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Going Digital

Have you ever wondered what kind of resettlement journeys do newly-come refugees go through? Especially in their first 90 days when they are still feeling so intimidated to be in the country so far away from their home?

As one of nine resettlement agencies in the U.S., the International Rescue Committee provides clients with a caseworker to coordinate on tasks, as well as many other needs that clients may have. Refugees came in with diverse backgrounds, very different literacy levels and familiarity with technologies. While caseworkers have been proactive in using different digital applications to help with different needs, much of the communication is still relied on laborious work and often creates misunderstandings. This project will present to you how did my team come up with a systematic and streamlined communications application to avoid strains on time and resources for both the caseworker and clients.

Currently, in the refugee resettlement process at the IRC, client-caseworker communications are unstructured and conducted across multiple channels like Google Voice, SMS, Facebook, WhatsApp, and in-person communication. While caseworkers have been proactive in using each of these channels to enhance communication with clients, there are desperate needs for a systematic and streamlined communications system to avoid strains on time and resources for both the caseworker and client.

For example, a client may miss a voicemail from her caseworker — creating delays on a time-sensitive task like enrolling their children for the upcoming school year. In other cases, while it is impossible for staff to check with each other for every single activity for every single clients, staff from two departments may scheduled two appoints for a client at the same time. On the other hand, clients come in with a broad spectrum of English literacy levels, literacy levels and technology preferences. When a client with very limited English level receives an English message or shows up at a cultural orientation class without an interpreter onsite, the communications in these cases are extremely difficult.

To gain a deeper understanding of who we’re designing for, what the stakeholders’ needs are, and to experience the resettlement process firsthand, we partnered with the most tech-savvy IRC regional resettlement offices - the IRC Atlanta office, for research, testing and piloting.

Based our research and the fact that many clients come in without access to data plan and Wi-Fi, the solution we landed on is a web-based application on the IRC staff side and a SMS based function on client’s side.

Given this format, how might we:

Measure the comprehension of the messages received by clients?

Reduce the possibilities of miscommunication and time invested in waiting for responses from different departments?

Best solve the obstacles in translation?

The team came up with five core features of this application, which will address the touch points we identified individually or collaboratively.

We developed this product in an agile manner. The research, develop and piloting process took 3 months in total. We have deployed the product for testing in the IRC Atlanta office for a month and will gather feedback for revision before we rolling out the product to more regional resettlement office. If the application is well-received at different regional offices, we will make this product open-source, allow other agencies to use and tailor it to their own needs.

Yuxin Cheng

I am currently in the last year of pursuing my MFA degree in Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons School of Design, and is working as a Design Fellow at the International Rescue Committee (the IRC). My background was in Visual Communication Design before starting the Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons. In my current program, I learnt design-led research practices, system-thinking methods and a broader application of design. My research, strategy and design skills brought me a fellowship opportunity at the Airbel Center, the innovation lab at the IRC, where I am working on how might we use technologies to better serve refugee resettlement and enhance the refugee experience when they first come to the States.

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