The student union at my alma mater, the Edinburgh University Student’s Association (EUSA), is a politically active union that takes official stances on various issues. Though I generally agreed with these stances, many of my fellow students did not – and even if they did, it was unclear to them where these political statements came from. In fact, the union hosts regular student councils (open to all students) at which anyone can put forward a proposal and all attendees vote on them. However, these student councils were poorly advertised and required more commitment than most people could spare alongside their studies.
In an attempt to alleviate this issue, a friend and I created an online voting and discussion platform. We called it eusay (pronounced “you say,” but named after the student union – EUSA) and felt very proud of the apt name. Initially prototyped at a hackathon, the project went on to win funding and a place at a summer-long incubator for tech projects to improve higher education. Our local union was very interested in this project and hired us to finalize it.
After several months of work, we opened the platform to all students at the university. It attracted hundreds of students putting forward proposals and debating them online. Our plan had always been that the most popular proposals would move forward to the student council and be ratified there, but we soon discovered that the new cadre of elected students who ran the union had little interest in this and prioritized other goals.
This taught me one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned, namely that “if you build it, they will come” does not hold true for technological solutions. Since then, I’ve learned not only to identify real needs before jumping to tech solutions but to understand how a project fits into broader political structures.