UNPACKING MENTORING

UX Designer + Researcher

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Project @ a Glance

Team

2 UX Designers, 1 UX Engineer, 1 Product Manager, 1 UX Researcher

Timeline

8 months

Role

As the UX Researcher on this project, my role was to develop and maintain a comprehensive research roadmap, coordinate and execute all research studies, analyze all research data, and present findings to team members and project stakeholders.

Objective

Ensure the quality of mentoring relationships and scaling initiatives so that TMP can reduce the subset of youth who is not benefiting from the maximum potential of mentoring as proven by best practice research.

More than a supply and demand problem.

More than 1,000 children across the U.S. apply for mentors but cannot be served because the demand for mentors exceeds the supply of mentors available.

The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA (TMP) needed a solution to scale up the delivery of mentoring through informal interactions between children and individuals who do not occupy official roles as mentors.

TMP identified these individuals as ‘Everyday Mentors,’ but didn’t know how to support these individuals in their mentorship journey.

TMP saw these individuals as teachers, coaches, tutors, crossing guards, and any other adult that interacted with youth on a regular basis that may have not received any formal training or considered themselves a “mentor.”

Objectives and Research Questions

Objectives

Explore ways to support, grow, and reinforce quality mentoring and close feedback loops.

Investigate ways to make mentoring available for more youth.

Research Questions

How might we increase awareness of Everyday Mentoring and support Everyday Mentors to funnel more potential mentors to become lasting mentors?

In what ways can we boost impact/effects or manage costs of being a mentor?

How might we facilitate ongoing mentor training and support?

Our team worked through the initial problem statement from the Mentoring Partnership to come to agreement on the objectives of the project and our guiding research questions.

Learning from mentors, mentees, and The Mentoring Partnership

Before starting this project, no one on the team had a background in mentoring, other than being a summer camp counselor.

To build a strong knowledge foundation, we read over 25 different academic articles about mentoring, child development, and relationships.

After our literature review, we discussed all of the information we learned and created “How might we” statement starters to outline everything we still needed to learn.

With a stronger understanding of the world of mentoring, our team set off to talk to over 30 different mentors and mentees and visit 6 different mentoring organizations across the country to connect with and learn first-hand the current-state of mentoring and the problems that exist.

I built field guides as tools to help the team during the different contextual observations. We traveled to schools and mentoring organizations in Pittsburgh and the Bronx, and talked to mentors and mentees across the country about their experience.

Research Insights

Every moment we spent with a mentor and mentee was extremely helpful in unpacking what it means to be a mentor. There were four main findings that led our design vision:

Unexpected

The term “mentor” comes with a weight of expectations that differs from person to person. Our interviews revealed the label “mentor” implied something different depending on who was asked. Youth view the word “mentor” to be synonymous with “therapist.”

“The word ‘mentoring’ at some of my schools, the kids are like, ‘Oh, why do you need that?’ They view is as therapy.”

Untethered

Just as mentees turn to their mentors for help in their lives, mentors seek help from others when they need assistance in their mentoring relationships. Our interviews revealed that this assistance to mentors came from many sources: friends, family, or program staff (if available).

“I don’t know everything there is to know about being a mentor, and I want someone to be there to support me.”

Unaware

While mentoring can inherently make a mentor feel good, seeing the impact on their mentee’s life is what makes it all worth it. In our interviews, we heard that seeing the short-term impact of mentoring incentivizes mentors to continue putting in the effort to volunteer.

“Sometimes it was as simple as seeing the young girl I was mentoring get a C on her math test instead of a D. I felt awesome even though it didn’t seem like that big of a change.”

Untapped

People who are driven to mentoring are going to do it with or without formal training. One mentor reported that he always starts a conversation by simply asking the youth how their day is going and gauges from their what he can do to offer support. Although he had formal mentoring training in the past, he hasn’t had recent training.

“I do it by myself… A lot of these programs— it’s really hard to get in for these kids who really need it, so I just kind of do it.”

Experience Visioning

Our research findings told us what the current experience was like for formal mentors, everyday mentors, and mentees.

We saw what was working and the major problems in the system or undesirable mentoring experiences. From here, we began to vision the future experience of mentoring, specifically Everyday Mentoring.

For visioning, our team talked through and sketched out what we believed the future of everyday mentoring could be. Some of our solutions incorporated technology, but we tried to focus on the overall user experience.

The Vision: EM2025

Out of these visioning sessions, the team created EM2025, a framework that empowers adults to be mentor-like in their everyday interactions with youths.

The EM2025 vision was not just about making Everyday Mentoring training accessible to everyone, it was about creating the right incentives and environment to foster a habit of mentoring.

With EM2025 as our guiding design vision, we mapped out the future user journey into four different phases of the EM2025 framework: Awareness, Buy-In, Learn by Doing, and See Impact.

Defining a Solution

We started the design process by rapidly generating concepts to address the breakdowns uncovered in our research.

Each member of the team contributed a wide variety of ideas, from which we narrowed to build and test.

We used dot voting to determine the overall ideas and features that we as a team thought were the best ideas towards solving our problem.

Prototyping and Testing

We used prototypes to test the assumptions embedded in our designs. We grouped and prioritized each set of assumptions before choosing the right prototyping method that would solicit the kind of feedback we needed.

We crafted many different types of interactive prototypes, including clickable storyboards and videos for concept validation and mobile applications for usability testing.

The Execution: Magnify

Magnify is a mobile application that places Everyday Mentor training within the context of people’s lives.

While EM2025 is a blueprint that can take on many different implementations over time, Magnify is our vision of how EM2025 can be implemented within the next 2 years.

It builds a steady habit of mentoring, all the while making users aware of the impact they are making and gathering general data for TMP about mentoring interactions nationwide.

Magnify is the culmination of many rounds of user testing the concept of a tool to help aspiring mentors and Everyday Mentors grow in their mentorship and connect with others.

Buy-In

In order to help potential Everyday Mentors understand their role an the purpose of everyday mentoring training, we front-loaded foundational information to ground them in the purpose of Magnify through an easy, personalized onboarding process.

After talking and observing over 50 different mentors, we knew Magnify had to cater to every different type of mentor and their unique needs and goals.

Our onboarding process allows users to identify the areas they want to gain skills and indicate their level of mentoring experience.

User Feedback

“It feels like it should say some very basic rules for when you are mentoring. Remember you are helping others. Every single small interaction can be magnified greatly.”

University Professor (Male 51+)

Learn by Doing

Micro training lessons are built into Magnify and crafted from the Mentoring Partnership’s existing Everyday Mentoring training materials.

Each lesson focuses on a single skill of Everyday Mentoring and is delivered in four interactive steps. Each lesson required focused ux microcopy that both informed and engaged the user.

This training flow went through multiple iterations based off of feedback from 32 different user testing sessions.

We discovered how important the act of reflection was in the training process, and saw how the forced pause resonated with our users as a chance to think where the skills could be applied in their own lives.

User Feedback

“I haven't had any formal mentoring training, and this would be far easier than going someplace to get formal training - to just be able to do it from my phone, whenever I had time.”

LeapCMU TA (Male 18-24)

See Results

Data is a driver of strategy and initiatives in almost every organization.

The ability for Magnify to track mentoring interactions and provide a data-driven view of the impact of mentoring was crucial in the future success of Everyday Mentoring and The Mentoring Partnership’s efforts.

Magnify uses some simple gamification design techniques to track user’s confidence and see their place in the mentoring community.

User Feedback

“I like doing things for my own sake. This would help me keep track of my own progress through the app.”

Tutor (Female 18-24)