively listened to group leaders talking about the study contents and the "correct" answers to the guiding questions.

Then the group leaders were not sure about the learning outcome. 

Friday evening was the ONLY time the members used iDigest.

The group leaders used a social networking app to send group members reminders in a group chat, but the group members did not notice them or did not want to take the effort to open another app (i.e., iDigest). 

For the group members, they thought just listening to the group leaders' sharing their thoughts during the study was good enough. 

The group members did not want to read the study contents and answer the guiding questions in advance because their lives were too busy. Also, they were not in the habit of preparing study content before the group study in the past. 

I discussed these findings with the team, we agreed that we should focus on group leaders as our target users for now as they are the group of users who clearly showed the pain points. 

Interview

​How I did it:

I recruited ten small group leaders (two of them were pastors) from two local Chinese churches. I called them and had an approximately forty-five minute conversation with each of them. 

 

In the phone call, I asked them how did they normally prepare for group Bible study, and introduced iDigest 1.0 to them. We then talked through the concepts and functions of iDigest, and asked their thoughts about the potential value of using iDigest in their group study. 

What I found:

The basic three steps of preparing for a small group Bible study: 

1) collect trustworthy and good quality study materials for a specific topic and/or paragraphs in the Bible;

2) read, learn, and synthesize the study materials into structured study notes that fit within a certain group study time;

3) become familiar with the study materials and study notes and solve any questions that emerged. 

 

Small group leaders thought the quality of the study materials on iDigest met their expectations. They would consider using iDigest in their Bible study. 

They appreciated that iDigest allows them to prepare the Bible study anytime and anywhere, without carrying heavy reference books and/or using a laptop. 

However, they thought they still need to use a laptop or pen/paper to write down some notes so that they would feel confident and know what to say during the one or two-hour group study. 

 

They shared the same worry that was found in the observation and focus group conversation: that the group members would not want to read the study contents in advance. ​But they did not want to force the members to do so. 

Synthesizing research data

Gathering all the themes of data from the competitor analysis, participant observation and focus group, and interview together, I did several rounds of synthesis until the key insights emerged. I carefully weighed the importance of each theme and considered the relationships between the themes  

Key insights

  • The small group leaders acknowledged the value of iDigest in saving their time and energy to find trustworthy, reliable, and comprehensive group Bible study materials. 

  • Although the small group leaders can access the study materials anytime and anywhere, the current version of iDigest doesn't adequately support their study preparation process, mainly because it does not allow them to create study notes directly on iDigest. 

  • The group leaders were frustrated that the group members lacked motivation for reading the study materials on iDigest before the group study. 

  • The current version of iDigest does not support direct communication between group leaders and members which may hinder the group members from building the habit of using iDigest. 

Recommendations, impacts and next steps

  • Prioritize the group leaders' needs rather than members' needs in the design for the next version of iDigest. 

  • Consider adding two major functionalities 

    • allowing group leaders to create study notes on iDigest

    • allowing group leaders to communicate with the group members on iDigest

I communicated the key insights and recommendations to the program manager/designer. The program manager/designer and the funder of Gracetech decided to focus on adding the communication functionally first, because it would help the group members to build improved study habits. This will reduce the group leaders' frustration and increase the learning outcome. The designer went ahead to designing the communication features including adding group members, managing group members, and chatting with group members. 

Next steps include:

1) help Gracetech to conduct user testing on the communication features

2) conduct another round of competitor analysis focusing on both group member management/communication and study notes creation.