Homelessness on Campus - Team Lead

At the end of my first year, I applied to be a team lead and select my own project for the following year. I received the position, and was given the opportunity to choose and scope a project, interview and select team members, and find a community partner. Learning from the challenges from the previous year, I decided to choose a project that would allow me close access to a community partner on campus, with the assumption that campus organizations with similar goals would be more willing to help my team. I chose to focus on students facing housing insecurity as our primary users, and partnered with the on campus basic needs center, The Hub. 

The Problem Space

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the problem space, I conducted preliminary research on the topic of housing insecurity. I found that 10% of university students report being homeless, likely do to the 80% rise in cost of living around college campuses in the last 30 years. We found that other factors like food insecurity, mental health, and self identification played large roles in student success, and had to be viewed together in order to truly understand the problem space. Our goal was to find a way to lessen the burden for students struggling to attain their basic needs. 

User Interviews

Once we had scoped our project, we began deciding who our primary stakeholders would be, and discussing how we would like to conduct interviews. We created a stakeholder map in order to determine who would have the power to influence how things are run on campus, as well as who cares the most about the outcome of the project. The Board of Trustees for the university has a lot of influence over the allocation of resources and activities on campus, but do not have significant interest in the day to day lives of our primary users. Faculty at The Hub has some control over resources and their allocation, as well as an interest in the well-being of students. Students facing housing or food insecurity do not have significant influence, but they are the most invested in the outcome of the project. We had to keep all of these perspectives in mind, and decided to interview staff at The Hub, and students who are currently, or have in the past been housing insecure. We quickly discovered that it would be very difficult to interview housing insecure students. In order to access the valuable information from these students, we had to come up with a way that would equally benefit them as compensation for their time, and make sure that they felt comfortable throughout the interview process.  

We advertised an event that would create a group interview to hear about the experiences, shared and unique, of students that chose to participate. They were compensated with lunch and gift-cards for their time and participation. From this group interview, and an interview with our community partner from The Hub, we learned of a few primary pain points for students dealing with housing insecurity. The Hub brought it to our attention that while a plethora of resources exist like programs offering free food to students and temporary housing on campus, very few students are aware of them and able to benefit from them. The students that participated similarly indicated that they were not aware of the current resources being offered, and were often embarrassed to talk about their situation. They were unlikely to seek help on their own, choosing instead to deal with the challenges themselves. 

Reframe

With the first-hand information we received from the interviews, we reframed the scope of our project. We realized that we need to focus on the marketing of the resources available. Stigma around the issue should not stop students from utilizing the available resources. We would need to come up with a way for this knowledge to be more accessible to the entire campus, not just those that are willing to seek it out. We came to this conclusion by collecting all of the pieces of information we had received either from interviews or secondary research. We clustered this information and determined what was most important to focus on moving forward. 

Ideation

Having clustered all of the information we had about housing insecurity on our campus, we began ideating potential projects to meet the needs of the problem space.

We began the process with rapid ideation, coming up with as many ideas as we could. Feasibility at this stage is not our concern, only creativity and a volume of ideas. From these ideas, we sticker select the few that create the most impact, while still doable within our scope. We were able to come up with a project that organize the abundance of resources available to students, and a way to popularize their existence. We were inspired by the popularity of Buzzfeed quizzes, and thought that a quiz that functions in a similar manner would allow us to provide resources to a variety of students. Based on their individual answers to a variety of questions, resources that fit their needs would be presented to them at the end. Many of the resources could apply to all students, so it could reach beyond the housing insecure population, and benefit every student on campus.  We believed that if this quiz became a regular part of student life, sent out to the entire campus through the administration, it would reach our primary users, while benefiting everyone.

First Iteration of Prototype

We began by creating a list of questions that we wanted students to ask, then sent them to our community partner at The Hub, to ensure that they are appropriate questions to ask students. With their feedback and our edited questions, we began to work out a flow for the quiz to ensure that each student who takes it receives a personalized result fitting their needs. 

Second Iteration of Prototype

We used our series of questions to create a preliminary quiz that would direct students to various resources on Google Forms. The question identify which resources apply to their needs, and provides links to the pages with descriptions of each resource. 

User Testing

the form we created was easy to use, and allowed us to test its usability on our peers. We were able to watch 18 people interact with our quiz, and gained valuable insight into what questions stood out to our users, and what they gained from the experience. The format of our quiz also provides valuable insights into the background of our student population, identifying where resources should be allocated in order to meet the needs of the current population. 

Conclusion

We were able to gather valuable information, and start an important dialogue with The Hub about the distribution of resources on campus. They have since begin larger advertising and promotional events highlighting the resources that they offer. We were unable to have our project implemented, but we furthered our understanding of the human centered design process, as well as the challenges that many students face every day. My team was left with a passion for this project, and ultimately continued working on the problem space the following academic year.