How products might be designed for matching refugees with relief actors in Turkey

Explore the growing refugee crisis

Xuan(Karen) Song
May 5, 2017 · 6 min read


With so many organizations providing aid in Turkey. There is a missed opportunity to help both the refugees and relief providers find one another and distribute relief where it is needed most.

Value proposition:

Alhazen guides Syrian Refugees to relief providers in Turkey by matching them with programs that target their specific needs.

Mobile Mockups (For Refugees)
Mobile Mockups (For Refugees)
Mobile mockups (For NGOs)
Final concept video

As of 2016, we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

| Define

Did I solve the right problem?

Overview of refugee crisis journey

Hunt Statement:

We are going to research how to jumpstart and sustain economic growth for refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries so that we can improve the long-term quality of life for themselves and those around them.

Research Objective:

We aim to find out what the key methods are to foster economic growth in temporary refugee communities by researching current policies, local resources, education, etc.

Territory map of refugees in temporary residence
Cycle of temporary residence

| Discover

Different institutions in different provinces offer different services; even within the same institution there may not be a unified approach.

— Saferworld report 2016

Secondary Research

Here are the resources we have found:

  • Challenges in Turkey
  • FY 2016 East Asia NOFO TH-MYA-INDO-Region
  • Syria Humanitarian Fund(SHF)
  • State of Refugees in Turkey
  • Turkey Plan 2017
  • Turkey Plan 2018
  • UNHCR Procedures
  • World’s largest Syrian refugee camp has developed its own economy

Why Turkey?

Turkey is just north of Syria, and it has more lenient rules for refugees to live and work compared to Jordan and Lebanon. They have taken in 2.9 million refugees from Syria. We wanted to focus on urban areas because although stories about camps were what makes the news, 93% of the Syrian refugees in Turkey were in the urban areas.

There are over 139 NGOs who have been accredited to work in Turkey. How do refugees find out about these organizations for relief? What kinds of relief do NGOs offer? What does the interaction between refugees and NGOs look like?


I recruited and our group interviewed 2NGOs(Syrian Relief, Orange) , 2 Syrian Refugees, 1 Local volunteer, 1 Local Company(Trust) and 1 Turkish local in Turkey. I also talked with Rob Gradoville and Chelsea Takamine at Open IDEO to hear their experience about helping Syrian refugees.

In-person Interviews

“The chance that [the refugees] could even go to a government office and get help in their own language is extremely low”

— Michelle, Community Center Volunteer, Ankara, Turkey

“We can see huge opportunities for organizations to assist Syrian refugees to find accommodation, education, health care. Basically getting to know system.”

— Baara, Managing director at Orange

Syrian refugees claim that they are aware of their rights and opportunities mostly through word-on-the-street or social media.

— United Nations, Saferworld Report

| Synthesize

During our research process, we focused on exploring the refugees side, and we created an ecosystem map and mental model to demonstrate their current state.

Affinity mapping
Ecosystem Map

THREE Problems

  1. The Language barrier is the most substantial roadblock on the path to integrating in Turkey.
  2. Due to inconsistent regulation and enforcement of policies, it is difficult for refugees to be confident in their knowledge of the law and their personal rights.
  3. The lack of an up-to-date, consolidated list of who is offering relief and what services they are providing perpetuates missed opportunities to help the refugees.

| Design

How might we allow the refugees to access accurate information about the different relief actors and the specific services they offer?

Who are we designing for?

Refugees who have a hard time accessing NGOs. Refugees who want to know if they are eligible for a specific NGO’s program.

NGOs who need to find their funding providers. NGOs who need to reach their target markets and specific refugees to help.

Service objective
Service design blueprint

Initial concept: Refugees’s SMS Chatbot

We have an initial idea to create a SMS chatbot to help refugees get their needs much easier. The SMS chatbot will ask refugees some basic questions, such as their name, age, gender, marital status, children, and location to get to know them better. Then, chatbot will ask them what kinds of needs they are looking for. After that, once our system finds a best NGO target for their needs, the NGO program manager will call them directly.

Version 1: SMS Ideation


Some drawing examples. I made all drawings for our concept video

| Refine

We talked with some service designers, UX designers as well as local IRC in Oakland, CA. After I talked with the IRC, we found out that there is a huge opportunity to design for the NGOs side because they have contracts with grant providers to spend money on specific groups of refugees. In order to get money to develop some program, they need to find eligible refugees and evaluate their performance. So, we start to develop more NGO portal website.

The NGOs have an obligation to their funders to actually provide a service or relief to an amount of people that they promised that would be helped.

— Hisham, IRC, Oakland, CA, U.S.

Some feedbacks from professors:

In addition to the chatbot and phone calls, what else can a user interact with to connect with resources? What potential is there for a refugee to use this service to find, manage, communicate, etc. with multiple NGOs on their own and/or on an ongoing basis? Is there an app or site they can go to manage their experiences.

Once a refugee is given information over the phone by the NGO, how does the refugee hold onto this information? Is there a follow up confirmation email, link or text? What does that experience look and feel like.

How does this service showcase and create connectivity between NGOs. It feels important to have a point of view and designs that show the power of this service as an NGO platform.

— Renna Al-Yassini and Christina Worsing

As a group, we discuss about iterating our service design solution. Based on our research, most refugees have their smart phone to access information and application. So, it is durable to create an app for them. I recommended our group combine chatbot as one function inside of an app, so they can request needs, get confirmation messages, and manage their NGOs.

| Deliver

Final presentation deck

Best thanks to

Professors: Renna Al-Yassini and Christina Worsing

Teammates: Sara Ras, Henry Bacon, Hongkun Zhang, and Daniel Frank


Baara, Managing director at Orange

Hisham, IRC, Oakland

Rob Gradoville and Chelsea Takamine at Open IDEO

Michelle, Community Center Volunteer, Ankara, Turkey

Syrian Relief

Trust Consultancy & Development

Xuan(Karen) Song

Written by

Product designer | User Experience designer Intern@ Cisco| Human Computer Design& Engineering at University of Washington

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