How We Can Hack User-Centered Design to Serve Nonprofits

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For tech design/building AND advocacy campaigns, groups need to know their user. User understanding can help inform your advocacy strategy.

What do you want to know about users to inform a tech project?


  • What do users understand about your motivations?
  • What is the level of access to tech?
  • What access to tech do they have (tech, connectivity)?
  • What devices to do they use?
  • What is their existing network?
  • Context: work/home/time-pressure
  • What is the user's language
  • Who are the constituents?
    • Age-population demographics
  • Do they associate tech use w/ social position? (as an indicator of status?)
  • Culture and its relationship to symbolism
  • What activities are they engaged in that we need to support training
    • how much time does the user have to learn this tool?
    • How much time will it take users to learn this tool?
    • Is there a network of helpers?
  • Incentive
    • how will this improve user's current workflow?
  • Where are they at now?
    • How do you do x now?
    • Why do you do it that way?
    • What are preferred methods/means of communications
    • What are they familiar with? What do they use?
  • Potential barriers
    • Do other tools exist and what are the barriers to adopting them?
    • What are the user's concerns about this tech? And it's implementation?
    • Anticipated hurdles?
    • Risks?
    • Will using tech be an additional barrier?
  • Is privacy or anonymity a concern?
    • What attitudes do people have about privacy?
    • What benefits do they seek?
  • What is affordable?
    • How much will this cost the user? Is it worth it?
  • What are preferred methods of sharing challenges/bugs/feedback?

Steps you take to develop an advocacy strategy:

  • What is your vision for success?
  • Ask your client to write the epitaph.
  • What are the preconditions? This is where we start to get down to the people.
  • Then stakeholder mapping and power analysis.
    • Do a spectogram to map all those people (from previous activity) along a line from supporters on one end and opponents on the other end, w/ neutral folks in the middle. “Stakeholder” = people who are impacted or involved.
    • What do you do with this people?
      • Allies you mobilize
      • neutral people you want to educate
      • opponents you want to counter
    • To prioritize, you want to put these people on a map in relation to power, using a vertical axis on the same horizontal line
  • Then, use this info to identify the kinds of tactics you'll need to influence your target/prioritized stakeholders

These resources/activities can be found at Another similar approach to developing campaign strategy:

How do these steps correlate with the user-design process?

  • Stakeholders could also be your user...
  • Stakeholders could turn into user personas...
    • Ex: After going through a campaign strategy session a transparency/accountability org that decided to build a ranking platform to pressure gov't to release public info. But after more user research, they realized that gov't users need more info on what info they need to release. So they needed to add that to their platform.

Another approach to user-research:

  • You take the product, and the persona
    • Product: this could look like a paper based drawing of the tech you're proposing and think through the implications, components, etc.
    • Persona: who are the markets you're trying to reach?
      • Use pictures of your target audience to make it more concrete. Pictures are particularly helpful because we can sometimes forget who we're building this thing for. A picture can be a good reminder.
      • Do some social media research on your target audience to build a personal
  • Generate – ideation process. What is the problem and what is the pain point to identify potential interventions.
  • Select
  • Design
  • Building
  • Promote