You’re thrust into the start of a global pandemic, your ministry traditionally works by hosting people around a meal talking about Jesus, and now you’re not allowed to meet in person any more. You’ve found the edges of traditional video platforms like Zoom and Skype and need a different solution… What do you do?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic OneSheep partnered with Alpha International to prototype a new video conferencing tool to explore hosting Alpha courses online.
Over a two week period we worked closely with the Alpha International team; testing different solutions, exploring different use-cases, designing and thinking through the user experience, building and refining prototypes, all to a tight deadline.
On one hand the premise seems relatively straight forward, how to facilitate group discussion and shared viewing experience online. The moment the pandemic hit Alpha migrated to Zoom to run Alpha online. However, within the first few weeks it became apparent the platform didn’t provide an experience that met the standards Alpha strive for, ultimately the principle that ‘the church deserves the best’.
Whether it was onboarding into a session, watching the Alpha Film Series together or being able to reflect back later in the week there were a wide range of edges.
After an extensive review of over 300 potential platform solutions Alpha came to OneSheep wanting to explore WebRTC solutions. (WebRTC is the name for services that provide Real Time Communications over the internet, such as voice and video calling.)
So, we began to explore the question; how might we provide a first class Alpha experience leveraging WebRTC technology?
So, we began to explore the question; How might we provide a first class Alpha experience leveraging WebRTC technology?
With an initial one week timeline we set to work. First, we learnt everything we could about the ideal Alpha experience, sketching user journeys and defining the hallmarks and key values Alpha wanted to front and centre. Meanwhile our engineering team set to work exploring the Agora API and diving into what might be possible.
In the first two days we validated the conceptual model for an Alpha session and got a crude Agora service up and running. With daily check-ins both internally at the start of the day and externally with Alpha leadership at the end of the day we were able to move quickly, make rapid decisions and define what would be ‘in’ and ‘out’ of scope for the first prototype.
By the end of the first week we were able to demo our first prototype to key leadership. The solution would be a mocked login that took you to one of two Alpha Table Groups. In that group you would chat over video with others in your ‘Table Group’. A ‘host’ role would then bring both groups together into a ‘presentation mode’ where they could welcome and lead the session and crucially play a single video from the Alpha Film series streamed in sync to the whole group. After the video the host could then send people back into their table groups for further discussion. Getting to this stage, even crudely with rough edges and plenty of technical debt behind the scenes, was an important milestone and helped Alpha leadership evaluate and consider their options going forward.
The quick success of week one led to our R&D phase being extended a further week to test some other theories and push harder on the quality and stability of the platform. Toward the end of this week we would often continue our meetings using the prototype instead of Zoom itself!
The Next Steps.
In projects such as this there is a lot of further work that must happen behind the scenes exploring cost benefit analysis, due diligence on the companies and services proposed, not least developing a sustainability model for such an undertaking.
OneSheep provided a roadmap, product strategy and costings for how such a platform may be fully implemented in addition to further R&D work on Zoom’s own API offering.
Realising the important centrality of the Alpha Online experience, Alpha Int have continued to develop the project further in-house, based on our concepts and prototyping. We’re excited to follow their developments and see a platform enable millions to meet with Jesus for the first time.