Community Response Platform

  • ClientIBM Security Volunteer Group
  • IndustryTechnology, Social Good
  • ServicesStrategy, UX and Visual Design
  • WebsiteN/A Internal Project
Project background

This project started out in early March 2020 when healthcare workers were running out of PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies. IBM-ers formed a volunteer group to help with mask making and distribution efforts in our communities. Volunteers within that group with more technical skills, such as myself, formed an agile team to help.

Our challenge was to understand the needs of volunteers, create a process and then an intuitive platform to organize their efforts – from scratch.

Initial solution

The project attracted volunteers with different skillsets from all over the country. Our proposed solution would empower them to utilize their skills as part of a larger effort that necessitated organization, assistance and empathy.

Our initial approach was to define a supply chain process complimented by an online form that collected volunteer data and mask requests. This early solution (Solution 0) centered on match-making and relied heavily on manual data entry and processing by admin volunteers. This prompted the creation of a database to house vital information for future us by our future technology.

Through qualitative interviews with our volunteers (users) we were able to synthesize their feedback with results from design thinking exercises to actionable insights we could use to inform our progress.

Design thinking and user research

The team utilized enterprise design thinking exercises to identify true user needs, pain points and align our team on next steps.

As a result we were able to identify 6 unique users that enabled us to create empathy maps for each of their personas. We collaborated with core volunteer members on these maps for a more holistic view. One very interesting insight was that volunteers were looking for the support of like-minded people. They not only wanted, but needed a community that understood.

From there our team completed multiple exercises to assess priorities, ideas, features, and roadmaps. We continued to conduct qualitative interviews and user testing throughout our journey.

Pain points

Inevitably, we discovered a critical pain point with the user experience. Newly signed volunteers were hitting a wall. They had filled out the online form and were excited to contribute, but after going through the process, they were were met with silence on how they could get started.

Additional interviews were the key to helping us remember that this was also a volunteer outlet for admins and that they had limited time to contribute–the root cause of the pain point. This led to a slower matching process. In light of this, we were able to prioritize this pain point before moving on and iterated based on the feedback of these users.

Solving for user experience

We took into consideration that we were moving toward a platform and took advantage of the database we had created with the data. The solution we came up with was showing the data visually through the platform as an MVP. Admins would be able to search by zip code and see volunteer information, donations and mask requests in one place with two different filtering methods. This solution required us to define levels of administrative rights per user group to protect volunteer data. We were also able to add a note feature to profiles and requests that enabled admins to receive instant updates without the need to manually cross-reference with spreadsheets.

The advantage of this approach ensured that data input with these notes could be re-used as comments once the project evolved into an “activity” model.

Once this pain point was solved, we were able to move forward with our roadmap. We were looking to make a ticketing and activity based system that people of all ages and technology expertise would use. We focused on reducing cognitive load on users with less expertise by creating a concise UX language and simple user flows. If our team deemed them as acceptable solutions, we would then put them through one final pass in order to ensure the flow wasn’t mired by any unnecessary steps.

Our efforts on this product are still ongoing with current evaluations on how to add a measure of empathy across the platform.


To date, we’ve successfully facilitated the national distribution of over 25,000 IBM-er made masks. While the bulk of our donations were cloth masks and N-95 covers, we also had a supply of specialty masks, 3D printed masks and shields. These masks were put into the hands of doctors, nurses, nursing home attendants, police, fire fighters and people working with the deaf or hearing impaired.