Vida Verde: Streamlining Workflows

Emilie does uder testing of automatic quote widget at the coop Discotech

screenshots of price widget

During the spring semester of 2016, the MIT Collaborative Design Studio partnered with local worker-owned cooperatives to create civic media projects grounded in real-world community needs. Three MIT students partnered with a staff member from the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab to work with a staff member of a cooperative of Brazilian housecleaners called Vida Verde. Over the course of several months, we worked together to develop technology products to streamline the organization’s operations and communications.

More specifically, the goal of the project was to change some of Vida Verde’s systems in order to reduce the coordinator’s workload; to improve communication between the coordinator, cleaners, and clients; and to automate tedious steps of existing processes. While we briefly entertained the idea of creating a standalone product that would solve all of the coordination issues Vida Verde was facing, we ultimately elected to use a pre-developed, free platform Google Calendar to help coordinate cleaning schedules. We also developed an instant quote widget to ease the co-op’s coordinator’s workload in onboarding new clients.

The collaboration between Vida Verde and the MIT Codesign Studio eventually resulted in three projects: 1. an online price quote calculator for the Vida Verde website, 2. a new internal calendar system for scheduling cleanings, and 3. an upgrade to the cooperative’s website to make it more easily navigable and search engine optimized.

Here is a link to the final presentation slide deck: A detailed case study can be found here: 


Vida Verde: User Testing Round 2

This week we did user testing with cleaners on the mobile communications prototype and worked on getting everyone set up on the new Google calendaring system. We learned an immense amount from this process and emerged with many more questions than when we started.

Mobile Communications Prototype

This prototype was intended to be a low-fidelity mockup of a feature-rich, custom mobile app for Vida Verde, which honestly, we do not have the skills to fully implement. The purpose of the testing was instead to determine if the product was usable and relevant, and which of the features, if any, would be most impactful on the cleaners’ lives.
All three of the women seemed to understand how to use the prototype and how an app like it would be useful to them, and they were all extremely excited about the instant translation feature. One woman said that out of all the features, the instant translation would be the most useful, one said the calendar (especially with something that added up her income every month), and one said everything would be useful. One woman mentioned, and the others agreed, that the “Useful Phrases” screen is nice but also not particularly helpful since most of the phrases that would be on that screen are phrases they would have already learned.
Coming out of this, and knowing our limitations, we decided initially to focus on an all-sms version of the app that simply provides an automatic Portuguese translation of every text from a client, using the Twilio API for programmable SMS, and the IBM Watson Language Translation API for translation. However, upon further discussion, we came to understand that even if we are able to build a webapp to perfectly route and translate messages, we are not able commit to maintaining it for Vida Verde indefinitely, nor will we be solving a major business need. Although the translation feature was attractive to our users, it’s unclear whether that would lead to more direct communication between clients and cleaners, which is our main goal here. Also, most importantly, coordination and upkeep of the webapp connecting clients and cleaners might paradoxically lead to more work, not less, for coordinators.
We tabled the idea of a translation app, but are still left with the open question of whether outward facing hype is enough reason to keep developing the prototype in parallel to our actually implementable projects. If we cannot build it, is it worth it to create something inspirational, or to synthesize what we have learned into a clickable prototype that perhaps someone else could learn from and build?
While we had a few cleaners together, we also worked on getting everyone set up on shared calendars. This was both practical, and user testing for the platform. We immediately ran into great deal of (significant, though nor insurmountable) obstacles:
  • To access the shared calendar system, each of the cleaners needs to download the Google Calendar app onto their phones (and have smart phones, which all the cleaners do). One cleaner was not able to do this step because she lost her credit card, and even though the Google Calendar app is free, the App Store requires a credit card to use.
  • To use Google Calendar, each of the cleaners needs to have a Gmail account. At least one cleaner only had a Hotmail account, so Tais will be helping her and others get Gmail accounts, at least for the purposes of using the calendar.
  • In order to share a calendar, an administrator needs to open up permissions for the organization so that people “outside the organization” (i.e. cleaners with instead of emails) can modify calendars.
  • We invited one cleaner to an individual cleaning as a “guest,” and that seemed to work for automatically adding it to her calendar. In the past week since we did this, it has worked well for her.

In conclusion, it seems like the calendaring system will work for sharing schedules, addresses and contact information for clients, how much each client is expected to pay, appointment reminders, and notes on each house, though there are some big hurdles at the start for standardizing it between cleaners.

Early on, we decided to focus on internal coordination at Vida Verde, but unfortunately this has caused us to lose sight of their web presence. We recently realized that it is extremely difficult to find Vida Verde’s website from a Google search (though it is relatively easy to find their blog, which doesn’t link to the website). In place of the communications prototype, which is now tabled, we will start working on rectifying this situation by doing a URL redirect from their blog, including a link to their website on the blog, or implementing better SEO for the main site.
Quote Widget
We conducted more user interviews on the prototype! Also, we’re currently  trying to get in touch with the woman who developed the website to see about making a javascript widget.
In conclusion, we had a very productive week, and learned a great deal about the directions we think are best to go with this project.

Vida Verde: Three Possible Business Canvases

When we met again with Vida Verde on Friday, 2/26 to discuss project ideas that would address co-op needs, we discovered that all of our ideas fell into three primary categories: Coordination, Product Sales, and Marketing.

Coordination includes all of the communications, organization, and management of the business. Currently, each step of client intake and cleaner scheduling and communication requires multiple steps of paperwork. After noting some of the primary concerns voiced in Yelp reviews, we found that language barriers and inconsistent communication were significant obstacles for clients who had hired or attempted to hire Vida Verde in the past. Can we automate this process? Can we make it easier for cleaners, coordinators, and clients to understand and respond to each other’s needs? Can Vida Verde function without hiring a new full-time coordinator? A project focused on coordination would bring together client/cleaner, client/coordinator, and coordinator/cleaner communication practices and reduce the burden on cleaners and coordinators to create and navigate forms and spreadsheets. Coordination on the VV end would also lead to a more convenient, seamless process for the client.

Our business canvas for a coordination-focused project:

While a project focused on coordination would streamline VV’s current practices, a focus on natural cleaning product sales would take their business in a completely new direction. Currently, they believe one of their main value propositions is the all-natural, chemical-free products they use in their business. Is it possible that this value proposition is high enough that they could viably sell the products by themselves and host paid workshops on making the products at home? With this product idea, we would need to look into packaging, marketing for the product, distribution, and value propositions for the actual materials.

Our business canvas for a product sales-focused project:

Marketing, if successful, would drive the expansion of the business and solve the most pressing issue facing Vida Verde. When VV first started, they had near-constant news coverage because of the social and environmental impulse behind creating the co-op. From this coverage, they got hundreds of clients and had a thriving cooperative of around 30 cleaners. After a devastating incident where several cleaners left the cooperative with their clients, VV has struggled to regain their former success. A focus on marketing would involve finding the best ways to get new clients, prototyping advertising strategies, doing outreach at events, testing different value propositions, and potentially expanding the referrals program.

Our business canvas for a marketing-focused project: