Web App for Bridge Employment & Intergenerational Knowledge Transfer
With increased life expectancy and longer work durations, retirement is being experienced as a process with transitional steps rather than an event. This growing phenomenon of paid employment following retirement is called Bridge Employment or Encore Careers. To study these changing retirement patterns at Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU), I took user-centered design approach to examine potential challenges and opportunities afforded by inter-age knowledge transfer for faculty members (young and mature) and students.
In response to the identified problem, Wisewrds, a web application was designed to facilitate part-time bridge employment to mature faculty, retain expertise through knowledge transfer and contribute to young faculty/students seeking informal mentorship opportunities.
What led to this solution?
Curious to explore this problem, I started off with the following questions:
- How might we facilitate flexible part-time bridge-employment for mature adults (faculty & staff) at OCADU through paid mentorship?
- How might we support inter-age knowledge transfer in the contemporary employment settings, where adults are working longer durations and retirement is experienced as a process rather than an event?
Knowledge Transfer Framework
Lavis et al. (2003a) devised a framework for knowledge transfer mainly designed for use in the public health sector. This framework was a result of a literature review and survey of knowledge transfer in the applied research organizations in health and social/economic sectors. I applied this framework in the area of my research, the academic sector.
To understand the scope of the problem, research was conducted with people who were directly and/or indirectly affected by the system design. The target audience at OCADU was narrowed down to the following people:
- Young students and faculty (millennials - born between 1980-1998)
- Mature faculty (baby boomers - born between 1945-1965) who were either retired and/or retirement-eligible
Apart from the main users, it involved representatives of various systems at the institution including but not limited to Faculty Association (OCADFA), Student Union (OCADSU), Human Resources (HR), Faculty and Curriculum Development Centre (FCDC) and more.
To understand the users’ needs and challenges, I used a mixed method research approach. This included qualitative analysis through semi-structured formal interviews and quantitative data collected through online surveys. The users were involved in the iterative design process and later usability testing of the web app was conducted followed by an interview and questionnaire.
This systemic problem has many more agents involved outside OCADU at a public level with finances involved. However, within the institutional premises, few of the research insights gathered were:
From mature adults
- Flexible time and work arrangements
- Gradual work load reduction for retirement-eligible
- Compensation through in-kind contributions, if not direct remuneration
- Factors for mentoring relationship
From young adults
- Development of research/artistic practice
- Pedagogical development and career management
- Informal over formal mentorship method
- Precarity of work
From institutional representatives
- Financial concerns for the monetization of bridge employment
- Various steps taken to work towards easing the retirement process such as Voluntary Retirement Incentive Plans (VRIPs)
Before moving forward with design development, framework for mentoring relationship was devised based on needs of the people involved.
Based on the framework and the insights gathered, the earlier prototypes included wireframes, designing web page layouts and colour palettes. Through user-centered design, multiple iterations and user testings were conducted throughout the design process. The tools used were Balsamiq, InVision and Illustrator.
The common purpose was matching the mentee with appropriate mentors. The initial versions were based on a knowledge domain available on the home page where mentees could select an area of interest. Another point of entry was to view the profiles of available mentors and select the one based on their expertise and skills. During the first round of user testing, people felt the filters of skills and methods were more predominant; instead, the option of reviewing the mentors should be focused.
Based on the feedback, the third iteration was self-matchmaking based on a computational algorithm. Here the user could focus on the profile of suggested mentors once the skill and method of their mentoring preference is selected. Mentees still had the option to choose mentors themselves if they wished to or if they knew the faculty already.
This iteration was predominantly designed keeping three elements in mind hence, three entry points. First, mentorship is people centric so the key aspect was the access point for a mentee to connect with the mentor. The second important entry point was the open access for the users to filter their search through tagged words. These keywords could either be some existing words or add up to the database for tagged trends. The third important point was the signup which is vital to both users before establishing connection.
The first two iterations looked more generic and since Wisewrds was specifically designed for OCAD U community, I started researching on the physical structure of the University’s building and the main website to personalize this app. To me, the predominant feature was the overshadowing black and white contemporary structure called Sharp Centre for Design. So, I played with the concept and its logo to give a sense of community to its users when they land Home page.
Based on the feedback of the second round of user testing, the color palette was readjusted to the current output as seen at the beginning of this blog.
This project was initiated as research into the anticipated aging population and its impacts on socio-economic factors. An online platform, a flexible working environment and support of intergenerational knowledge transfer through mentorship service activity were proposed to the university as enabling conditions. This application is extensible to other forms of intersectionality and workplaces. However, an important aspect for future research is the moderation of the web app by the institutional administration. There are various important considerations which include but are not limited to surveillance and autonomy of the stakeholders without jeopardizing the confidentiality of its users. Hence, it is critical to take the roles of moderators into account when considering the implementation of this web app in different sectors.
For more details, feel free to check out the publication at OCADU Research Repository
Lavis, J., Robertson, D., Woodside, J., McLeod, C., & Abelson, J. (2003a). How can research organizations more effectively transfer research knowledge to decision makers? The Milbank Quarterly, 81 (2), 221-248.