Providing fast and effective help to migrants in need
SAIER InteliGente is a digital onboarding service for migrants that allows to digitally process information about their needs and identify emergency cases in due time, while also enhancing collaboration between different organizations and municipalities within the social service ecosystem. The goal of the project, done in collaboration with the City Hall of Barcelona, was to facilitate a more effective systemic response to the challenges posed by an increasing number of migrants coming to the city, while at the same time ensuring a wholesome and transparent journey for the latter. I chose to highlight the project here because I think it provides an instance of using digital technologies for an attempt to genuinely improve lives and because it served as an opportunity for me to improve my understanding of the intersections of business, technology, and design. Besides the general research and concept development activities, my particular contribution included the development of a Figma-prototype to showcase and test the service, allowing me to venture deeper into the tangible facets of UX/UI design.
Design Research | Service Design | UX/UI Design
I conducted ethnographic research with multiple stakeholders within the immigration system and identified an uncoordinated service delivery process with long waiting times as a key problem for newly arriving migrants in Barcelona
I assumed the team's designer role and developed several iterations of a Figma-prototype for the derived solution, a digital onboarding service for a streamlined and wholesome immigrant onboarding process
I served as a design thinking and agile development coach within the team and empowered my team members to venture into cross-disciplinary domains
The idea in a nutshell
Since 2015, the forced displacement of population has risen around the world due to humanitarian crises, wars, or other grievances. This development has challenged the asylum system in Spain as the high number of incoming migrants affects not only administrative processes but also private migration services, which are often interconnected with public services within a complex ecosystem of migration services.
The Service Center for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees (SAIER) is a one-stop service for migrants in Barcelona, run by the City Hall of Barcelona. It is an integrated welcome system for newcomers which offers information and counselling services in collaboration with local NGOs. The high increase in SAIER users during the past years, and the profile shift towards asylum seekers, especially asylum-seeking families, has resulted in long waiting times and queues, as well as an increasing number of social services requests at SAIER. This has ultimately led to bottlenecks and capacity problems especially in social services but also in first reception services where all users must pass through for a first analysis of their needs before being redirected to specialized partner services.
Thus, the challenge of this project was to improve the care process for SAIER users (with the primary goal to reduce waiting times and queues, and the additional goal to increase service quality) by using information technology as a facilitator of the improvements while protecting the human aspect of the service. Specifically, we developed a concept for a digital onboarding and emergency detection platform to connect SAIER with the users of its services, while also enhancing collaboration between different organizations and municipalities within the social service ecosystem. The core features of the platform are:
Migrants can use the service to provide information about their needs, schedule appointments, access information and store personal documents in an easy, secure, and convenient way.
AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY DETECTION
The platform evaluates the data provided, and automatically classifies cases based on vulnerability criteria, organizational responsibility criteria and type of service needed. This makes it possible to direct users to the right service and to detect emergency cases early on to assign fast tracks to people in vulnerable conditions.
Lastly, the tool can be used as a CRM tool for better work management, documentation and planning as well as for better coordination and information sharing with external services to provide fast and effective help across different entities.
To address the issue and arrive at our solution, we used a human-centered design approach to innovation with the aim to inquire into the needs of beneficiaries, the possibilities of technology, and the systemic requirements of a sustainable business. We thus engaged in an iterative process of understanding users, challenging assumptions, redefining problems, creating solutions, prototyping, and testing.
Specifically, we spent the first two months on understanding the problem which included a thorough analysis of the migration ecosystem in Barcelona as well as the role and functioning of SAIER there within. We conducted multiple in-depth interviews with various stakeholders (beneficiaries, private as well as public organizations, researchers, and systemic actors) which allowed us to gain a detailed understanding of user pain points, client needs and overall context. During this phase, I focused on understanding the systemic context of the issue by interviewing experts from academia and social organizations in different European countries. The following two months were spent on creating and testing a concept for a solution. We integrated user feedback in an iterative process of prototyping and testing which allowed us to validate our solution on a continuous basis. After an extensive problem research involving both field research in the local context as well as interviews with experts across the European migration landscape and the study of existing services and experiences in different countries, we identified three main problem areas: information availability, social emergencies, and organizational coordination.
LACK OF INFORMATION
In general, we identified a lack of information exchange between migrants and SAIER. Newcomers often did not know about available services and had problems finding reliable information online. The information is either difficult to find across many platforms or difficult to understand as most of the information is only available in Spanish or Catalan. On the SAIER side, there was no user information available before the first reception meetings which made it difficult to prepare the meetings according to user needs. Furthermore, users could not be pre-selected in case of emergencies or if no first reception meeting is needed due to a very clear need (e.g. language classes).
We also identified a high increase in social emergencies as a major problem (e.g. vulnerable families with minors who don’t have a place to live). Specifically, there were many asylum-seeking families who were not able cover their basic needs and were vulnerable as many asylum requests got rejected which impedes peoples’ chances to get a regular job. Also, external factors such as the high cost of living in Barcelona or Covid-19 led to an increase in social emergencies. Moreover, due to the unavailability of user data beforehand and the long waiting times for first reception meetings, emergency cases were detected “too late” which led to more and more severe emergency cases.
Lastly, we identified a collaboration and information sharing problem. We encountered many migrants searching for help at several institutions at the same time. Sometimes, they were sent from one organization to the next where they had to explain their cases repeatedly which resulted in confusion and frustration. On the SAIER side, we could identify a potential for better coordination and information-sharing with external migration services. Redirections of cases were usually done by phone or email which sometimes resulted in a loss of information. Moreover, every organization used a different system to document user data (or no system at all) which led to much double and manual work. Coordination and resource sharing offered room for improvement not only between SAIER and private actors but also with public actors such as social services centers in Barcelona and migration services with free capacities in other municipalities.
To tackle these issues, we developed SAIER InteliGente, a smart emergency detection and coordination tool with the aim to digitally collect user data, identify emergency cases in due time, and enhance collaboration between different organizations and municipalities. It is a two-sided platform consisting of an interface for the users of SAIER’s services and an interface for the organization itself. Developing and testing the concept was challenging because by this phase the Covid-19 epidemic had reached Europe, making in-person contact impossible, restricting all testing activities to online forms of communication. On an organizational level, we split the team in different sub-groups during the development phase to define a feature backlog based on existing research and collected feedback, to develop a Figma prototype for the to-be platform interfaces, and to showcase the prototype to possible end user groups and collect feedback. In this split I was solely responsible for the development of the prototype, while being partly involved in the backlog management. In total, three iterations of the prototype where developed, comprising two distinct interfaces, one for beneficiaries of social services and one for SAIER employees:
For migrants, the platform offers an all-in-one solution where relevant information can be accessed in one place (help center, appointments, and information documents). Furthermore, the app serves as digital wallet to store and manage personal documents. The app also offers flexible options and a transparent, personalized service what allows users to save time and money, as meetings can be scheduled in the app and in some cases, users are directly forwarded to specialized services, ultimately leading to fewer queues. Different iterations were developed to ensure an easily understandable user journey and to ease the collection of sensitive information. A key choice in designing the interface, besides keeping it clear and simple, was to make the help center accessible from all screen making helpful information about SAIER and migration processes as easy to find as possible.
For SAIER, the tool enables better coordination and resource sharing with other municipal services as well as external NGOs and other municipalities. At its core, the tool offers a CRM which can be accessed by all SAIER employees, providing information on daily tasks, user meetings, and the option to review, sort, filter, and edit cases by type (general, emergency), need, status and more criteria. Moreover, based on these filters different reports can be extracted to better control KPIs. Since users can be easily redirected to other services, waiting times are reduced. The fact that users feed the data into the system themselves, saves work and time for SAIER. Moreover, the availability of user data beforehand leads to better meeting preparations based on user needs and a better queue management with an automatic emergency detection what both results in an overall increased service quality and less waiting times.
As a consequence of our research indicating that many problems manifested across different organizations and therefore called for a holistic response, we decided that the same interface should be available to partnering organizations, enhancing coordination and communication with SAIER as information can be directly shared via the platform. Thus, less information would get lost and double work could be avoided. Dynamic access rights ensured that external partner services receive the required information while protecting the privacy of the user and keeping internal data safely within SAIER.