Asking the Experts

We have more assumptions to test.  We need to know what volunteer organisations think of our idea and if they will work with us.  Ami will be a web based tool for connecting volunteers with elderly people who need help.  Volunteer organisations have been doing this for a very long time and are the experts in this area.  Would Ami be a useful tool for their work?  Would they put their volunteers onto our website?  Will they work in partnership with us to manage on-going volunteers?

Key Assumptions

The Volunteer Organisations

Many different volunteer organisations operate befriending schemes or Good Neighbour Schemes.  The national charities working in this field include the Age UK,  Royal Voluntary Service, and Independent Age.  They offer befriending in person as well as telephone based befriending services such as Call in Time

There are also lots of smaller local voluntary groups offering a befriending service in their communities.  In Oxfordshire, Volunteer Link Up offer befriending and practical help to older people.   We went to meet with them to find out more about what they do.

VLU website

What we learnt about Volunteer Link Up (VLU)

The Numbers

VLU currently supports 113 people being befriended in West Oxfordshire and they have 160 volunteers on their books.  In Oxfordshire as a whole, there are over 3,000 volunteers supporting over 4,500 older people, as part of 61 Good Neighbour Schemes.  The recent John Lewis Christmas advert prompted 30 more people to enquire about being a volunteer.

How does the Matching Process work?

A potential volunteer approaches VLU.  They complete a simple application form, giving name, address, phone, special skills or interests, availability and the names of 2 referees.  VLU checks the references and invites them in for a chat, (during which VLU also sees some ID documents such as passport, drivers licence in order to complete the DBS check)  Potential volunteers are told  that befriending is quite a big commitment, and can mean an hour long visit, once or twice  a week.

If the volunteer is happy to continue, VLU will then match them to a client and set up an initial meeting.  VLU accompanies the volunteer to meet the client.  At this first meeting they will agree all the ground rules.  Afterwards, VLU calls both parties to see if they are happy with the arrangement and will follow up with more phone calls after a month, 3 months and 6 months.  Some matches they have made have continued for 20 years, becoming very strong friendships.


How could Ami add value?

VLU currently stores all their data in a card index system, so making a match can take quite a long time.  Ami could make this much easier.  Having an anonymous pen portrait of the volunteers and the clients on-line would be useful.  Ami has the potential to attract more volunteers.  Most of VLU current volunteers are retired.  Ami could help to attract younger volunteers who haven’t got spare time in the working week to set this up, but who could volunteer at weekends.   Ami could also help with record keeping and making notes on ongoing visits.

Thank you VLU

Thank you to the staff at VLU for spending some time with us.  It was really useful and we hope to come back and talk to you again soon.


Ami – What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

When the idea for this project was first conceived, the original name was Check My Mum’s OK (CMMOK).  This name worked well in explaining the basic idea but had the obvious problem of seeming to exclude all Dads.   Early in December 2015 the name was changed to Check My Loved One’s OK (CMLOOK).  This was an improvement and the project team liked the potential for using LOOK in any future marketing.  LOOK after, LOOK in on, and LOOK out for could all be used to help describe some of the things that the volunteer might do.

However we all felt it was very clunky and no-one uses the term “Loved One” in a natural conversation.  We knew we needed to come up with something better.  In the quiet time between Christmas and New Year we met for a brainstorming session.

The process was led by the design team in a very structured way.   The words Who, What, When, Where, Why and How were written up on a white board and we all threw out words that we associated with each of these prompts.  The whiteboard quickly began to fill up with all our ideas.

New name clouds

Once the ideas started to slow, we moved on to the next part of the process which was to select the words we liked best in each section.  These were underlined in red.  We then tried linking words in one section with words in another.  This led to a short list of new words which we listed on the right hand side of the board.  Of these we selected our favourites.

New Name shortlist

These are the four we liked best and the reasons why we liked them

  • Ami – Liked it being French for friendship.  The english word “Amity” links friend with tea and is derived from the Old French word amité.
  • Gift of Time – Liked gifts, giving, time.
  • Present – Liked the double meaning. Being present and giving a gift.
  • Village – Liked community association and  ‘age’ in title

The one that everyone liked, without reservation, was Ami.  It’s short and simple, sounds warm and of course means friend in French.    It’s not an acronym, so we will write it as Ami, rather than AMI.

We slept on it over the New Year just to be sure, but found we all still liked it just as much.   So now you know, what’s in our new name.

Welcome to Ami.




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.

Picture1 Picture2  Picture9

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.).

Picture3 Picture4

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.