Service Design | 2016

Rescuing Leftover Cuisine: Retaining and Redesigning the Volunteer Experience

How can we redesign the Lead Food Rescuer experience to improve efficiency, satisfaction, and volunteer retention?

Why can't we do more to reduce food waste and feed the hungry that are right in front of us?

At the end of the day, most American restaurants must discard their perfectly edible, leftover food that is unsellable to customers. In NYC, where 1 in 3 is food insecure, this is an enormous wasted opportunity. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine was founded by Robert Lee in 2013 in an attempt to tackle the complex twin issues of food waste and food insecurity by establishing a volunteer network of "food rescuers" who pick up and transport food to local shelters. RLC is able to work with smaller businesses that are passed up by larger food donation services, who cannot logistically run too many individual pick-ups, because most RLC volunteer pick-ups are done by foot. To date, RLC has worked with nearly 3000 volunteers to provide over 600,000 meals for many hungry people.

The challenge: a corps of committed Lead Volunteers is essential for the model to succeed

RLC depends on trained "Lead Volunteers" to commit to weekly shifts. Though there is a calendar of open events that any ad hoc volunteers can sign up for, RLC's partners rely on steady, consistent volunteers to pick up every day. Since most businesses pay for waste disposal, missing a shift could mean increased costs to the business as well as hungry mouths at the partnering shelters.

Though many Lead Volunteers are enthusiastic and committed to the cause, volunteer burn-out and attrition is a concern for RLC. Understanding how to better attract high potential volunteers, make their shift smoother and less burdensome, and improve retention will be critical to the survival and scaling of this organization.

My involvement: design research, insight synthesis, and prototyping a mobile solution

Having grown up in a household that decried food waste, it pained me as a recent transplant to New York City to see the steady stream of perfectly edible food waste while so many food-insecure people were around the streets. After volunteering myself for a little while, I reached out to Robert to set up a design research project.

Using the double diamond design framework, my work was broken into 4 phases: Discovery, Synthesis, Ideation, and Creation.

Discovery: Gathering context through shadowing, surveys, and in-depth interviews

For the "Discovery" phase, I gathered some context by participating in shifts with other volunteers and reviewing previous survey feedback to come up with interview topics in 5 general categories:

  • Identity (who they are)
  • Acquisition (how they found RLC)
  • Onboarding (how they were trained)
  • Participation (how the shift went)
  • Retention (how they felt about their involvement)

Working with RLC, I reached out to a diverse, representative group of 15 volunteers to hold in-depth (~1 hour) telephone interviews.

Synthesis: Finding themes amongst pages of interviews

With the completed interviews, some main themes began to emerge as shared demographic traits of committed volunteers, as well as shared pain points and emotional disappointments during the volunteer experience. Amazingly, nearly every volunteer expressed the same primary benefit they got from participating in RLC, which echoes the clarity of purpose for RLC's mission.

Synthesis: Developing personas from interview insights

From the interviews, 4 types of personas emerged with common traits and types of interactions with RLC:

  • Beth, a busy professional who believed in the organization's cause and volunteered whenever she was available
  • Sunny, a steady and reliable Lead Rescuer who committed to weekly shifts
  • Sam, a college student with volunteer interest or requirements and a flexible schedule
  • Gina, a recent graduate with more resources and time flexibility than students, but also may rely on RLC as a part-time income source

Synthesis: Persona of Sunny, the stable volunteer that formed the core of RLC's volunteer base

Of the personas that came out of the interviews, I developed in-depth journeys for each of the personas to attribute common example issues that a volunteer may encounter, and how those issues are currently worked around now. With the benefit of having a defined persona, the walk through of pain points was much more focused

Ideation: Brainstorming solutions from the insights

Once the main themes were collected, I highlighted the main Attracting and Detracting I heard about RLC, along with calling out a list of the improvement ideas I heard from the interviews themselves.

To focus the project and make sure that there was a concrete, actionable product that came out of this design research, I distilled these ideas into 4 main categories that each addressed a specific group of needs for the users and/or did something to emphasize the attractive parts of RLC that encouraged retention.

Creation: Refining app flows and wireframes with high-fidelity mocks and an interactive prototype

Of these ideas, Robert was most interested in focusing on developing a mobile app for shift simplification and coordination. Since RLC is largely a coordination and task assignment exercise, having a mobile app as central to the organization would not only simplify the shift process for volunteers, but also facilitate future communication.

Working with RLC's development team, I designed mocks based on the wireframes in Sketch and exported designs to Zeplin for style speccing. This project is currently on-going at time of writing, and future versions of the app will be prototyped in Invision.