Covid-19 has kept us indoors for so long that we can’t wait to go out and enjoy the sun. From traveling to outdoor music festivals, from hiking with family members to chatting with friends in the coffee shop instead of through videos, the easing of pandemic restrictions on businesses, gatherings and venues gave us the opportunity to spend more time out in the public space.
While having more opportunities to enjoy time outside, health, safety and cleanliness are still in top priorities. And in some cities, people are definitely not satisfied with the cleanliness. The satisfaction rate of cleanliness of city streets and other public areas in Kansas City is only 33%.
While in Seattle, a trash map was created showing how severe the problem is.
With people going out, witnessing the current state and realizing how an unsatisfactory environment would have negative impacts on our personal health, the awareness of public space cleanliness is growing. By taking time to clean the public spaces, we could stop bacteria and viruses.
So having more people involved with cleanup volunteer opportunities seems to be a good solution to it. Besides solving the current issue, volunteering in the community not only allows us to build relationships with other members, but also puts a smile on our face. Research shows that people who regularly volunteered had better mental health.
It's obvious that volunteering has so many benefits, to the environment, society, community and also to volunteers themselves. But what exactly is the participation rate of volunteers in the USA?
Study shows that "the United States has experienced a significant decline in the percentage of Americans who volunteer and give annually." "The national volunteer rate bottomed out at a fifteen-year low of 24.9 percent in 2015." And after breaking into age groups using Current Population Survey data, 35- to 44-year-olds (28.9%) and 45- to 54-year-olds (28%) were the ones volunteering the most. While 20- to 24-year-olds had the lowest rate at 18.4% and 25- to 30-year-olds had 22.3%, both lower than other age groups. 
It probably will become worse after the pandemic with "52 percent of Americans do not plan to volunteer or will volunteer less next year".
User Insight + Pain Point
So in order to validate this problem and also to find out the reason why people are not willing to be involved with volunteer events, we conducted user interviews on 10 individuals, aging from 23-32, living in suburban and urban areas.
To summarize the interview result and evaluate the found pain points, let's meet Kelsey and Tim.
Kelsey Li, a 31-year-old project manager living in Denver, Colorado. She enjoys running and hiking despite her tight schedule. She feels interested in attending volunteer events but here are some reasons holding her back:
• have concern on safety especially after pandemic
• inflexible schedule
• not interested enough for the current one
• don't have enough information for the event
• hard to contact the organizer and get questions answered
• not offered in their locations
Tim Miller, a 24-year-old who just moved to a new state to start his new life. He works as a freelance writer. He likes traveling and photography, doing both with his dog Sparky. He attended some volunteer events before he moved and saw some flaws from the organizations. He still wanted to continue being involved with volunteering in the new neighborhood. Organizing his own event crossed his mind but he quickly gave up because
do not know enough people interested to attend
• also do not know how attract volunteers
• do not know how to start one
• feels too much trouble and don’t have time
• not sure how helpful will it be
Pathway to Solution
We decided to target our user group of 20- to 35-year old young professionals living in urban and suburban areas, with a busy schedule but willing to try volunteering.
We decided to create our product as a mobile app since it would be more convenient for our target users. At the initial discussion, we planned to design an app that encourages people to pick up litter by giving rewards like gift cards based on the amount of litter being picked up. After some research on the app store, we found there are similar apps targeting this feature out there. And our schedule will be too tight for tracking and validating the amount of trash being picked. Plus, we don’t want to be too limited in just litter removal.
We broadened our scope from just litter removal to overall volunteering experience. We all agreed that it would be nice to build a platform which allows both volunteers and organizations to find each other and communicate easily. After consulting our mentor, some more research and further discussion. Having organizations involved might be too hard for us to handle at the moment and there are several existing products targeting to serve better communication between volunteers and non-profit organizations as well.
Finally we came to the conclusion that our product will serve the individuals who wanted to raise the issue they found to other like-minded people in the community without dealing with too much trouble. Before moving to the execution field, we evaluate the priorities of attending and creating events and the conclusion is that creating will have higher priorities. even though the features involved are more complicated than attending. All of our users have never thought of organizing and coordinating their own events and half of them showed interest in it.
Explanation of Solution
Clean Together is the app that allows users to easily create and search for local volunteer events.
Users can choose to access the app through logging into their Google account so it’s easier, safer and more convenient for our user.
After users put in their location and top 3 tags they are most interested in, Clean Together will select a list of events for them based on location and interest. Users can also explore random events to get inspiration from others. If they are not interested, they could delete it from their page.
Users could create their own event by putting in the information of: title, location, date, time, brief description of the problem that needs to be solved and how they found it, list of goals they want to achieve through this event, supplies provided and photos to better illustrate the issue to viewers.
After posting the event, organizers could share the event with their contact or on their social media, invite others to join. They also have the ability to edit or delete the event before the start date. Clean Together will also send out notification to remind everyone involved to not miss it and users could disable this function. Once the organizer feels there’s enough members for the event, there is an option to End Signup so we could control the group size that makes our users comfortable.
This would be the page for attendees, basically similar layout, but they could view, register and share with friends. Message board is included so future attendees could post questions about the event and get clarification from organizers.
During the event, we strongly encourage the organizers to put a little extra effort to complete the post-event report. In order to do that, they need to confirm attendance with volunteers, take pictures and mark down anything helpful to other future events.
Attendance could affect volunteers’ badges in their profile. Users could choose to show one badge by their profile pic.
And on the profile, users can find out the received badges, self introduction, tags interested, where they are most active and how many events they organized and attended. All of the content has visibility options: only to users themselves, open to others attending the same event and open to the public.
Back to the report, pictures are very helpful to showcase the team effort, it could be photos showing volunteers dedicated to hard work, and also having a fun time together as a group. And before VS. after photos of the cleaning event make a strong statement on the impact everyone made.
Users’ experience helps us, as well as other members to create better events in the future. No matter if it's things attendees complain about, or things organizers feel like a big win, remember to include it in the post-event report.
We have templates for the report, so it could be generated by using the information organizers put in before and after events happen so it could save them some trouble for this process. And all the reports will be archived in the Report section which could be accessed by the bottom menu.
More Volunteer Topics: Our app is called Clean Together as it is more focusing on cleanup events for now. In the future, we wish to include even more volunteering ideas, like fundraising or educating the next generation.
Mentors & Organizations: For the current stage, our user group is individuals who want to try out volunteering or have some level of experience. Although due to complexity, we couldn't include non-profit organizations in our user group. But we would love to have someone very experienced in volunteering, non-profit, event organization and philanthropy to give some advice to our individual organizers as mentors or consulters. In the far future, we are looking forward to inviting organizations to come post events on Clean Together or work with users on coordinating events together.
Better Recommendation System: Right now, we suggest the events according to our users’ input location and chosen topics. We would like to improve our recommendation system after getting more input from our users to better tailor the selection for them. And in that case, while organizers are trying to create a new event, we could be able to suggest similar events going on while they are typing in the details to reduce too many similar events.
Accessibility Feature: We hope to include more accessibility features that Clean Together will become friendly to different groups, like text-to-speech feature, accessible color design for color-blind users, layouts suitable for different kinds of screens, etc.
As you can see in the lo-fi mockup, our designer has already built an easy-to-navigate layout which I try to keep in the similar way.
Since I’m learning the design while doing it, I try to keep everything simple with limited color, focusing on the basic functions. And for accessibility, the color combination passes the test using the WCAG 2.0 guidelines for contrast accessibility.
Product Manager Learnings:
Following with the design part, because of the uncontrollable circumstances, our designer dedicated a lot for user interviews and lo-fi mockups at the early stage but couldn’t dedicate time during the process. In order to come up with final hi-fi mockups, I have to learn some basic design through this crash course. And there is truly so much to learn for newcomers like me, if you feel there is any issue with alignment, layout design, color selection or anything else and would like to suggest other options for me to try out, please leave a comment and I’ll keep working on it after graduating from Colab. I never imagined it but I’ll keep learning about designing as this experience gave me the opportunity to get to play with it and it’s so fun. Obviously very hard at the same time, hats off to all the designers out there, even small implementation and change requires so much work to perfection.
It’s definitely a unique learning experience, building a team is hard and having everyone departing to different directions before the completion is even harder. I’d like to dedicate my learning section on how to deal with team members leaving halfway. Finger-crossed that none of you have to go through any of this in real life but it might be helpful to know things like this could happen and how to deal with it is how to make the full out of it.
Based on my recent experience of job searching, “Tell me about a time you failed” is a very common question during interviews. Compared to what failure is, they are more interested in “What did I do to deal with this failure?” and “What did I learn from it?” So in order to get these two answers, rationalizing my thoughts is definitely crucial. Repeatedly asking myself “What caused this problem? Is it something that I did?” is not helpful enough for the current circumstance. As PM is supposedly the one who should overlook the team relationship, provide clear directions and make sure everything goes well for development. Having the team give up before completion is extremely hard to work with, and forced me to question my talent, personality, skill sets, and so on. Eventually the self-criticism could grow from this project to all other fields in life, and would start to affect mental health.
Figuring out what caused the failure would be beneficial to better prepare for similar situations in the future, but I decided to set it aside until the end of the project so I could concentrate on finishing it. It also gives me time to mentally prepare for it so the negative impact could be minimized. The decision to continue the project helped me figure out what is important to me and the importance of just focusing on it rather than anything else I couldn’t control. The more time I dedicate to this product, the more potential I find it could have and the more grateful I feel about not giving up.
So anything that sounds frightening or disastrous at the beginning might turn out to be not so bad after all. I’m grateful that this failure happened in the early stage so it didn’t affect me too much and I know what to do if the same thing happens again. It may sound like deceiving myself but if the development went on in a normal way, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to try out design and probably would never know how fun it could be.