Service Design: Community Partner Program at RED Academy

Designing Red Academy’s Community Partner Program

One of the cornerstones of my involvement at RED Academy was the Community Partner Program. I designed, developed and operated the Program during my 20 months at RED. During this time I facilitated the delivery of around 400 community projects.

The Community Partner Program was RED’s number one key differentiator at the time. It connected local start-ups and social organizations to our students. These projects built their portfolios throughout the program, providing them their desired experiential education and allowing them to access work quicker after graduation.

Problems with the System

Community Partner interacting with RED Academy UX design students during project.

After another cohort had passed it became obvious that there were pain-points in all stages of the user’s journey. The application form was flawed; technical questions led to user confusion and often inadequate answers. The other instructors and I had hours of follow-up with community members to assess the scope of each project. Communicating those conversations to the other program instructors to address issues created a game of telephone. They also each had different objectives for the project, and compromise at times was tough. And worst off, my time was eaten by endless emails facilitating this process. For around 50 projects every 3 months, it became evident we needed to automate.


I committed to the full re-design of the system. The goal was to apply the human-centred design process to:

  • Make the application process easier for our local organizations
  • Have them collect the right amount of information for the instructors to evaluate efficiently
  • Allow different instructor teams to review and select efficiently
  • Eliminate the tedious manual steps of email notifications and documentation
  • Leverage new software to keep things organized
Staff of RED Academy

I completed research with a sample of Community Partners and staff-our two main users of the system. I conducted user interviews with both groups to capture their experience, expectations and desires. I conducted contextual inquiries with the staff to see how they used our folder systems and files. Although I had an idea of what the problems were, I wanted to ensure that I didn’t miss anything, and that our users felt engaged in the system.


Addressing the application process was my first step. Through my analysis it was evident that the questions were not easy for people with non-technical backgrounds to answer. From my previous experience, I knew they were also inadequate to capture all the information critical to determining a project’s eligibility. My solution was to work backwards. I facilitated the process with the lead instructors. After charting out learning objectives, environments, criteria, and their respective questions, we worked to translate those questions into non-technical questions.

To address the inefficiencies in the selection process between instructor teams, we created a metric system to evaluate projects. As mentioned before, each instructor had different criteria for what made a good project. Without an evaluation system, (or previous to my earlier solution, no project learning objectives clearly defined) selection discussions often went into hypotheticals, and compromise was challenging. With a metric system, each team would submit their own score, and projects with the overall highest score would be selected.

We also investigated our technology options. RED had adopted HubSpot Sales and Marketing for marketing automation, however, didn’t use the “Sales Dashboard”. I could use it to serve as a CRM and automate my pain points. We would also adopt the system to facilitate our application process. We used the HubSpot landing pages for applications. With HubSpot landing pages, each project could have it’s own set of questions and respective action workflows. Now applicants could receive immediate feedback, and all other correspondence in a timely manner.


During the process, RED had decided to invest in a new website. This lead to push back in developing the system. With the organization re-structuring to cut resources, we decided to use Riipen, a local start-up that produces a software to manage project-based learning for educational institutions. We were still going to use the HubSpot system as a back-up, however, the full development of this system would be handled by Sean, Operations Director. In the re-shuffling and re-distributions of resources, my role as the Community Manager was cut. I had successfully automated myself out of a job, a goal I was trying to reach. However, the decision to reallocate funds from further service design to international growth and strategy left me without anything to replace the operations of the program.


In my last update from Julie Tremblay, Education Director, the team was adapting to Riipen as a service. The development of an alternative, RED owned solution was yet to be developed. The work to improve applications and selections was implemented, and anecdotal feedback from instructors was positive.

Using the human-centred design process to re-design our program ensured that we saw our service from the lens of both users; prospective and current Community Partners, and the instructor staff who had to evaluate and manage projects in the classroom. Although unable to thoroughly test solutions before my departure, the research, planning and design into the system allowed me to expand my experience to designing for services and programs.

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