Initial Research – Can you help?

CMLOOK is a start-up developing a secure web based system to allow people to find volunteers who would befriend and help their elderly relatives who live far away.   We have made many assumptions about our idea (you can see all of them in previous blog posts) and now need to start testing them.

We have identified the 8 assumptions below as those which we are least sure about and which would have the biggest impact upon our project if we are wrong.  They are prioritised from top to bottom.

Key Assumptions

Our next step is to test the top two assumptions, that Natural Carers will trust volunteers met on-line to help and accept the risk.  As we discovered during last weeks’ micro-internships, it’s difficult to find a group of people who fit our definition for Natural Carer.  By Natural Carer, we mean, people who have elderly parents, who live too far away to visit weekly, and who are beginning to need a little bit of help at home.  So we began by contacting people we knew personally in this position, and asking them if they would be happy to be interviewed as part of our research.

We designed an interview script to ensure we asked everyone the same questions and avoided leading questions.  We interviewed 8 Natural Carers as potential users of CMLOOK.  Interviews took place in the office, in a local cafe and sometimes at the person’s home.

All 8 users said that if they met a potential volunteer on-line, it would be essential for them to also meet in person, in order to evaluate whether or not they felt they could trust them.  50% of users would be happy with their own assessment of the volunteer, whilst the other 50% would also want the volunteer to have been vetted in some way by a trusted agency like  Age UK or RVS

All of the 8 users said they would accept the risk involved, provided that, they had met the volunteer in person and the volunteer had had a DBS check but some said they would also like to have a trusted agency to refer to if needed.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are the new name for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.  They allow an organisation to check someone’s criminal record if they apply for certain jobs or voluntary work, eg working with children or in healthcare.

Another very clear message that these first interviews gave us was that all 8 users would definitely not value a feature which allowed the volunteer to take a photo of the older person during each visit and send it to the natural carer.  Everyone we interviewed said that this would feel too contrived and made them uncomfortable.  We hadn’t anticipated this, but it does make sense.

We’re aware that we have only interviewed people we know so far and that this of course will have influenced their responses.  We would now like to spread the net wider.  So if you have an elderly relative who lives too far away to visit weekly but who would benefit from having a weekly visit from a volunteer befriender, then please do get in touch.  If you live in or near Oxford we’d love to interview you in person, but if you’re further afield you could complete a questionnaire.  We would value your help.







Oxford University Micro Internship

Oxford University approached Oxford Computer Consultants to see if we would be interested in hosting 2 Micro Internships for a week in December 2015.  The timing was good because the CMLOOK project had just begun, so there was lots of research to do and it offered a rare opportunity for interns to see how a start-up operates in its very first weeks.

The interns were given 3 tasks.  This is the Intern Brief in full

  • Design and test a Questionnaire for User Requirement Analysis.
  • Develop and Design a Landing page for an App.
  • Investigate Trust networks: How do different stakeholders evaluate trust?

Developing a User Requirement Questionnaire and testing it on our Target Audience

The interns spent a morning developing this questionnaire.  CMLOOK User Requirement Questionnaire    The next step was to find people in our target audience to test it on.  Our target audience are people aged 50 – 65 who have older parents living some distance away, who would benefit from a volunteer befriending service.   Unfortunately, we could not identify any group or club made up exclusively of this target audience.  The best we could do was to find groups of people in the desired age range.  We found activities aimed at the over 50s advertised in community centres across Oxford and asked the organisers if we could conduct interviews over coffee, when the class was over.  We found the average age was 65 and very few had older parents living elsewhere, so many of the responses we gathered were hypothetical.   50% of those interviewed owned a smart phone or tablet.  100% had a computer at home and used it for at least 5 hours a day.

Developing an App

Following the interviews, the interns developed a user-flow diagram and modelled some of the pages for the app.   Below is the Register page they designed.  Their work can be seen in full here CMLOOK Intern presentation

Registration Page

Trust Theory Research

Trust is going to be a crucial element of CMLOOK.  Users will need to trust volunteers that they find on the website to help care for their elderly relative.  Let us define trust as the psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon expectations of the intentions or behaviour of another.  So CMLOOK will need to finds ways to help users feel confident that the volunteers’ intentions or behaviour towards their elderly relative will be similar to their own.

The interns used the questionnaire to ask people about trust and they also conducted their own research on-line.  The results of their work can be seen here  Trust Theory Research

A Positive Experience

The Micro-Internship was a very positive experience for everyone involved.  OCC were impressed by how quickly the students grasped the concept of CMLOOK and by the volume and quality of work they completed within one week.  The very short time frame meant that the work was extremely focussed towards the deliverables from the very first morning.  The interns felt that it was,

The good holistic product development experience I was looking for, touching on user interview, questionnaire, secondary research and UX design.

If your company is interested in finding out about hosting a micro-internship you can find out more at Oxford University Careers Service




Reciprocity: the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.
Synonyms: exchange · trade · trade-off · swap · switch · barter

In social psychology, reciprocity is a rule that says we should pay back to others, what another person has provided for us. If someone gives you a gift for your birthday then there is an expectation that you would do the same on their birthday. This future obligation helps us to build relationships and maintain social norms.

You can also feel this obligation to reciprocate on behalf of people you love. If your child is invited to a friend’s home for tea, there is an expectation that you will return the invitation at a later date. Both children benefit socially from this reciprocal arrangement and both sets of parents benefit from having some child-free time.

Check My Loved One’s OK enables this kind of reciprocity. If someone is prepared to spend an hour a week, visiting my Mum who lives miles away, I can return that kindness by volunteering to visit someone else’s Mum who lives near me. Both Mums benefit socially and their sons or daughters benefit from the knowledge that their Mums are less lonely or isolated than before.

CMLOOK would enable 2 geographically separate people, Simon and Bill, to come to a reciprocal arrangement which would help them both to look after their mothers.

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Simon lives in Bristol and his mother lives in London.  Meanwhile Bill lives in London and his mother lives in Bristol. Bill is a volunteer with CMLOOK. He has used CMLOOK’s verification service to upload his checks (Criminal Record, Social Media Check, Employment History Check, etc.).

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Simon’s mother needs help getting up in the morning, with shopping and getting to doctor’s appointments. When Simon visits his mother he completes a needs assessment online. The Council says she is eligible for professional help getting up but that she’ll have to manage the shopping and doctor’s visits herself.

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Whilst giving information about his mum, the Local Authority portal tells Simon about CMLOOK – a network for swapping and volunteering help and services. Simon says what he’s willing to do and how much time he can give. CMLOOK identifies Bill who lives in London and is willing to ‘swap’ help. Bill and Simon contact each other via CMLOOK and agree to meet. They get on well and agree to ‘swap’ help.

Anthropologists believe that reciprocal arrangements such as these may have had an evolutionary advantage. Crawford Hollingworth, a social psychologist and founder of Behavioural Architects  wrote:

“Reciprocity bias is our tendency to reciprocate the actions of others creating a wave of indebtedness. If somebody does something for us, or gives us something, we are more likely to return the favour or pass the favour on to others. We have the tendency to behave toward others as they behave toward us.

The impulse to reciprocate is a powerful one and cultural anthropologists have suggested it is likely to be universal. The desire to return favours, pay back debts and treat others well is beneficial for the whole group, and the fact that it engenders cooperation could have offered an evolutionary advantage”

Bias in the spotlight – Research Live

We’re interested in finding out if the reciprocity bias is applicable in the volunteer sector. Are you more likely to volunteer to help others if someone else’s volunteering has already helped you or someone you love. Can CMLOOK create a wave of indebtedness? This is one of the key assumptions we need to test for CMLOOK.

Starting Lean

Putting the right team together is critical for a start-up. For CMMOK we already have designers and developers to create the software but we also need expertise from the third sector, or volunteer sector if we are going to be credible in this area.

During November we recruited Lois Muddiman and Ruth Stavris who between them have over 20 years experience of working in the third sector, setting up social enterprises, managing charities and volunteers and working as volunteers themselves. Now, they’re “intrepreneurs” – entrepreneurs operating inside an established company, in this case, Oxford Computer Consultants.

Oxford Computer Consultants (OCC) are a software development company and IT consultancy with clients across public and private sectors. Their very successful local government products for managing contracts and financial assessments, individual budgets and integrated online solution for providers, are used at more than 55 local authority sites. OCC has been established for over 25 years and is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.

Lean Startup

CMMOK will operate within OCC as a start-up or as Eric Ries terms them, “a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty” and we will be following the principles of The Lean Startup as explained in the book of the same title by Eric Ries.

Business Model Canvas

With the new team in place we began work developing a business model canvas. The Business Model Canvas is tool that helps visualise the way in which a business could operate. Its real value is in bringing clarity and a common vocabulary to the whole team working on the project. The business model isn’t just for managers and when everyone understands how the business can/will operate, everyone can make more informed and effective choices.

The canvas itself is a one-page grid showing a business’ value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. We developed our canvas in PowerPoint, which allowed the team to add ideas on virtual post-it notes, as they arose in (and between) discussions.

Business Model Canvas image


A startup’s purpose is to turn uncertainty into certainty and create a sustainable and proven business. At the beginning uncertainty takes the form of all the assumptions we have made in imagining how the business will work, as shown on our canvas.

Using the business model canvas we identified all the assumptions we are making. For example, we’re assuming that people will trust volunteers met on-line and that people will be more inclined to volunteer their own time if their relatives are benefitting from someone else’s time in return. But in order to find out if our assumptions are correct, we need to test and validate them. We’ll begin do this by conducting interviews with people who might use our service.

A further assumption is that relevant charities will want to work with us. We will begin to validate this assumption by setting up meetings with Age UK, Royal Voluntary Service and local Oxfordshire schemes such as Volunteer Link Up.

What do we work on first?

We took all our assumptions and placed them on a scatter chart showing levels of Certainty and Impact. This exercise enabled us to quickly identify the 8 key assumptions about which we are very uncertain and which would have a high impact upon the project if we are incorrect. In the chart below the 8 key assumptions are in the top left box.

Assumptions chart

To test our assumptions initially, we will speak to potential users and customers to find out what they need. We can then begin to create a prototype to test that we have understood their needs correctly. These prototypes will then form the basis for the first version of the product, the Minimum Viable Product or MVP.

We’ll ask users and potential partners to test the MVP and we’ll measure their responses to the product. How many people used this feature? How many people told their friends about it? Using their feedback we’ll improve the product before we release our second version and so on.

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This build – measure – learn feedback loop is central to the Lean Startup methodology and allows us to adapt our plans incrementally, quickly, bit by bit, rather than waste time heading off in the wrong direction and only finding out months later that people don’t want what we’ve created.

A startup’s biggest enemy is waste, most commonly time and money spent pursuing something that doesn’t turn out to be valuable. Building MVPs and keeping the feedback loop fast are vital to reducing the risk of that waste.