Be The Change
Civic Accountability Platform
UX Design, Government Innovation - Ongoing
Be the Change is a civic accountability app that uses real-time community input to empower issue advocacy, direct outreach to elected officials, and meaningful community action. November 2019, I joined beamdata (SaaS startup) to create the logic and visual flow for our flagship digital product. Now, I am the lead designer handling design, product management, and marketing for our app along with a web version coming soon.
Be The Change piloted in Pittsburgh for in the App Store August 6th, 2020.
Initial research, user testing,
feature ideation, prototyping,
Adobe Xd, Figma
Opening + Illustrations
Elected Official Dashboard
Elected officials have trouble connecting with their constituents outside of the vocal minority.
According to a Pew Research Center study, they found that young, low-income, and minority citizens don't vote because it's considered a low priority compared to maintaining finances, having food to eat, and other social stressors.
Initial Problem Discovery
Young, low-income, and minority citizens have lower political efficacy and community involvement because voting and other forms of civic engagement are often viewed as non-essential due to other stressors.
Technology is adapting, but government services and products aren't. Without an online presence, people often aren't aware of who their elected officials are and what they stand for.
The civic tech space is changing. According to another Pew Research Center study, 69% of all adults believe social media is important for getting politicians to pay attention to issues and create long-lasting movements.
I conducted semi-structured interviews with Carnegie Mellon students to understand their perspectives and test out this new problem space framed around voting.
To understand student activism and civic engagement experiences
To understand where the pain points were in the process
To learn general service fixes from a macro viewpoint beyond voting
Digging into the Landscape (~1 hour)
Findings Over Time
After analyzing the interviews through a codebook, there were consistent emerging themes that either boost or hinder college students' desire to be civically engaged. Icons indicate most frequent responses from interviews.
Lack of time
Students often don't prioritize social issues unless it's pressing
Too many information channels
People coming easily overwhelmed with varying news sources and info
People get fired up for an issue but often the sprints of activism lead to a lack of action over time
Mistrust of Media
People feel hindered by their own consumption because of click farms and fake headlines
Trust in Friends
People streamline the fake news check by trusting their friends did the research on social media
Reliance on Social Media
Social media spreads the news quickly and is a quick and easy way for people to be involved
I also thought it would be interesting to see if the issues and priorities that emerged were consistent for millennials and elected officials alike. I used the beamdata Instagram account to organize a short answer poll to engage with those outside of the CMU bubble.
Although only a handful of people responded, almost all of the responses were surrounding local/national election and filling out the census versus an emphasis on talking with friends or utilizing social media that came up with students.
Based on the research supplemented with some secondary research and discussions with elected officials, I was able to pinpoint pain points of elected officials currently along with those running for office.
Difficulty gathering information on neighborhood issues
There are challenges in keeping the community updated
Poor allocation of resources
By creating two personas, one for a college student and another for an elected official, it became easier to see where overlaps and opportunity gaps are.
How might we leverage current resources to encourage civic engagement between younger constituents and their local elected officials?
Turning Pain Points to Opportunity Gaps
How might we create a centralized source of information that is transparent and isn't subject to falsified information?
How might we build agency and progress in one's community and make it more tangible to citizens?
What if users could report problems and get real-time updates from district leaders, allowing elected officials to see what type of issues are being reported most in their area while directly communicating with their constituents.
Dynamic Menu Bar
Initial Feature Considerations - MVP
Home Page prioritizing list and map view
"New Post" Layout
Current Data-driven Ideations
The start-up environment at beamdata is different in that our soft launches inform how the product develops over time. After launching our MVP, I was able to get user feedback in the weeks following on all features along with the overall experience, from small tweaks to big UI changes.
Dynamic, Categorical Causes
Our MVP "new post" form was like a Google Form. It was rather static and didn't match with our illustration-based theme throughout the rest of the app.
We wanted to emphasize our initial goal of building a stronger digital community with a feedback loop so we included a new feature for state reps and senators to update users on legislative decisions made in session. To keep information hierarchy clear, I decided to split the action into separate pages with new icons.
Images Included in List View
Users preferred to see the images before expanding each post. It becomes a hard-to-read forum when it's text-heavy, causing low retention rates on the home page.
Previously, attached images only appeared when the post was expanded. This made the list view in the home page rather homogenous with each post undifferentiable from the last.
Before: Focus on GenZ and millennials with onboarding focus on
advocacy and political protests for civic engagement.
Users and stakeholders felt this concept was more anarchist than educational due to imagery and color options of the fiery orange color palette. The primary focus of the app is to act as a facilitator for political engagement for all ages and also for the older generations and elected officials
After: Illustration-focused to prevent partisan bias, acting as a
friendly facilitator for all ages (constituents and elected officials)
Users and stakeholders felt this branding was more trustworthy and represented government officials. The illustrative style makes it more friendly and doesn’t limit the user base to just older users.
(Style Guide/System Development led by Ikjong Choi)
1. Connect Directly with your Elected Officials
Whenever you make a post, your state senator or representative will get a notification and respond to whatever questions or suggestions you have.
Resolved Pain Point
This is all about constituents where they are at. With COVID-19 and Zoom, it has been easier for people to go to virtual town halls and events, but even then, there are citizens who don't have the time or resources to stay for every meeting. Be the Change brings the conversation at each individual's convenience
2. Accurate, Verified Information from Session Hearings
It's difficult to read every bill that's passed, this feature will summarize the information from each PA Senate hearing and relay important information for constituents including outcome and how particular individuals voted.
Resolved Pain Point
Resolves the issue of having multiple nodes of information where people don't know how accurate the information they're consuming is in Pittsburgh.
3. Dual Interface for Elected Officials/Admin + General Users
Only admin and elected officials will have the feature to create a legislative update, creating focus for general users to post discussions on things happening in their neighborhood for their elected officials to see.
Resolved Pain Point
Ensures the accuracy of disseminated information while building mutual trust and communication between elected officials and community members.
Impact + Reflection
Be the Change has garnered hundred of users within these last few weeks just within Senator Costa's constituency, and our opportunities have also expanded in ways we never initially thought of like partnering with universities to use Be the Change for their student body and administration. In these coming months, we'll be scaling up and onboarding a handful more of PA Senators and Representatives while also building out the web-based version for the University of Pittsburgh.
As a designer, I initially wasn't used to the fast-paced startup environment because I wanted to perfect every iteration before launching. But one of the hardest, most valuable lessons I've learned so far (yes, it's also applicable to life in general) is that you really won't know if you're achieving your mission unless you throw your work out there and then chip away at it.
Current Features + Impact