Sunday, May 21, 2006

It begins: summer plans

Our team
We have a final core design team for the summer; Ben Salinas, Mel Chua, and Chandra Little.

Ben is a general engineering sophomore with a lot of experience working with and contacting nonprofit organizations, and will be in Texas this summer. Ben believes math should be done in color.

Mel is a senior electrical engineering student and a programmer interested in interface design; she will be in Boston this summer. In her free time, she plays a broken-down piano named Hector, despite not being able to hear the top two octaves on it.

Chandra is a senior mechanical engineering student with the most experience in the user design process, and will be in Europe this summer. She knows how to dance the chaotic macarena.

The advisory board
Our advisory board currently consists of two engineering professors (one experienced with engineering for nonprofits, one experienced with computer science and interface design), but we are looking to increase the board's size to about 7 people by adding people outside of academia, particularly engineers, businesspeople, and NGO administrators.

The "Keep Me Posted" list
If you'd like to keep in touch with what's going on, let us know. We'll be writing updates and notes on this blog approximately once a week, so the RSS feed is a good way to stay up-to-date. Feel free to chime in with comments or questions any time - and if you'd like to help, email us and let us know!

Summer communications
Since we are a distributed team, we need a good communications infrastructure to hold us together. We're primarily using Basecamp and Campfire, with a lot of email, and having chats once a week to report-in and set focuses for the next week. Since Chandra will be traveling through most of June, she'll be scheduling the chats 'till she settles down in July.

Summer goals
Our exit criteria for the summer are as follows:
  1. Knowledgeable overview of all possible user groups, with our final specific user group defined.
  2. Knowledgeable overview of whole possible problem space, with our final problem space within that defined, and a clear final problem to tackle.
  3. 10 rough prototypes that address the final problem, ready to begin taking to users.

In order to do this, we've divided our summer (12 weeks) into 4 phases of 3 weeks each.
  1. (Now-June 11) Inquiry. Information gathering; contact people, interview, get a feel for what they do and how they operate. Not yet thinking of problems or solutions, or categorizing our data yet; just getting a good grasp of what kind of space is out there.
  2. Synthesis. This is where we play with categories, creating personas, profiles, user values, and organizing what we know in a useful way. Final definition of all possible user groups and problem spaces will be complete at the end of this section.
  3. Brainstorming. Iterate through each category of problem spaces and user groups and brainstorm possible solutions. Lots of them.
  4. Refining. Choosing the final user group and problem, and selecting about 10 solutions to prototype. By the end of this section, we will have our first rounds of prototypes completed and going out to get feedback from our users.

Who's working on what

Mel and Chandra
will be focusing their efforts on interviewing engineers. What does an engineer do with their day? What do they want to be doing? How does volunteering fit into their busy lives (or how could it)? If you've studied engineering then took a non-engineering job, if you manage engineers, if you're a young engineer, a retired engineer, working any job at any location, they would love to hear from you.

Ben is trying to learn about NGOs, since there are so many different kinds. What are different ways that NGOs are started, run, grown, and structured? How do projects get started within them, what kind of people work with them? If you work with or within an NGO, he would love to hear from you.

How you can help
If you're willing to be interviewed (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour) by one of us, please let us know - we're looking to understand the experiences of a lot of different people, so if you're interested in NGOs with technical problems or engineers looking for volunteer opportunities, please let us know!


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