Calling for Power of Design in Action

Competition Details


by Raelynn Oleary
Co-authors: Matt Powers, Tzu-Wei Powers

When a major disaster hits close to home, most people have one of two reactions: “Where can I get help?” or “How can I help those who need it?” Being unable to answer either question puts a person in the unfortunate position of feeling helpless and disconnected in the midst of a confusing and dangerous environment. Aid workers and organizations will certainly arrive on the scene soon. However, their progress through the disaster scene to those in need will be slow. The delay is due partly to logistical issues inherent to providing large amounts of material aid in a disaster zone, but also due to a lack of local knowledge. Additionally, aid organizations’ expertise is in providing immediate aid, not in long-term community building or engaging those in the population who were not immediately affected by the disaster and have help to offer their neighbors. To fill this gap, we introduce Scout.

Scout is an information gathering, organization and visualization system that engages local volunteers.Through the use of a specialized toolkit, the volunteers gather aid requirements, pool community resources and match available aid with those in need. The information gathered by the local volunteers is collected by aid organizations and visualized in a custom application to aid logistical decisions of the distribution of material and manpower.

The Scout toolkit includes cards designed for detailed documentation of aid needs in the community and a map of the area to visually record high level information on where aid is needed or available. While the physical design makes the task easier, it is the social design that sets Scout apart. Nominally, the volunteers hand off the gathered information to centralized hubs that distribute it to global aid organizations. However, when the opportunity arises, the volunteers have the authority to short-circuit the system and connect citizens in need with neighbors who have aid to offer.

Supporting and encouraging this localized decision making and direct neighbor-to-neighbor supply of aid helps to build lasting relationships within the community. The result is the organization of local channels of aid, a population empowered to help their neighbors and rebuild their communities in the long term, and improved aid distribution and response times from aid organizations.