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This research was carried out using a mixed methods approach that brought diverse perspectives and experiences to the table while prioritizing learning as much as we could from users directly. Each phase of the research process was guided by a common learning agenda that was informed and shaped with expert input from a globally diverse group of perspectives. We selected Colombia, Nigeria, and the USA to represent a diversity of markets where private messaging platforms play a dominant, though somewhat distinct, role in people’s personal and professional lives. To maximize the opportunity to learn from and with our participants, we incorporated a robust, participatory approach (leveraging prototypes and other stimulus) to uncover important insights and surface ideas to address serious harms enabled by private messaging platforms. Key elements of our research approach are summarized below.

1. UX

Our design team conducted desk research and an UX review of key features of several popular private messaging platforms. In our UX review, a significant focus was on privacy and security features to build foundational knowledge and to identify initial gaps and opportunities as input to developing and testing prototypes of design enhancements.

3. 1:1 and small group discussions

We recruited a mix of research participants from each country to participate in remote small group discussions where they shared stories and contextualized their issues and concerns within their lived experience as frequent users of these platforms. In selecting participants, we focused on specific criteria and risk factors rather than a demographically representative sample. Our experience suggests that these “edge” cases with higher needs, whether human rights activists or recent immigrants, have the most teach us about where these platforms are falling short.

5. Rapid testing and participatory design 

We rapidly and iteratively tested early prototypes through participatory design methods. Each prototype design idea had a clear value proposition and assumptions to test as well as a set of exploratory questions. Using participatory methods, we probed the prototype design ideas in-depth, refining them iteratively across our sessions. We also created space to allow for co-designing with users to generate new ideas that are responsive to their lived experiences. Over the course of the project, the thinking and design ideas evolved, and we validated those changes in subsequent prototyping sessions with new participants.  (Learn more about how Dalberg applies human-centered design by placing people at the center of the design, innovation, and implementation process here.)

2. Expert workshops

We engaged a diverse group of experts in the private messaging ecosystem (e.g., policy makers, private messaging tech experts, civil society leaders, academics) in a series of workshops to refine the learning agenda and identify key focus areas and recruiting criteria to guide our user research.

4. Building early prototype design ideas 

To translate the design considerations into ideas, we tested with users a variety of prototypes and used the feedback from these sessions to refine and build new ideas. Early prototypes focused on visualizing the key features of the design idea and were in the form of a clone of rough messaging app screens. 

6. Equity-centered approaches

As we grapple with the negative effects of messaging platforms, the conversation often tilts toward the needs of technology companies or policymakers. One primary goal of this research was to bring voices to the forefront that are often marginalized. To that effect, we evolved our research approach to consider issues of equity in how we selected and engaged participants. This involves research models where we partner with community leads in rural areas to conduct in-person prototype testing and research based on remote training by the Dalberg team, for example. These equity-centered models allowed us to leverage the trust that community leads have with their local community and helped to surface cultural and social nuances that impact usage of private messaging applications. (Learn more about Dalberg’s equity-centered design approach here.)

Approach Chart

Participants & sessions

In the course of ten weeks, we engaged a total of 185 participants, which included ecosystem experts from several countries in rounds of co-creation workshops, community leaders and product users in 1-on-1 and small group discussions in Nigeria, Colombia and the United States.  All sessions were conducted remotely except for the community-led sessions. Below is a breakdown of the user research sessions and participants for each country.

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