VoorleesExpress is a project by social innovation agency SodaProducties. Volunteers read books to children in need of extra help learning the Dutch language. The project is a huge success. It operates in 100 municipalities, employs 4000 volunteers who read 3700 families annually.
In the summer of 2015 we worked with SodaProducties to develop a design concept for a new tool for VoorleesExpress volunteers. We designed a responsive web application which helps the volunteer readers keep track of their work with their families, supports them in the development of their reading skills and connects them to other volunteers.
Our design concept was broken down into three deliverables: a user journey map, mockups and a functional specification. Together, these provided SodaProducties with the necessary input for them to create a plan and budget, acquire funds, and find a development partner. Our work laid a solid foundation for the tool’s further development in 2016.
User journey map
Our user journey map tells the story of a volunteer’s work with VoorleesExpress, from signup, through the 20 weeks of reading to a family, to celebrating and sharing her accomplishments. It sheds light on the goals, activities, thoughts and feelings of the volunteer at every step in their journey. For each step it also describes what the future tool will provide her with to support her in her work.
We produced the map in collaboration with SodaProducties leadership and experts. During a discovery workshop we sketched out a first draft of the map. In the studio we refined the map over several iterations and used data from a wide range of research reports to enrich the story. Even before completion the map was already in use by SodaProducties to tell the story of their plans to their partners.
Using the user journey map we identified a number of key screens to visualise. We iterated on the mockups with frequent review sessions at the SodaProducties offices, going through rough hand drawn sketches and more detailed wireframes. Finally, we brought in frequent collaborator Simon Scheiber to create highly detailed mockups.
We built on the existing VoorleesExpress brand and developed it further into a visual language suitable for responsive web applications. We also included examples of realistic content in the mockups so that they could be used alongside the user journey map to tell the story of the tool as if it was already real.
Being strong believers in agile planning, we proposed to not create a detailed functional spec but in stead to write a list of user stories. These user stories were based on the user journey map and mockups but also covered functionality available to SodaProducties through the tool’s backend. We also estimated the ‘weight’ of each story using t-shirt sizes. By extrapolating from our own experience designing and developing similar products we could subsequently provide SodaProducties with an estimated budget, which they used to benchmark proposals from potential development partners.
The user journey map, mockups and functional spec together paint a sufficiently detailed picture of a tool that helps SodaProducties take the next step in growing VoorleesExpress and helps volunteers develop themselves and organise their work in a hassle free and fun manner.
Paying close attention to volunteer motivation proved key—as it does in any Hubbub project. VoorleesExpress readers do the work because they enjoy becoming a better version of themselves and feeling useful to society. Volunteering is a great expression of autonomy and we were very careful not to make any design choices which would negatively affect this sense if autonomy. This is challenging, because of course there are certain things a volunteer must do. Volunteer work is not without commitment. Our strategy was to connect such chores to learning activities. As readers improved their skills through various digital resources and reflected on their own development, they also automatically recorded the data required of them. In short, the perceived chores were given a new context and in this way were made meaningful.
We think much volunteer work can benefit from digital transformation similar to project TEDASUKE. Our collaboration with SodaProducties has provided them with new experience that will help them not only transform their own organisation but conceivably makes them well-positioned to help others in the field make progress. We look forward to seeing the results.