During the night of July 15, 2021, the Ahr Valley was hit by a flood disaster. Entire villages and landscapes were engulfed in a matter of hours, and countless houses were destroyed. After the disaster many emergency services, aid organizations, and volunteers traveled to the affected areas.
Among the volunteers was the „Dachzeltnomaden" community. They decided to stay in the Ahr Valley to provide permanent help and founded the "Dachzeltnomaden Hilfsorganisation" (DZNH; English= Rooftop Nomads Aid Organization). Affected individuals could contact DZNH and request assistance for the reconstruction of their homes. DZNH then took care of organizing a team of helpers and providing the necessary equipment.
Especially during the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, effective and efficient assistance was made difficult by many challenges: These included uncoordinated planning by public institutions, a lack of transparent information flow, and the absence of a central point of contact that could provide an overview of where help was needed and who could offer it. For example, the managing director of DZNH, Dennis, reported how THW (Technical Relief Agency) staff recorded important information solely by hand. He saw the risk of information loss and a significant shortcoming in sharing information with others.
These experiences led DZNH to reach out to us. Dennis had the idea of developing a digital platform that could serve as a central hub for information exchange and communication during environmental disasters. We were inspired by the DZNH's determination and wanted to help, so we initiated a joint pro bono project.
In the first step, we conducted a structured workshop with a small team from DZNH to gather and evaluate relevant information. Together, we defined a more precise problem statement, we identified relevant user groups, and visualized current workflows in the form of user journeys. It quickly became apparent that the idea of a digital information platform was quite ambitious, and we had concerns about future user requirements. As a result, we prioritized analyzing the DZNH organization to gain more clarity.
We asked ourselves: How can we optimize the processes of such an aid organization through digitalization? Is the kind of tool the managing director envisioned a suitable and viable solution for aid organizations? And can such a solution be scaled to meet the complex challenges that may arise during a flood disaster?
To better understand the processes and challenges of DZNH, we interviewed eight helpers from different camp areas. Due to time constraints, we conducted the interviews remotely, but we were able to get a glimpse of the camp through images.
We asked the helpers about their daily work and the challenges they face in collaborating with each other, other organizations, and the affected individuals. The synthesis of the interviews resulted in the following key findings:
In addition to the interviews, we conducted research on "Digitalization in Disaster Relief" to learn from similar projects in other parts of the world, which highlighted the importance of network stability.Infrastructures can be damaged during disasters, making the use of digital communication and documentation channels difficult and unreliable. Data protection and data security also add complexity to the implementation, requiring comprehensive expertise and regulations.
Based on these findings, we concluded that developing a standalone digital platform for DZNH was not the appropriate solution.
However, their processes could be optimized cost-effectively and efficiently with existing applications. We introduced them to the tool Trello and provided concrete suggestions on how to map and organize their construction site planning there. Instead of communicating through numerous and confusing WhatsApp groups, we suggested using a communication tool like Slack. This would allow DZNH teams to divide their topics into channels and assign relevant individuals. Maintaining an overview would be easy. With a smartphone app, Slack could be easily used by helpers with laptops at the camp or on the construction sites.
Research saves money and prevents inappropriate solutions:
This ultimately led us to the following:
We would like to sincerely thank all the Roof Tent Nomads for their dedication and hard work during the relief efforts in the Ahr Valley! Your motivation to take action and willingness to make changes for the greater good has been truly inspiring to us.
We have learned a lot from you and are delighted that we could assist you in your work.
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"Would you like to know more about service design? Tanja has been working in UX design for over 15 years. At Ergosign, she works with various companies from different industries, primarily focusing on designing services and processes. Her approach always revolves around the user, ensuring that the services are aligned with the needs and expectations of the customers."