Make friends in your neighbourhood - starting with bringing together people who share interests.
Social connection plays a key role in our sense of wellbeing and happiness. Social isolation and loneliness are not only detrimental to our mental health but are also associated with physical health risks such as high blood pressure, diminished immunity, higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
In addition, social connections also provide tangible support day to day and improve resilience on an individual and community level. However, data in both the UK and Nigeria (where our team is based) suggests a deterioration in social trust in the society. Between 2014-2021, the percentage of people agreeing that others in their neighbourhood can be trusted or that people in their local area are willing to help their neighbours fell by 7-8% in the UK. Similarly, only 44% in Nigeria agrees their neighbours could be trusted based on 2020 data.
A quick poll we carried out among 37 respondents in the UK on Nextdoor, a neighbourhood app, suggests around a third of the population ‘don’t know their neighbours nor have a local support network’. We believe a convergence of societal problems - such as loneliness, diminishing social trust, and lack of care infrastructure - all points to community as a source of solution.
Our problem statement: How might we make relationship building with neighbours easy and attractive so that people can form a strong supportive network in their local neighbourhood?
Based on literature review and user interviews with 4 participants, we understand that:
- Cultural norms, lack of time/energy, security concerns, and perception of having ‘nothing in common’ are the primary barriers towards relationship building in the neighbourhood.
- Most people developed their relationship with neighbours through serendipitous encounters in common areas/ transit spaces or through introductions. People don’t go out of the way to get to know their neighbours.
- Despite this, people generally do have a desire to get more involved locally in interest groups and mutual support. Although few are willing to ask their neighbours for support, most are willing to offer their support and some first met their neighbours through some sort of situational support such as helping with receiving parcels.
Although some solutions already exist to bring local people together (e.g. Meetup, Locals). This often exists across a wide area instead of on a hyperlocal level. We also believe there is a gap in making local volunteering and support needs more discoverable and accessible.
The primary goal of our product is to facilitate relationship building and mutual support within the local neighbourhood. We aim to achieve this through making discovery and coordination of local activities easier and more attractive.
We envision an app that meets all neighbourhood needs in one place. It would 1) bring together people who share interests, 2) help facilitate local support and volunteering, 3) enable collaborative projects, and 4) provide useful local information. For the MVP, we are starting with bringing together people who share interests.
Due to capability and time constraints, this would initially be a web app, and would be positioned as a complement to existing neighbourhood community platforms e.g. Whatsapp. This would help us avoid the cold-start problem associated with social apps where a sufficient adoption of users is necessary in a neighbourhood before users can experience the value of the app.
As an example, our team members live in neighbourhoods in Nigeria where Whatsapp groups of ~150 people are usually used to manage information exchange across a housing block. However, this loses granular insights into individual interests that could facilitate more personal relationship building. This is the gap we hope to address through our MVP.
After creating some medium-fidelity prototypes, we tested these with 4 participants to gather early user feedback. Based on the feedback, some design changes and re-prioritisation of features were carried out.
As an example, the initial design aimed to assign users who have selected similar interests into a group chat that enables self-organisation of activities. We found out in user interviews that most people prefer to have more structure to these groups, such as having a coordinator, and see events as more valuable than chats. As such, our later design reflected these changes.
For more details on user feedback for the medium-fidelity prototype, see here.
Medium-fidelity design mockups
High-fidelity design mockups
Block Party is currently hosted on Vercel. For the Frontend, we are using Next.js pages directory, chakra UI component library and Tanstack Query for asynchronous state management. On the Backend, we’re using Node.js in Next.js’ API directory with Firebase for data storage using Cloud Firestore for storing application and user data.
The hardest part of development was working with a technology we were not experienced with, which was Firebase. As developers, it is essential to understand the project requirements and goals, plan and prioritise tasks, write clean and maintainable code, test thoroughly, collaborate effectively, continuously learn and improve, and seek feedback for reflection and growth. We tried our best to stick by these core principles and it has been yielding positive results.
All of us really enjoyed working together collaboratively on this project and learnt a lot in the process. Whilst we all deeply care about the problem space and want to continue building solutions in this space. We felt our discovery process was rushed due to the limited timeline within the program. As such, moving forward, we would like to return to product discovery to fully explore the problem and solution space. This would ensure the solution we are building could have meaningful impacts on our mission - to help people make friends and build support networks in their neighbourhood!
Product Manager Learnings:
- I have learnt to co-create with a cross-functional team on both a strategic and tactical level;
- Make tradeoffs throughout the product development process; and
- Manage dependencies and work in an agile way.
Peter A. Amedome
- I have learnt it’s not about designing a beautiful product, it’s more about understanding the problem;
- User data, feedback and interaction with your prototype are key drivers to building a functional product;
- The value of collaboration, working & communicating in a cross-functional team.
- I have learnt how to collaborate on a project in a much better way;
- I have gained experience and real industry insight into what goes into building a real product; and
- Improved my technical skills as a software engineer.
- I have learnt the importance of embracing agile principles and ways of working;
- I learned to prioritise user experience by working closely with the UX designer; and
- Gained hands-on experience using a diverse range of technologies, such as designing a scalable API to handle project’s requirements.
Full Team Learning
Throughout these 8 weeks, we have learnt that trust, respect, and openness are the foundation of successful and enjoyable team work. We learnt to support each other as life gets busy and created something that is meaningful and exciting for all of us!