Design ideas to support community initiatives

Idea Development

Through the research project, the research team catalogued ideas that popped up during workshops and interviews, and de-briefing sessions within the research team. At the end of the discovery process, we conducted an “ideation” session with the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, generating ideas for practical tools, services and improvements that could help to meet the needs that were surfaced through the research.

From this process, 63 unique ideas emerged. We wanted to test several ideas in practice, creating low-fi prototypes that initiative leaders could see, interact with and respond to. By doing so, we could see whether our assumptions of how to design for community initiatives were founded, and generate additional insights into the specific areas of need.

Six of the ideas were selected through a prioritisation process that focused on impact, feasibility, ‘prototypability’ and need. Our research partners also participated in this exercise, using an online tool called UsabiliTest that allowed them to drag-and-drop the different ideas on a 2×2 feasibility/impact matrix.

The prototypes were developed by the research team, using the principle of the Minimal Viable Product, or MVP, to convey the intended idea. The prototypes were then tested in three focus groups, each with three individuals who are either current founders of community initiatives, or have expressed interest in starting their own initiative. They were asked to interact with and respond to the prototypes, providing insights into whether and how they would use each of them, and ideas for improvement. These insights are used to document how each prototype could be improved, and equally importantly, distill a series of design considerations for community initiatives. While the prototypes have not been implemented in practice, the information has been documented in the below section, together with a short list of design considerations distilled from the user feedback.


The idea prototypes and the corresponding feedback can be found in the below links:

Design Considerations for Community Initiatives


Informality is an important identity marker. Community initiatives differentiate themselves from more professionalised institutions, such as NGOs, through a more organic way mode of operating. Designs should not be too corporate or oriented towards a normative view of ‘work,’ rather they should feel inclusive, community-based and “accessible to regular people.”

Similarly, many community initiatives “do small things.” Support should be tailored towards this scale of work. It’s difficult for many initiatives to relate to capacity building programmes for larger organisations with big ambitions.

Initiative leaders are busy, often fitting in their projects on top of full time work. Design for community initiatives can recognise this by making sure that any support is easy and flexible to access. Quality control is of particular importance to assure the initiative leaders that they will not be wasting their time.

Niche needs. Initiative leaders are unsure about the best channels to receive the support they need, especially when their needs are very niche and specific to their project (e.g., how to obtain insurance for a community garden). Design should account for the wide diversity and uniqueness amongst community initiatives, and carefully consider what services and support are possible to offer at scale, and what needs to be offered on a one-to-one basis.

Need to balance technology with a humanistic element. There is a skepticism of technology (bots, forums, platforms) as a mechanism to engage with community initiatives. Technology is not by any means seen as a bad thing, but the design should reflect that community initiatives deeply value human relationships, trust and networks as a way of working.

Establish trust. Initiative leaders can be wary of the intentions of those who wish to support them; this can be addressed by clearly stating the background, motivation, terms and conditions upfront. One participant verbalised this distrust by saying, “I would only go to this event [for help] if I was really desperate…I would be worried that people would try to steal my ideas or sell me insurance.”

Desire to give back. Initiative leaders do not want to impose on others or seem like they are asking for handouts. To counter this, support schemes can show how the initiative can add personal or professional value back to their partners.

Material rewards are a turn-off for people who are working in this space, and are often seen as an incentive for people who not are truly committed to the cause.

Fear of bad actors and “trolls.” Initiative leaders have a difficult time filtering through all of the resources and support out there, and knowing what’s real and credible. They desire legitimacy, checks and balances and other mechanisms to reduce clutter and ensure the sincerity of the participants.