5 days about (digital) resource exhaustion at #36c3

The last 5 days I was allowed to participate in my first Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig, the biggest meeting of hackers in Europe. It was an incredible experience: art installations everywhere, people on scooters and skateboards, music, many children and a very diverse audience. I have been to many conferences, many of them were commercial, but what the Chaos Communication Congress does there is incredible. The whole congress is organized and run exclusively by volunteers in their spare time. And all this in such a professional and loving way that the big, commercial conferences can still learn a lot from it.

However, I was not only allowed to participate but also to give a talk. I spoke about the Planet Friendly Web and how we can make the web more sustainable.

The recording of the talk can be watched on media.ccc.de. I held the talk in German, but there is an English and Spanish synchronisation.

Mein Vortrag “The Planet Friendly Web” auf dem 36c3 in Leipzig

In addition to my lecture, I was also able to talk to many journalists about my work and my concern to make the web more sustainable. I have spoken on ZDF Heute+ and Spiegel Online, among others. But also the FAZ and the Hungarian newspaper Sg reported about it. In January there will also be an article in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and an episode in the radio show Zündfunk on Bayern 2.

Of course, there were many other great lectures besides my own. Some I would like to recommend to you here (for all of them there are English synchronizations):

Of course I could not watch all the talks on site. There were simply too many exciting talks running parallel to each other. I still have the following on my catch-up list:

A relaunch for People, Planet & Technology

A few weeks ago, I sent a survey to all subscribers to my newsletter, People, Planet & Technology, and many of them participated. I was really surprised by a large number of respondents. This really helped me to understand who is reading my newsletter and what interests them.

Here are a few results of that:

Especially the last question surprised me enormously, and at the same time, I feel honoured. I didn’t expect that, but it shows me that there seems to be an interest in the content that connects environmental issues with technology. I will focus this way…

What is going to change

Question two was probably the most helpful question of the survey. Here I asked you what you want to read in the editions and which topics inspire you the most.

Therefore I will focus on the next issues on exactly this content:

  • Best practices and examples of the use of technology for environmental protection
  • the ethical side in the use of technology

Besides, I will make some recommendation for persons you should follow and other stuff like podcasts, videos, etc.

Got curious? Sign up and you will get the next issue straight into your inbox!

I give my consent to me to be in touch with me via email using the information I have provided in this form for the purpose of news and updates.
Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Good choice, thanks for signing up!

Low Cost, Open-Source Solutions (Recap of WildLabs Meetup)

WildLabs Virtual Meetups are webinars on a variety of topics designed to bring together leading technologists and wildlife conservationists. The three topics to be covered are Low-Cost Open-Source Solutions, Tools and Spaces for Collaboration, and Creative Approaches to Data-Driven Storytelling.

The first one in 2019 was about Low-Cost Open-Source Solutions and it was the first WildLabs Meetup I’ve joined.

This is how WildLabs described this Meetup:

Despite critical advancements in tech solutions being made available to conservationists around the world, many existing tools are cost-prohibitive in the landscapes that need them most. Additionally, those who create low-cost and open-source alternatives to pricey market tech are often operating on tight budgets themselves, meaning they have limited resources for the promotion of their solutions to a wider market. Therefore, there is a need for increased communication around these solutions to highlight their availability, share lessons learned in their creation, and avoid duplication of efforts. Arribada Initiative and OpenCollar are both examples of current efforts in this arena.

The great three speakers in this session was Alasdair Davies (Founder of Arribada Initiative, Co-Founder of Naturebytes, Conservation Technology Specialist at ZSL, and a Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow), David Lang (Co-Founder of OpenROV and Open Explorer) and Tanya Berger-Wolf (Co-Founder and Director of Wildbook.org and Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago).

What I should say: It was a very very helpful and inspirational webinar and I have absolutely recommended this for you.

Here you can find the complete recording of the meetup and there are also some notes and links around this topic on the WildLabs discussion thread.

Open technology in conservation & exploration: A guide for all they wants to start

Last update: 12.05.2020

This is not a finished blog posts, it’s more or less a growing collection about all stuff around conservation technology.

I have a huuuge note file on my digital desk named conservation-tech.md. It’s a 500 lines huge list of projects, people and resources about the wide topic of using technology for open research and conservation I’ve collected over the years and ideas I had to get started in this.

I had already talked to a lot of people about this topic and again and again I wanted to refer to some content in my notes. This was followed by some wild e-mails or Twitter messages. From that came the idea of this blog post and its two goals:

  1. I want you to benefit from my research and not have to do the same work searching for resources and/or projects that I’ve already done, and
  2. I would like to have a divisible, referencable and searchable list in order to be able to access this list faster and easier myself.

What is open technology and how can you use it for exploration and conservation?

The short: Open technology in exploration and conservation mean to me, using technology to improve and better understand our natural environment and creating things that will have a positive impact to our nature. Openness is a core value:

  • Open Source: The solutions we will build should be open to everyone to rebuild this and use it for their own case.
  • Open for everyone: This is not limited for scientists, it is also for citizens and foundations, nerds who just want to explore stuff, environmentalists and everyone else.

Open technology in this case is not limited to citizen science, but often there are overlaps between both topics.

A longer explanation of conservation technology, is written by Shah Selbe on Conservify.


I seperate the resources in three audiences:

  • Beginner: People, who have no experience in technology or science.
  • Scientists*: People, who would say about thereselves “I am a scientist” or have deep scientific knowledge in their topic, and mostly need knowledge in technology topics, how technology can help in research or where to start in technology.
  • Technologists: All people, who have deep knowledge in technology topics like, data, coding or hardware engineering, and mostly need knowledge in scientific stuff or need to know where to help or to start.

*This does not include professional scientists only. It means also citizens who have deep knowldge in their topic they want to make research in.

For Beginner

For Scientists

For Technologists

Who to follow

In this section I introduce some people they are experts on conservation technology.

  • Andrew Quitmeyer: Rogue jungle robot guy Former TV dude, former professor. Now full-time weirdo helping teach interaction design within nature.
  • Shah Selbe: Conservation Technologist. Fellow at National Geographic. Guy on FieldKit.org and Conservify. Ex-Rocket Scientist.
  • Topher White: Conservation Technologist — Founder/CEO at RainforestCx — Explorer at National Geographic
  • Alasdair Davies: Arribada Initiative founder, Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow, Tech Specialist at ZSL Conservation, co-founder of Raspberry Pi
  • Stephanie O’Donnell: Community Manager at WildLabs, 2017 AAAS Community Engagement Fellow. Scientist, artist, and all things community building.

A few twitter lists about people who tweet about conservation technology:

If you want to speak with people on social networks I can recommend to use these hashtags:

  • #Tech4Good & #TechForGood
  • #ConservationTech
  • #WildTech
  • #Tech4Wildlife

Projects & Organisations

Open Communities

  • PublicLab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns. Using inexpensive DIY techniques, we seek to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.
  • WildLabs is a community of conservationists, technologists, engineers, data scientists, entrepreneurs and change makers. Together, we share information, ideas, tools and resources to discover and implement technology-enabled solutions to some of the biggest conservation challenges facing our planet.
  • Gathering for Open Science Hardware is a diverse, global community working to enhance the sharing of open, scientific technologies.

Projects, they enables you.

In this section, I introduce some projects they provide technology or open source stuff that enables you to build something on your own.

Hardware & Sensors

  • OpenCollar: open-source tracking collar hardware and software for environmental and wildlife monitoring projects
  • Luftdaten.info: DIY-Sensor for measuring air quality.
  • HackAIR: DIY-Sensor for measuring air quality.
  • OpenDrop: Desktop Digital Biology Laboratory
  • NemoPi: Underwater Weather Station (still in progress)
  • Kaptery: Open source aerial rig kites
  • AirCasting: Open-source, end-to-end solution for collecting, displaying, and sharing health and environmental data using your smartphone
  • FlyPi: 3-D printable open source platform for fluorescence microscopy, optogenetics and accurate temperature control.
  • OpenGeiger: open source tool for measuring the environmental radioactivity
  • LADI trawl: DIY research trawl that collects microplastics at the surface of the ocean
  • Mataki: An open, low-cost, wirelessly-enabled tracking platform.
  • Naturebytes: Raspberry Pi powered Wildlife Cameras
  • BioMaker have boards, sensors and software specialized for biological maker.
  • Open Source Ocean Data Buoy Project: Tracking the progress of an ocean measurement datalogging project
  • Hacking Ecology: Accessible and Reliable Water Monitoring Systems

Data Plattforms

Data Tools

  • Pangeo: Library and community platform for Big Data geoscience
  • Open Data Kit: Free and open-source software for collecting, managing, and using data in resource-constrained environments
  • zoaTrack: Calculate movement metrics and space use for individually marked animals anywhere in the world.

Digital Tools

  • OpenAerialMap: Open collection of aerial imagery
  • Mapeo: Open source, offline-first map editor
  • Remap: online mapping platform for people with a little technical background in remote sensing

Organisations, they use conservation technology.

In this section, I introduce projects they are using technology to exploration and conservation.

  • Conservify: Empower conservationists and communities by lowering the barriers to entry for effective conservation.
  • CLEAR: Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research is a feminist, anti-colonial lab specializing in monitoring plastic pollution.
  • AirCitizen: Air quality measured by citizens
  • EarthCoLab: Enterprise that brings together diverse individuals, institutions, and knowledge to develop new approaches to learning, academic communication, and business
  • Captor: Combination of citizen science, collaborative networks and environmental grassroots social activism helps to raise awareness and find solutions to the air pollution problem, having a high potential impact on fields such as education, social innovation, science, environment, politics and industry.
  • UpRose: Intergenerational, multi-racial, nationally-recognized, women of color led, grassroots organization that promotes sustainability and resiliency through community organizing, education, leadership development and cultural/artistic expression in Brooklyn, NY.
  • HabitatMap: Environmental health justice organization
  • AdventureScientists: Get scientists the data they need ​to solve environmental and human health challenges
  • SafeCast: Global volunteer-centred citizen science project working to empower people with data about their environments
  • EyeOnWater: Observe water quality to their colour
  • Marine Debris Tracker: Easily report where you find marine debris or litter anywhere in the world
  • Rainforest Connection: Use technology and big data to enable on-the-ground partners to save the world’s most threatened rainforests and habitats
  • Arribada Initiative works to unlock access to open source conservation technologies.
  • Wild Me combatting extinction with citizen science and artificial intelligence.
  • OpenPlant believe that there is a crucial need to accelerate the development and open sharing of new tools and methods for plant synthetic biology.
  • Smart Parks is using IoT technology to improve conservation and park management
  • COACT: Centre for Open & Appropriate Critical Tech – incubating open-source tech solutions to the worlds environmental challenges.
  • FreeStation: Uses open source hardware, open source software and open source 3-D printing technology to build and deploy reliable environmental data loggers with the lowest cost and easiest DIY build possible.

Conferences & Programs

  • Jungle Life Asia: Educational programs that integrate Art, Biology, and Nature in diverse and unique environments
  • DiNaCon: Experimental conference about exploring new ways of interacting with nature
  • Machine Wilderness: An art/science programme exploring how human technologies could relate to the environment the way organisms do.
  • GOSH Gatherings


  • PublicLab offers a 200$ fund (once per month) to host events
  • Prototype Fund supports Open Source projects with up to 47.500 Euro per projects/team
  • Helium Grants are $1,000 grants for people exploring questions at the edge of mainstream thinking
  • BioMaker.org is supporting projects with a Starter Kit and funding up to £3000.


In this section I list all stories and articles about conservation technology:

Misc stuff

Please contribute to this collection
You know additional resources, more interesting projects or you have to contribute any other stuff like feedback, critique, …? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by mail or twitter.

I started a blog (again) #8945

Phew… okay, I started a blog. I think I’ve written a post like this 8945 times. And now again. But this time with a plan!

Why my blogger career has always failed so far?
Up to now I tried in my blogs only share perfectly researched and written articles. But that means also, that the barrier to publishing an article is pretty high. I am nobody who sits down for half an hour, writes down a few lines and has already created the perfect article. For me writing is really hard work, I need a long time to structure my thoughts and to put them on paper.

The second aspect is that I lost the desire to write articles relatively fast. I have barely been able to gain knowledge through my blog.

In my opinion, Chris Adams has found an incredibly good way to use his own blog as a platform. Besides really good articles, which should provide knowledge to the reader, he also writes about ideas which are buzzing around in his head and uses the blog to validate these ideas and to get feedback.

My plan for this blog now looks like this:

  • I use this blog primarily as a platform to make my own research available to the general public, and
  • I will write posts to ideas that are buzzing around in my head in order to structure and better think on them on the one hand and to validate them through your feedback.

How I’m locking down my cyber-life

For about a year now I have been cleaning up my digital life. This includes on the one hand cleaning out the various accounts on networks or tools that I never use again, but on the other hand also checking my data traces that I leave on the net.

This is a fork of the article How I’m locking down my cyber-life by Larry Sanger.

First steps

I’ve spent a long time working on how to reclaim the privacy of my digital life. Here are some resources that have helped me a lot:

A Plan

  1. Stop using chrome. The Google Group collects massive amounts of data on various channels and aggregates them into complex data sets of mine. Until a few months ago I had my mails, photos, appointments and files on Google. With these data my whole life can be traced and predicted quite easily > Where will I be when in the future? Creepy, isn’t it? Therefore I have set myself the goal not only to separate myself as completely as possible from the Google universe, but also to manage my data as decentralized as possible. Of course, this doesn’t make my digital life as comfortable as it used to be, but it doesn’t ensure that one company can aggregate all my data from different applications. Back to Chrome: I started to get rid of Google’s browser. I switched to Mozilla’s Firefox. I am currently testing Brave and of course the Tor browser is ready for use! I haven’t chosen my final browser environment yet. Brave is a privacy-first browser, but it’s based on Google technology. What’s more, Brave is a for-profit company. In contrast, Mozilla is a non-profit organization that fights for a free Internet… How do you feel about that?
  2. Stop using Google Search (when possible). That’s easy. There are some very good privacy-first search engines. I’ve chosen DuckDuckGo and I’m very happy with the results so far.
  3. Stop using gmail. I replaced Gmail with Protonmail and can highly recommend it.
  4. Using password management & avoid social logins I have replaced social logins with e-mail logins as far as possible. The reason for this is that unfortunately there are still services that only provide social logins. I also use 1Password as a tool to manage my passwords. This allows me to use cryptic and individual passwords for each service and I don’t have to remember them all. Furthermore, 1Password also implements 2-factor authentication.
  5. Stop using Google Drive, Calender & Contacts. I recently set up my own Nextcloud, which I use for file sharing, contact management and also as a calendar. So far I am very satisfied. However, the thought of having to take care of the infrastructure and administration of the Nextcloud myself is a deterrent to me.
  6. Study and make use of website/service/device privacy options. I’ve checked the privacy settings on most networks.
  7. Subscribe to a VPN. I have been using a VPN on my smartphone as well as on my computer for several months now and can only recommend this to everyone. I am writing a separate article about this…

Tasks I still want to tackle:

  • Nail down a backup plan.
  • Quit social media, or at least nail down a sensible social media use policy.
  • Using a privacy-first Smartphone OS.

Did I forget something? How do you proceed?

Bye bye Apple iPhone X, sorry ShiftPhone & Hello Fairphone

Yesterday I received a small parcel for which I was eagerly waiting: the Fairphone. I’ve been busy for quite some time switching to a socially and ecologically fair smartphone. After a long search, several conversations and the two days on the Bits & Trees, I ordered the Fairphone on Monday and switched from a high-end smartphone to a low-end version.

Since I have already been asked a few questions about this, I would like to pick up on and answer two of them here briefly.

First of all, this is not a review, as I have only owned the Fairphone for two days.

Isn’t that a deterioration?

Yep, maybe. But that’s not the point. I was alluding to the fact that the iPhone X, my last phone, is an absolute high-end smartphone. When I took the Fairphone in my hand for the first time and played around with it, I thought: “Oh… I’ll have to get used to it.”

The materials feel much cheaper, the system is much slower, there is not so much love in detail (UI design), the performance, the camera… you’ve got it.

But the point is, they’re not worse because they’re not Apple or because they don’t know how to do it, they just don’t have the same budget for development as Apple and completely different quantities (scale effect). Now comes the crux: They only get the necessary development budget if someone believes in their mission and buys their products.

But seriously, who needs the fastest processor, the best graphics and all the frills? I don’t. The only thing I’ve been lag on for a long time is the camera. I like to take photos, and good pictures are important to me. Of course, I am spoiled by the iPhone.

But in the end, there was only one question I had to answer: What is the most important thing about a smartphone to you?

  1. that as far as possible no one has social or ecological disadvantages through my purchase of the smartphone.
  2. the camera
  3. the design of the user interface
  4. the display size

In that order.

And if I look at it this way, the decision is clear: If it is currently only possible to have a 13MP camera in the phone without harming other people directly or indirectly, then it is the best possible camera or smartphone presently available to me. It’s that simple…

Why the Fairphone? Why not ShiftPhone?

From my point of view, there are only two brands worth mentioning that you can choose from if you want to use a socially and ecologically compatible smartphone: Fairphone and the ShiftPhone.

I have worked intensively with both brands and have ultimately used the better known and much larger brand Fairphone. But the brand and the size were not decisive for my decision. On the contrary, ShiftPhone has the much better product if we go by the specifications. It has a great camera, a better display and faster processor. It sounds like it’s much more my style, doesn’t it? Right, but there are reasons why I didn’t choose ShiftPhone.

The four most important ones I would like to introduce to you here:

  1. Lack of transparency
    Where do the materials come from? Is the whole thing tested independently? What is done for the employees on site in the mines? And the product itself, I can only pre-order. But what does that mean? When will I get it if I order it now? Unfortunately, these questions are not answered for me…
  2. Missing information on modularity
    The ShiftPhone is also modular. I.e. you should be able to easily replace parts, such as the camera, to extend the lifetime of the device. Unfortunately, I find, except for a photo in the shop, hardly any information about the modules I can exchange and how much effort is involved.
  3. No statement about longevity
    Longevity depends not only on the hardware but also to a large extent on the software. If I don’t get any more updates for my device, it quickly becomes a security risk and susceptible to viruses and malware. Information about firmware updates are unfortunately also a thing of the past.
  4. Bad communication
    I am a digital type, i.e. I am busy professionally and privately a lot with a good website or try to make website more user-friendly. The website of the ShiftPhone gives me, unfortunately, no confidence at all, missing contents, false representations or also confusion from subpages. This, unfortunately, causes a feeling of unprofessionalism in me and if this affects the product or the support, the risk is too high to trust them with my money for a device I use daily.

These are all points that do not give me a good feeling to trust this company with 500 Euro for a smartphone. I don’t want to speak ill of the product or the company. It should instead be understood as constructive criticism.

I want ShiftPhone to make better use of its potential. Competition stimulates business and drives everyone to develop better and above all more sustainable products. Because the market is still tiny at the moment, and this ShiftPhone positioning, unfortunately, does not (yet) create a competitive situation. This not only damages ShiftPhone, but above all the innovative ability of socially and ecologically sustainable technology. But as I said, if the product is only half as good as it seems, you just have to work on your communication and your image…

How do you see it? Do you have a Fairphone? Or even a ShiftPhone?

Technology and Natural Disasters

This text was originally published in my newsletter People, Planet & Technology Issue 2. To receive all new articles, subscribe to my newsletter.

There are hundreds of facets to how technology can help us in extreme situations such as natural disasters. From Citizen Science to Artificial Intelligence there are a variety of projects that deal with how we can better predict such extreme events, warn people and support local helpers. I would like to introduce three projects to you:

1. Prevent: Artificial Intelligence

The plan was to write an article of my own, but Wired has written such a good article on the subject that I actually want to give it to you one to one. The article discusses how scientists, private companies and governments can work together to develop systems that can predict floods based on environmental and environmental data, maps and artificial intelligence to warn residents and better. On the other hand, these data also serve to better prepare cities for upcoming extreme weather situations, such as floods, and to support city planners with simulations.

Recently, Allenby developed another tool to help predict, plan, and prepare for future floods: a first-of-its-kind, high-resolution map showing what’s on the ground—buildings, pavement, trees, lawns—across 100,000 square miles from upstate New York to southern Virginia that drain into the Chesapeake Bay. The map, generated from aerial imagery with the help of artificial intelligence, shows objects as small as 3 feet square, roughly 1,000 times more precise than the maps that flood planners previously used.

How Artificial Intelligence Could Prevent Natural Disasters (Wired)

2. Caution: Drones for reconnaissance

Drones can help to find injured and needy people more quickly in disaster areas. This was tested last year by package supplier UPS, the Red Cross and drone manufacturer Cyphy Works in the US states of Texas and Louisiana, where Hurricane Harvey had previously raged.

The drones are connected to a cable on the ground. The cable supplies you with electricity and allows you to stay in the air for days on end. On the drone, there is a high-resolution camera with 30x zoom to be able to search the surroundings from a height of approx. 120 meters for people who need help.

Attention is also paid to possible damage to buildings and infrastructure. In this way, the necessary assembly work is to be planned and carried out more quickly. The drones allow the assessment of the damage while flooded areas are still under water.

More about the topic on TechCrunch and UPS.

3. Support: Crisis Mapping

When a natural disaster occurs anywhere in the world, it is important that international relief organizations have a quick overview of the affected area. One example is only a few days old: This year’s Indian monsoon rains are particularly heavy – the government of the southern Indian state of Kerala speaks of the worst flood in 100 years. Hundreds of people are dead. Many persevere in emergency shelters.

In order to be able to help quickly where help is needed, one must know where and how many people are affected and how to get there as quickly and safely as possible. Besides satellite pictures, maps with marked places, paths and hospitals are indispensable. Unfortunately, OpenStreetMap or Google Maps have big gaps especially in developing and emerging countries. Even local administrations often have only outdated or inaccurate maps. Therefore there is now the Humanitarian Open StreetMap Team (HOT OSM).

On the HOT website, anyone can start drawing houses, streets, streams or even helicopter tandem possibilities on the satellite images from their home couch. On site in the respective crisis areas, these maps are then printed out and filled with the missing place names or other information by local teams – after all, it may not be possible to see on a satellite image which hut is the infirmary and which the school is. The finished maps are then available to the relief organizations – in some cases within a few days.

In crisis situations, international relief organizations contact the Humanitarian OSM team and request detailed maps of the areas concerned.

More information about the Humanitarian Open StreetMap Team and how you can participate can be found on their website: www.hotosm.org

We need a comment system that does justice to the web!

I just browsed my 5 year old Moleskine collecting ideas for everything that comes to my mind on walks, conferences or in the toilet.

On page 23 I vomited about current comment systems: the WordPress comments, Disqus or Facebook comments of this world don’t do justice to the great web – neither 5 years ago, nor today.

Anyway, even today, commenting on content on the web is as if it were the beginnings of the web. I read an interesting article on a blog, want to write my opinion or comment about it and zack… everyone on this blog can read it under the respective article. Sounds good, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. What about the reactions of Twitter to this article or with contributions of other bloggers that refer to the article? You can only find them if you search for them…

Already at that time I thought the whole Commentary-Wirr-Warr should work like this: I read a good article and would like to react to this article. I simply go to the platform of my choice, whether my own blog, Twitter, Facebook, whatever, and write my comments on it. From my comments, a discussion on Twitter emerges, people interfere and talk. And the whole thing can also be found under the original article. Conversely, I find all discussions, opinions and comments about this article under articles – no matter on which platform. Wouldn’t that be a dream? Wouldn’t that be a comment system that would do justice to the web?

Already a few months ago I heard about the IndieWeb movement, which wanted to make networked content visible and emphasized access to its own data. In this context I read from Chris Aldrich on A List Apart about Webmentions. When I read the article my eyes started to glow and I thought: “That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for”. A “comment”-function as the web deserves it!

Now I’ve made you quite washy, haven’t I? I’m sure you’re already slipping back and forth on your chairs and thinking “Whhoooaaa! What are webmentions? Say already… SAAAYYYY. IT!!!! OOOHHHHH. HOW DOES THAT WORK, DUUUDDEE!!!!”.

I understand you. So it went to me also.

Here is a short answer by Jeremy Keith.

Basically, it’s an equivalent to pingback. Let’s say I write something here on adactio.com. Suppose that prompts you to write something in response on your own site. A web mention is a way for you to let me know that your response exists.

There are already some very good articles, which I will link to you here. There you will find all the information you need to start it yourself:

Know your users and improve your Donation Experience: A Guide about the Why and How Nonprofits should interview users

Note: This article was originally published on Medium.

Today, I’m going to teach you the first step in this journey of connecting with your users (and potential donors) and finding out how to provide them exactly what they’re looking for, to make a commitment to a charity.

Talk to users and listen to what they think and feel when communicating with your organization can give you a lot more power to build digital experiences and give your mission more impact.

Getting to know who your users are.

It`s like your first date: You have no idea who this person is, but they’ve agreed to spend a small period of time with you.

You first need to get to know this person. Who are they? What do they do for a living? What funny stories do they have to tell, or what things do they have to complain about?

After getting to the know the person a bit, you’ll come to understand their motivations for their actions.
Once you understand why a person chooses to do something, you no longer need to ask 400 specific questions, because you have the knowledge to accurately answer those on your own.

“Okay. Wait! What does this have to do with creating a better donation experience?”
Well… Creating a great experience isn’t about making a fancy interface, or making sure your site loads fast or that you have excellent support.

Creating a great experience starts by knowing exactly what someone’s motivations and emotional mindset is, and giving the right input to them in a way that they understand.

So how do you get to know your users?

Step 1: Get People to Agree to a Conversation with You
Step 2: Ask Questions. Shut up. Listen.
Step 3: Organise Your Notes into a Donor Persona

What’s a Donor Persona? I’m glad you asked. It’s a fictional representation of your ideal donors. They are based on real data about donor demographics and donor behaviour, along with educated speculation about their personal histories, motivations, and concerns.

For example, let’s say you interview 10 users and after examining your notes, you notice that 7 of the 10 people you interviewed are:

  • Female Between the ages of 18–25
  • Ride a bike to work
  • Are single and live alone
  • Defending their personal values and opinions in social networks
  • Is convinced that all people are equal and should have the same rights
  • Support only local charities

These stats would make up 70% of the people you interviewed, so an example Donor Persona would look like this:

Very simple example for a donor persona

Creating a fake person? Its totally crazy!

I know! So why do we do it? Because it changes how you visualise your users. Instead of thinking about your target group is “female between 18 and 30” you start thinking about a real person. And if you know what a donor likes, dislikes, or expects, you can develop better strategies to meet those needs.

It humanises the data you’ve collected.

Let’s start with talking to these people.

Step 1: Get People to Agree to a Conversation with You

Your first job is to get 5–10 people to agree to speak to you. Just ask for a conversation to pick their brains about how you can help them.

If you can meet with these people in person, it’s much better, but Video calls (like Skype or Google Hangouts) interviews will work as well. appear.in is a service I can also highly recommend for such video calls. It`s free and requires no additional software.

Where can you find these people? You know better than I do. Try reaching out to your email list. Post something about it on Twitter, in your Facebook page or local communities. Consider emailing your “power users” directly.

It’s vital to record these interviews. If you have a video camera, great. If not, use some audio recording software on your phone. If you’re using Skype or something similar, capture the screen. Why do this? This way, you can focus much more on your conversation partner and do not have to concentrate on talking and making notes during the conversation.Your first job is to get 5–10 people to agree to speak to you. Just ask for a conversation to pick their brains about how you can help them.

Screenshot of a video interview with appear.in

If you can meet with these people in person, it’s much better, but Video calls (like Skype or Google Hangouts) interviews will work as well. appear.in is a service I can also highly recommend for such video calls. It`s free and requires no additional software.

Where can you find these people? You know better than I do. Try reaching out to your email list. Post something about it on Twitter, in your Facebook page or local communities. Consider emailing your “power users” directly.

It’s vital to record these interviews. If you have a video camera, great. If not, use some audio recording software on your phone. If you’re using Skype or something similar, capture the screen. Why do this? This way, you can focus much more on your conversation partner and do not have to concentrate on talking and making notes during the conversation.

Step 2: Ask Questions. Shut up. Listen.

You want the person to relax. Make some jokes. Make fun of yourself. Leave a banana peel on the ground and slip on it and spill water all over yourself… too far?

Don’t frame up “why” you’re conducting these interviews either. Framing can change the answers participants give (again to match what they think you want them to say).

The biggest mistake I see people make is searching for validation for their own ideas. Don’t do that. It’s good to be proven wrong. You are simply looking to find out details about who these people are, and most importantly, what they are struggling with.

Well… but what am I supposed to ask them?

I’ll give you some examples to get you started.

The important thing is that you ask open-ended questions. That means if the answer can be “yes or no” then don’t ask it. You want the person to share stories about themselves.

Try phrasing questions by beginning them like…

  • Tell me about the last time you…
  • Explain what you mean by…
  • Tell me more about…

Some example questions to get you started:

  1. What’s your name?
  2. How old are you?
  3. Where do you live?
  4. What do you do for a living?
  5. Tell me about your education?
  6. Tell me more about your personal values?
  7. Where and how you get your get information?
  8. What are your preferred methods of communication?
  9. What is your purpose for engaging with an organisation?
  10. How do you engage with an organisation?
  11. What is your capacity to support our cause?

No one wants to aimlessly talk to you for 3 hours. Limit these interviews to 30 minutes.

Step 3: Organise Your Notes into a Donor Persona

Once you look back over your notes, you’re going to quickly realise something: Some of these people are very similar!!

That’s exactly what this process involves. Look for patterns, similarities, common struggles.
Are a majority of them around the same age?

Did 8 out of 10 people complain that they use Facebook for communicating with charities?

You don’t need any special skills for this step. Sure there are “organisation” methods I could go into, but, come on… let’s not overthink this.

The more people you interview, the more you’ll realise that you’re going to have multiple personas… that’s perfect!

Ideally, you’d have around 3–4 major donor personas… but that’s just a guideline.

Now take what you’ve learned and fill in the following persona. You can edit this as you see fit, but here’s a guideline to get you started:

  • Name:
  • Photo: Use stock photo
  • Gender:
  • Age:
  • Location:
  • Job:
  • Hobbys:
  • Causes passionate about:
  • Reasons he/she/it wouldn’t give:
  • Prefered communication method:

Sound good? This process can be kind of scary to think about. If you have any questions, please just reply and ask me. I’d be glad to help you out.