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Portland Street Response

How might we make it easier for Portlanders to get an effective response to their non-emergency issue?


Student Project benefitting Portland Street Response

Project Outputs: 


User test


Jake Crahan

SJ Bowden

Samantha Caruthers-Knight

Summer Blahnik

Humaira Tasneem


My roles:  

Researcher, service designer, user testing facilitator

The number of 911 calls about houseless people in Portland is on the rise, but police and emergency services are often not the most effective solution — most calls don't require a gun and a badge. How might we help 911 reduce the number of non-emergency calls they receive?


During a 4-day design sprint facilitated by Roel Ulners, my cohort at PNCA's Collaborative Design program designed and prototyped a new hotline and app to allow callers get the right kind of help.



We started our abbreviated design sprint with a quick round of research. Roel, who volunteered with Portland Street Response and was involved in emergency preparedness, gave us a quick verbal and visual download of the problem area. Our small team of five divided desk research and shared key takeaways from our review of the literature. 


To define our challenge, we each wrote "How might we" statements and as a team aligned on one to center our solution around: How might we make it easier for citizens to get an effective response to a non-emergency, homeless-related issue?

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Our team interviewed a small sample of three potential users: two campus security people at PNCA and one neighbor who lived in apartments across the street from the school. As a team, we used empathy maps to explore two different users in specific scenarios. One was a Portlander witnessing someone on the street having a mental health crisis. The other was a business owner who finds a houseless person blocking their business entrance. Drawing from our own experiences and learnings from the interviews, we explored what these people might think, see, say, feel, hear and do. 



Based on our understanding of these users and their needs, we collaboratively developed design criteria, then used a storyboarding exercise to start ideating concepts. We put our individual ideas on the wall and used dot voting to upvote successful components of each idea and used the upvoted ideas as a starting point for developing a more cohesive concept that could turn into a prototype we could test. Our solution: 3113, a new hotline and app that allowed callers get the right kind of help. The city would need an awareness campaign in addition to setting up the product. 

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As a prototype, we created an informational presentation (see below) that included the campaign, a scenario storyboard, and wireframes of an app version of the hotline. The presentation format gave us a visual reference to walk potential users through the idea in order to get their feedback. I ran testing sessions with two of our earlier interviewees. I talked through the presentation, asked for initial thoughts, then went through the presentation again, asking them to respond in more detail to each touchpoint.


We presented our findings and ideas to New Avenues for Youth staff and leadership along with a detailed document outlining our thinking and insights. Because of the sprint format of the Social Impact Lab, our work was used as a jumping off point rather than a destination for the organization.

Key outcomes:
— Staff saw their own work and thinking reflected back to them
— A new engagement program was outlined using existing platforms for immediate staff use
— New Avenues received a set of design criteria that could be applied to multiple engagement strategies
— Fresh ideas gave new momentum and encouragement to staff while dealing with the challenges of Covid


User feedback was positive enough that Roel was eager to share our idea with the Portland Street Response board. As one of my first design sprints, it was incredible to see how much our small team accomplished in such a short amount of time. I also truly became a believer in the power of an intentional, structured, human-centered process like the design sprint.

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