GrassRoots

Project Type: Interaction Design

Course: Graduate Studio II // Professors Peter Scupelli and Bruce Hanington // Spring 2014

Group Members: Shannon Impellicceiri, Alex Sciuto, Leslie Bloomfield

Our team was chosen to present this semester-long project at the 2014 Microsoft Design Expo in Redmond, WA. The design prompt was, "in a world with a billion sensors, how will we make sense of it all?" GrassRoots is a neighborhood sensor system that allows people to reconnect with their neighbors and strengthen their communities. The project won an award for "Best Community Engagement" at the expo.


1. Territory Definition

The prompt for this project is "designing for a world with a billion sensors." Our group identified geographical neighborhoods as our key area of focus. We are interested in exploring ways that sensor technology can be used to strengthen communities within a neighborhood space, and promote neighborhood development efforts.

We define a neighborhood as the geographical space in which people live. This space may include an individual’s home or apartments, neighboring homes, public facilities, sidewalks, streets, businesses, and schools. Neighborhoods consist of people such as families, neighbors, friends, workers, joggers, walkers, visitors, patrons, and local leaders. Some of the neighborhood development efforts we are considering include improving neighborhood safety, improving the experience of public spaces, creating connections with neighborhood members, and encouraging grassroots community organization. In considering how sensors can be used to build neighborhoods and neighborhood communities, we considered issues including access to data, privacy concerns, long-term sustainability, and reversing the current trend of declining social interactions between neighbors.

Visual design of territory map by Alex Sciuto


2. Discovery and Exploratory Research Synthesis

Affinity diagram of survey responses

Affinity diagram of survey responses

Going into the exploratory research stage, our goal was to gather as many perspectives as possible from neighbors in a variety of neighborhoods. 

 

Neighborhood map drawn by an interviewee

Neighborhood map drawn by an interviewee

Diagram of pioneers and their key qualities

Diagram of pioneers and their key qualities

Survey

We distributed a short online survey via Survey Monkey about peoples' basic experiences in and perceptions of their neighborhood. Each of our team members joined the social network Nextdoor in our respective neighborhoods, and shared the survey with our neighbors. We also shared the survey though our Facebook networks to solicit a variety of responses from non-local residents. We received 40 responses, and created an affinity diagram to synthesize our findings.

 

Interviews

We conducted several one-on-one interviews with people who offered their contact information through the online survey. We asked them more in depth questions using directed storytelling. We also asked them to complete a mapping exercise, in which they drew and highlighted places of significance to them in their neighborhoods on a map. One particularly interesting interview was with a woman who is a community leader in Friendship, a local neighborhood that has successfully undergone a major revitalization in the last couple decades. She stressed the importance of the role of pioneers in a neighborhood, who take the initiative to bring people together and organize community projects, who are key in creating a sense of community within a neighborhood.

 

Literature Review & Case Studies

We were particularly interested in studying neighborhoods undergoing revitalization efforts. We looked at several local neighborhoods, including Friendship, East Liberty, Braddock, and Garfield, which have passionate groups and leaders heading the revitalization efforts.

 

Key Insights

In the survey, most people indicated that their most memorable experience in their neighborhood was a time when neighbors were helping each other out, or socializing together. However, in one-on-one interviews, most people indicated that they don't have friends in their neighborhood, and wished they had stronger relationships with their neighbors. Yet when asked what they do to connect with their neighbors or get involved in their community, most people reluctantly admit that they don't make much effort to reach out. Moving forward, we are interested in looking at ways that sensor technology can be used to supplement the role of a pioneer in a neighborhood.


3. Concept and Generative Research

 

Expert Interviews

In order to gain a better understanding of the neighborhood revitalization process and the roles of the people involved, we conducted several expert interviews. This included interviews with a community leader who founded a community garden, a Pittsburgh historian, the Executive Director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, and two former neighborhood board members. 

 

Participatory Design Workshop

We organized a participatory design workshop with 10 residents of Friendship at a coffee shop in their neighborhood. We recruited participants by advertising the event on Nextdoor, and by passing out approximately 150 flyers door to door. During the workshop, we led an activity in which the residents built an abstract map of their neighborhood by drawing, using blocks, pictures, and associative words. We then led the participants through two hypothetical scenarios: one was what to do with an empty lot in the neighborhood, and the second was how to address a minor crime spree. They had to talk through the problems as a group, and decide not only how they would solve them, but also what strategies they would use to build consensus and organize people to work together. Finally, we introduced the idea of a future technology landscape with sensors, and asked them to consider how they would use future technology to solve each of the two problems.

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Design Principles

We synthesized our findings using an affinity diagram and the ELITO method. We used the key issues that people brought up in the workshop, as well is our findings from the expert interviews, to develop the following five design principles to guide our concept generation:

Our solution must...

  1. Be able to reconcile different points of view within the community.
  2. Disseminate relevant information throughout the neighborhood.
  3. Create opportunities for unstructured social interactions in physical spaces.
  4. Help neighbors become stakeholders in the community
  5. Help concerned neighbors build support for problems they see in their neighborhood.

 

Concepts and Storyboards

Using the design principles as our guide, we developed three potential concepts. Each concept is designed for 10-20 years in the future, when we assume that sensor technology and infrastructure will be commonplace and widespread in neighborhoods. 

Concept #1: Sensor Recipes Neighbors will be able to create personalized dashboards to display the information that is relevant to them using customized algorithms.

Concept #1: Sensor Recipes

Neighbors will be able to create personalized dashboards to display the information that is relevant to them using customized algorithms.

Concept #2: Neighborhood Storytelling Objects in neighborhoods will be smart interconnected devices that can sense and interact with the world around them. Furthermore, neighbors will be able to tag these objects with pictures, messages, and stories to produce a living portrait of their neighborhood.

Concept #2: Neighborhood Storytelling

Objects in neighborhoods will be smart interconnected devices that can sense and interact with the world around them. Furthermore, neighbors will be able to tag these objects with pictures, messages, and stories to produce a living portrait of their neighborhood.

Concept #3: The Happiness Game Neighbors will be encourages to spread happiness to other neighbors throughout the neighborhood. We assume that personal wearables of the future will include biosensors that can detect changes in emotion. This data could be used to link interactions with neighbors to a boost in happiness.

Concept #3: The Happiness Game

Neighbors will be encourages to spread happiness to other neighbors throughout the neighborhood. We assume that personal wearables of the future will include biosensors that can detect changes in emotion. This data could be used to link interactions with neighbors to a boost in happiness.

Concept and storyboard sketches by Shannon Impellicceiri


4. Refine and Evaluative Research

User Testing

We went through several rounds of user testing in order to try out and improve upon our various concepts. We used quick speed-dating sessions to test additional storyboard concepts, paper wireframe prototypes, and low-fidelity click-through prototypes.

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Sensor Kit

We developed the concept of a modular sensor kit, which could be purchased by a single neighbor and expanded upon by other neighbors in the network. We went through several iterations of prototyping, during which we received feedback from a variety of average neighbors, as well as community leaders.

We developed the concept of a modular sensor kit, which could be purchased by a single neighbor and expanded upon by other neighbors in the network. We went through several iterations of prototyping, during which we received feedback from a variety of average neighbors, as well as community leaders.

1st Generation Kit: Early Prototype

1st Generation Kit: Early Prototype

2nd Generation Kit: Paper Prototype

2nd Generation Kit: Paper Prototype

3rd Generation Kit: Contents

3rd Generation Kit: Contents

3rd Generation Kit: Final Protoype

3rd Generation Kit: Final Protoype

GrassRoots Platform

The GrassRoots platform is designed for web and mobile use. It allows neighbors to:

  • Connect: Create personal profile pages, and sync their accounts with shared neighborhood sensors, as well as their own smart home and personal wearable sensors. Privacy settings can be configured to control with sensors can be shared, viewed, or hidden from others in the system.
  • Visualize: View data being transmitted from shared sensors in the surrounding neighborhood. See the data visualized through custom graphs and charts.
  • Create: Use simple logic to interact with neighbors and the surrounding space in new ways. Use sensor data to send custom alerts or initiate actions through the smart objects linked into the network.

5. Reflect and Communicate

Our team was chosen to present our project at the 2014 Microsoft Design Expo in Redmond, WA. Our project received an award for "Best Community Engagement." Our video sketch is shown at the top of this page, and a recording of our presentation at the expo is below.