Can technology improve the way humans interact

Digital tools have completely transformed our way of living. Over the years, social media and digital tools have spurred the move towards a global village by helping people stay in touch easily. However, embracing digital platforms assumes a level of familiarity or accessibility that might not be the same for all. 

This challenge was faced by many globally when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world physically, and these same platforms became even more vital as instruments of connection. In other words, whether professionally or for personal purposes, humans as social animals have an innate desire to connect with others, be that physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

At the same time, there is a concern about how meaningful these interactions are.  

But can technology create truly meaningful connections?

Among other things, as the pandemic progressed and lockdowns extended, many people felt the after-effects of the distance – a kind of disconnectedness, especially for those living away from ‘home’. 

One such group was Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei (NWŌ). With 6,000 registered members scattered all over the globe, the tribal office was already looking for better ways to connect to their members when the pandemic hit. They needed to find a way to communicate directly in real time and build a culturally active and engaged community. 

In this case, the added challenge was the possibility of low adoption rate given a low current usage. NWŌ’s research had identified that half of the members were most likely own and operate either a smartphone, digital device, or computer daily. So, it seemed logical that a digital medium could be the way forward for this hapū.

So, how can we use technology to help groups like the NWŌ achieve their goal effectively and foster the sense of belonging they are missing?

Find out what your user needs from you

To make sure you build the right product or solution, you need to be absolutely clear on who you are building it for and what do they want out of it. 

Conducting in-depth user research is akin to make-or-break for tech. User research can be the best way to identify all the features that need to go into your solution to make it a success and help you prioritise the development. In other words, it is a requisite to balance the needs of all the stakeholders while developing a product that actually means something for the end-users. 

For the Hono App, Enlighten went directly to the hapū members for detailed interviews to understand their requirements from all angles. 

Use fit-for-purpose tech

Using the right tools when building meaningful solutions is essential. This ties back with the user research as well. What kind of device or platform do your users prefer or want to engage with? It would be impractical to build a desktop app when your target audience might never have owned a computer or laptop.

Hence, Hono was a mobile app built using Xamarin on Azure meant both the iOS and Android platforms could be covered efficiently, while providing a scalable, secure system with Azure. These are aspects that the end-user doesn’t really pay heed to, but they do determine how future-proof the end product is. 

Maximise the opportunities for personal interactions

Different users are likely to have different requirements, identified at the user research phase. Meaningful tech solutions will deliver features and content that are collectively most valuable – such as the Hono app providing the hapū opportunities to communicate with the tribal office, access grants, and even learn Te Reo Maori from the same app! 

Actions speak louder than words

Uncertainty is now a bigger part of our lives than we might like. So, when the unexpected happens, the processes and tech need to be robust as well as agile. And what better way to validate how meaningful tech can be such as when Enlighten delivered the Hono app through the same pandemic because all the processes to shift to online work were in place. And now, the Hono app ensures that the NWŌ diaspora also have a relevant medium to stay connected.

Connecting the hapū

This is one of the first times that an app of this nature was attempted for a group that hadn’t invested too much in tech earlier. Since its launch, it has truly become a celebration of Māori identity, history, culture, and language – a one-stop shop for the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei members to connect with each other regardless of where they are, emphasising how tech CAN create meaningful experiences that improve lives. 

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