With industry partner Feeding America

Project Brief

Our Service Design Studio course partnered with Feeding America to understand and ideate around how we might improve their services. My group of four other MS-EDI students and I originally focused on how suppliers get perishable foods to agencies, such as food pantries and soup kitchens. However, after discussion with the client we pivoted to focus on efficiency and information sharing across the ecosystem.

Overview

We created a single-platform solution to address inefficiencies in the process of getting food from suppliers to individuals experiencing food insecurity. Our solution gave suppliers access to capacity building resources, informed volunteers about where they were most needed, and provided individuals experiencing food insecurity with a simplified process for finding and getting to the food they need.

Roles I Played

  • Conducted contextual observations

  • Created journey maps and service blueprints

  • Generated of actionable insights

  • Assessed feasibility & viability of design for client

  • Formally presented insights and design to client

Research

As we explored the "food-rescue" process, we observed the pickup and delivery of food from suppliers, such as grocery stores, to agencies, such as church food banks. I was able to observe the pickup of food from a major grocery chain, while my team members observed and assisted in the receiving of food at local agencies. We spoke with grocery store assistant managers, agency managers, and volunteers at various agencies to identify problems throughout the process of getting food to people experiencing food insecurity. Our observations at agencies also allowed us to witness food storage, interactions between agencies and volunteers, and food delivery to our food insecure neighbors. 

Understanding

In order to further explore the ecosystem of relationships in which our service was to exist, we created a stakeholder map to help us understand the immediate relationships between agencies, their volunteers, their suppliers, and people experiencing food insecurity. Initially, our focus was primarily on the relationships between agencies and their suppliers. We identified a knowledge barrier for the agencies when it came to knowing what food they would be receiving and when exactly it would be delivered.

 

After Feeding America asked us to pursue information sharing between agencies, we expanded our focus. It was quickly evident to our team that the roles of three stakeholder groups within the ecosystem - agencies, volunteers, and individuals experiencing food insecurity - were intertwined in such a way that one group's problem could not be fully solved without addressing problems in one or both of the other two groups.

The Iterations

At a check-in with Feeding America, we updated on our process and presented two initial concepts, TruckTrack and Bridge. Truck Track, was designed to alleviate the problems we observed in the food delivery process as foods transitioned from suppliers to agencies via a refrigerated truck.

 

The process for identifying desirable foods was inefficient and, as a result, kept perishable foods out of their proper temperature ranges longer than would be ideal. TruckTrack would let agency managers identify what kinds of foods were left of the truck delivering to their agency, helping agencies plan what they wanted to off the truck prior to the trucks arrival. 

 

Agency managers were further frustrated by the wide time range they were given for the trucks arrival because it made time management difficult; they were often in the middle of another task when the truck arrived with their food and had to stop working while the truck was being unloaded. With TruckTrack, managers could look at a map to quickly know where the truck was on its route, helping workers plan for the truck's arrival more on a more precise time frame. Drivers and managers could also contact one another directly if necessary.

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Bridge was conceptualized as web-based platform to allow agencies to connect with one another in order to avoid the "positive experience loop" we identified in the second journey map shown in the "Understanding" section above. Agencies with positive experiences tended to feed off of one another, while inexperienced agencies or those with no experiences had difficulty connecting with other agencies. 

 

Through Bridge, agencies with negative or no experience could benefit from interaction with those who have positive experiences. In fact, though the concept was directed at addressing the needs of specific agencies, our research indicated that all agencies would gain from information sharing and increased connections with other agencies. 

Though it did not meet the original project description given to us by Feeding America, our team felt that pitching a design direction focused on this area was important given the frequency with which problems regarding agency capacity arose during our research. We were told to pivot our focus and to pursue our exploration of knowledge sharing and interagency communication. To further our understanding of problems in this area we created low- and medium-fidelity prototypes of concepts that addressed knowledge sharing and communication between agencies. 

The Solution

In expanding upon the Bridge concept mentioned above, we created a single-platform solution to connect food suppliers, agencies, volunteers, and patrons to the agencies they would most benefit from being in contact with:

  • Volunteers would know which agencies to contact for opportunities to provide assistance. Agencies could mark specific days and times when extra help or long-term help was needed.

  • Patrons would be able to identify which agencies had foods available to meet dietary restrictions, see agency hours, and find transportation to agencies in their area. Bridge Book provided this information in a hard copy for patrons with limited internet access.

  • Agencies could share success stories and information via a common database. Feeding America would also provide resources and guidelines here for agencies to access as needed, rather than agencies having to visit multiple sites for the same documents.

  • Agencies could publicize what types of food donations they needed most and communicate with other agencies to share surpluses.​

We also recommended the creation of a consultancy to which agencies in need of additional help could apply via Feeding America, as well as an all-inclusive database for agencies hoping to learn more. While the human capital required for the consultancy and the database would be large, we believe that the impact would be worth the investment.

Our story arc in presenting to our clients took them through the various journey maps of the stakeholders to highlight the many inefficiencies in the current system. In telling the story in this way, we were able to present each part of our solution as a fix to specific tensions or barriers in the current system.