Kristina Barrick is Digital Innovation Manager at Breast Cancer Care, the breast cancer support charity. Breast Cancer Care has recently worked with the Centre for Acceleration of Digital Technology (CAST) to create BECCA, an app to support women in recovery from breast cancer. Kristina previously worked for the Stroke Association in various roles.
“…Don’t be put off by the abundance of men and don’t be afraid to ask questions – nobody knows it all in tech…”
Working in tech – I never stop learning
It was almost two years ago that I started as the Digital Innovation Manager at Breast Cancer Care. I previously worked at the Stroke Association leading the team developing My Stroke Guide – a highly accessible website which helped stroke survivors navigate life after stroke. My Stroke Guide is tailored to the many and varied ways in which stroke can affect a person which makes using technology challenging including visual impairment, physical disabilities and cognitive and communication issues.
Working in the tech for good space suits me down to a tee. I thrive on constant change and love a challenge. In this space, I feel I never stop learning. We are breaking new ground in terms of delivering services in a different way which is scalable, agile and user-centred – it’s an incredible buzz.
Working with people brings me a lot of happiness – I get to work with most teams in one way or another so it’s a fantastically social role. I also have the joy of working directly with our service users on a regular basis and with our BECCA product champions – without whom we couldn’t have built BECCA at all! They are the most valuable asset to this project and have been incredible at being available to interview, give feedback and test the product in its iterations at the drop of a hat.
On a day-to-day basis, my role is ever changing. There are two staples though – lots of coffee and lots of data!
The most rewarding parts of my role
Most people have very little idea of how gruelling and emotionally challenging the experience of breast cancer really is. Those affected often contend with its impact with a brave face and try to resume life as normal, though everything has changed and they are often still very scared. Breast Cancer Care is their safe space to take off that brave face and receive acknowledgement of the trauma of the experience they have had, and expert advice on how to overcome it.
This can range from speaking to nurses on our free helpline to answer any question they have, no matter how small, to connecting them with other women through our face-to-face and phone services, or via our online forum.
Our BECCA app can help them find the information and solutions they need at the touch of a button, and signposts to a variety of services, activities, blogs and tools that other women have found useful in their recovery. We run tailor-made services (for example, our Younger Women Together events) and we also deliver a vast quantity of publications made by medical experts to support and inform people across the UK and beyond.
Working for an organisation that provides such solace and support to people who need it, with colleagues who are so incredibly passionate and dedicated to the cause, is both humbling and rewarding.
More about BECCA
BECCA is the first app of its kind to help people move forward after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. It provides trustworthy and tailored information and support for people trying to cope with the impact of cancer once hospital treatment ends.
Bite size daily tips are delivered to users as a digital deck of cards, and they can search for, flick through and ‘favourite’ ideas on topics like exercise, diet, mindfulness, concerns and support, whenever they want. The content has been developed by working with healthcare professionals and women living with breast cancer, and has been rigorously tested by over 1100 women along the way to ensure it provides the best experience possible for users.
Kim Hulme from Dartmoor, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2016. She has been testing the BECCA app since finishing treatment. She says:
“Living in a remote area, I felt cut off from support and was desperate for something I could access online. Going through breast cancer is absolutely terrifying, and when you come away from the rollercoaster of appointments and treatment, you find yourself staring at a blank canvas thinking ‘what now?’
BECCA has been absolutely perfect for me. It has reminded me to look after myself and helped me change how I feel. For instance, I felt really wobbly about exercise and needed to know how to get back into it slowly – the app has helped me do that.”
Working with CAST
Whilst Breast Cancer Care are very proficient at service design, and I had experience of digital service design already, CAST taught us a lot about the science behind user-centred design and building in iterations, and they supported us to do this.
Often, we think we know what our service users need in terms of a digital product – and our service users may very well tell us this themselves, or agree with us on this. But you have to marry this up with their tech behaviours and strong UX [user experience] design to make a product people will actually use. I use the analogy of Homer Simpson’s car – he pulled together something that had everything you could possibly want in an automobile, and it created a messy car that nobody wanted to drive!
Why tech is such a great way of driving innovation in the charity sector
Social innovation really is the future of how we equip people with the tools they need to manage life-long conditions, share their stories, find the information they need and help others too. My work has focused on self-management but it’s an amazing space for prevention too. With websites and apps becoming the norm for accessing services, getting the information we need, finding entertainment and managing our day-to-day lives, support from charities can be in people’s pockets to access 24/7.
If you nail the service design you can truly change people’s lives for the better. It’s very powerful and very scalable.
Advice for women interested in working in tech for good
Don’t be put off by the abundance of men and don’t be afraid to ask questions – nobody knows it all in tech. You have to build a network of trusted advisers who will help you work in an informed, strategic way.
We have input from our BECCA Advisory Board - made up of experts from a range of disciplines, it’s been invaluable to meet with these guys quarterly and have their ongoing support and advice in between these meetings. We now have two start-up CEOs on-call, a senior content strategist, an expert in change management, user experience and design experts and CAST’s very own Simon I’Anson (service design).
Coming up next for me and Breast Cancer Care
We aim to work with two incredible organisations, Super Being Labs and start-up, Skim.it, to deliver personalised content to a BECCA user based upon their preferences and behaviour. The content will be updated regularly in line with new research findings around breast cancer, popular breast cancer blogs and articles, new services, products and innovations and anything that could be useful for them based upon their former activity.
Using machine learning and natural language models for artificial intelligence we see BECCA becoming more responsive to sub-conscious cues from the user, and therefore able to offer even more meaningful, timely and personalised support.
We will also look to scale the product for other condition-specific charities in the UK and breast cancer charities across the world. We’re currently seeking the external funding to enable us to shape and develop the app and its ability to scale in this way.
Breast Cancer Care is doing something new and innovative with BECCA. If it is a success then this can pave the way for other organisations like us to innovate too. Hopefully the development of digital services will become more prolific and, as a result, better understood and more attractive to funders and policy makers in the UK.