A Designer at GlobalHack 6

In October 2016, I competed in an event called GlobalHack 6, in which there were over 150 teams made up of participants from 33 states and seven countries. The key challenge for the hackathon centered around a type of software, which collects and analyzes data for homeless clients, or those at-risk of becoming homeless. Teams were asked to develop solutions for one of four sub-problems, prevention; emergency shelters; electronic referrals and data sharing; and data visualization.

Our team consisted of five people. Three developers, a project manager, and myself as the UX designer. When considering which of the four specific problems to address, we decided to focus on prevention, dovetailing with data sharing.

At the start, it was tempting to fall in line with most of the competitors, and focus on building a better system that the Centers for Care could use to input and share data. There is a ton of value in doing that, and it was clearly communicated that the systems currently used are antiquated and extremely frustrating, but we wanted to design a solution that would directly impact homelessness at its fundamental level.

Where to Start?

Since we had less than 48 hours to design and develop our solution, we had to decide quickly on which problem to solve. I led the team in multiple iterations of a, “How Might We” exercise for three of the four specific problems.

This exercise gave visibility and focus to all the ideas running through our heads, and presented problems and questions in the form of opportunities. Through this process, it was agreed that prevention had the greatest potential for impact.

Some “How Might We” examples:

  • “How might we identify people that are at-risk of becoming homeless?”
  • “How might we determine the needs of individuals seeking help?”

As you can imagine when working with amazingly smart and creative people, there were many fantastic ideas and opportunities presented within the theme of prevention. However, given the time restraint, how do we maintain focus and make sure we aren’t taking on too much? I gave each member of the team two votes. We then selected the two features each of us felt was the most important, and went to work.

The Good Samaritan

What we made has two major parts. The first part consists of an overarching brand called, Samaritan. Samaritan partners with local organizations such as; hospitals, libraries, shelters, police stations, religious organizations and local schools and colleges. Places that already encounter people at-risk of becoming homeless. Our goal was for locations displaying the Samaritan sign to become recognized as a trusted community location that symbolizes a safe and non-judgmental place to seek help.

Sometimes asking for help is one of the hardest things to do, and can be a tough social situation to navigate. So how do we give a teacher, a nurse, or a librarian the guidance and means of providing help to someone at-risk of becoming homeless?

The second part to our solution is a responsive web application that matches those at-risk with actionable next steps and relevant resources. The app is designed to coach the user (the employee of the organization) through the sensitive conversation of determining what help an individual is seeking.

I designed the app to have a strong and simple content hierarchy, large inputs, and dedicated step by step approach so that it can be used at a glance. This makes the app support, rather than dominate the conversation. And, allows the user to maintain the important human interaction that’s happening through this process.

The result being, that specific resources are provided to the individuals seeking help. Giving that person an actionable next step to take, right then and there. On the back-end, the information collected by the Samaritan app will be shared out to the Centers for Care. This allows the person at-risk to be placed into programs as early as possible.

So, What Happened in the End?

A whirlwind of intense exploration, learning, problem solving, coding, designing, and countless Red Bulls later, our team was on stage accepting the grand prize for GlobalHack 6. I am immensely grateful for being a part of such a great team of people, and I learned so much from this crazy experience. In particular, I learned not to underestimate design and the impact that design thinking can have on even the most daunting problems.