Grounding the future of The Pulse: testing, refining, testing…

Taking a step back and appreciating the journey

With two weeks left of AC4D (!!), Kaley and I had a bit of a retrospective on our last 6 months of working towards The Pulse of Austin. We traced our journey from research, initial insights, ideation, and then the months of testing and iterating on our concept. We have been told countless times during our school to “trust the process,” which can feel obvious, yet abstract at the same time when you’re in the thick of it. It’s when you look back at it all that you achieve that clarity: our idea has progressed immensely, and we’re excited to say that we’re in a place where we feel great about it.

Reviewing and cleansing our outdated boards.
Reviewing and cleansing our outdated boards

That’s not to say our vision is set in stone; we are still questioning and shaping our platform almost daily. However, those changes are feeling more like refinements. The foundation is solid, and our scope has narrowed. Now, within that more narrow scope, we have a new set of decisions to make.

Balancing development and testing

This week, The Pulse progressed in two tactical ways: backend iOS development and content development.

iOS development

We met with a developer through Open Austin, who set up the push notification element of The Pulse this week, and who plans to build the screens for our key weigh-in flow next week. We are thrilled to have development power on board, and it has also pushed us to consider what is properly vetted vs. what needs more validation before building. Our teachers emphasize not rushing into building, so we are being conscious to pull back on the reigns and test features at a lower fidelity before taking our developer’s time.

Our platform can be broken down into the following primary features:

  1. Educative and compelling content
  2. Structured opportunities to weigh in early on city planning initiatives
  3. A personal and editable map of the user’s locations and happenings

Content development

Our content development aimed to test different ways to educate and elicit input – addressing features 1 and 2.

Each day from Tuesday through Friday, we sent a different type of SMS-based engagement to our pilot testing group of 23 Austinites. We tried the following:

  • An incremental reveal of a narrative thread
  • A choose-your-own-info menu with a prompt
  • A narrow A vs. B vs. C vote
  • A “good-to-know” piece of content that did not elicit a response

We learned that we get a good quantity (~70%) of responses when we ask for participants to text back a simple letter. However, this prompt did not ask for the ‘why’ behind their selection, which we know is an important component. We plan to have an optional rationale entry in our platform, so next we need to test how many users will provide that rationale when given the option.

The incremental reveal that asked specific questions along the way elicited the largest quantity of thoughtful responses. People enjoy responding to structured prompts when they feel informed.

The responses to our A vs. B vs. C vote - sent out the next day
The responses to our A vs. B vs. C vote – sent as a follow-up the next day


Two of our testers expressed an interest in the text format of the interaction. It’s easy, simple, and conversational. As we move into an app, we must keep these qualities in mind. Does perhaps a chat-based platform make more sense than a poll-based platform? While our heads our in our app, we cannot ignore the results of our pilot.

Additionally, how valuable was the human, conversational element of the pilot? We cannot easily scale when we provide personalized responses to our users, so what will users think of an automated reply instead?

Building Off Our Pilot

Testing Next Steps

Next week, we plan to measure the level of need for human intervention in our platform, as well as test the value of location-based content.

We will also be taking our concept into a more robust set of wireframes, working out our developer to prioritize our MVP’s features. Our goal is that, at the very least, users will be able to learn about and weigh in on an issue posted to The Pulse.

Looking Beyond AC4D

Kaley and I feel energized by the response we have received within the city. We plan to continue building relationships with city departments who share our mission of a citizen-led government. We feel confident in finding support and a home for The Pulse, so our planning has extended beyond the next two weeks. It feels great to continue looking towards the future, and we are excited to provide another update next week.

Sharing the vision and future of The Pulse of Austin with City Council
Sharing the vision and future of The Pulse of Austin with City Council