Disaster Relief Design Thinking Workshop: Hosted by Accenture & 1871

With the multitude of recent hurricanes and wildfires, it’s becoming clear that resources aren’t always efficiently allocated to those in need. With saturated news feeds, so much of technology’s potential is left untapped for emergency aid. I’m proud to work with Accenture, combining technology and brainpower to support disaster relief.

On Tuesday, September 12, Accenture hosted a Design Thinking Workshop to collaborate and brainstorm ways to help victims. All insights and ideas gathered during this session were taken to TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in San Francisco, supporting Accenture’s custom contest.

The topic is to create a better disaster response app that can help neighbors connect with needs and support others in their local areas while regional support is still mobilizing their efforts. The workshop was hosted in 1871, Chicago’s biggest tech incubator, to attract leading talent from all industries. TechCrunch Disrupt is a worldwide conference that highlights the latest innovative technologies. In addition to the Startup Battlefield competition, Startup and Hardware Alleys, and Thought Leadership presentations, the 24-hour Hackathon is a way for developers and engineers create a product in only one day. GroupMe is one successful product from the Hackathon and was ultimately acquired by Skype for $80M.

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During the Design Thinking Workshop, Dujon Smith and I led three activities to create personas for the Hackathon. We divided the group into 5 teams, identifying each as either a victim, a rescuer, a dispatcher, or a shelter operator. Each group created a persona for their role, and they got very creative. Rick the Rescuer was a very ‘Merican citizen with civic duty to help as many people as possible. He had a flag on his shirt, too. Tomi Lahren approved.

Then, we asked the groups to create a journey map for their persona, thinking through every step of a disaster. Spelling out these experiences required extreme empathy and forced groups to think deeply about issues, even simple things like wifi not working to check status updates.

For the last activity, we led them through a typical “rose, thorn, bud” activity. We asked groups to consider an app like Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter, and Snapchat during disasters: the good, the bad, and the opportunities. Personally, I like this best to inspire participants. Many of them are not developers and will not be attending the Hackathon, but this challenges people to think that they too can make a difference. If you can see an opportunity in any problem, you are going to change the world (and probably make a lot of money while you’re at it).

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The following weekend, Dujon went with the Denver-based team for TechCrunch Disrupt. All hackers already had disaster relief on their minds, and the Accenture Operations Studio awarded the $5000 prize to Ground Zero. This app is a dashboard for first responders, gathering where people need help, where to prioritize requests, and where to dispatch available responders. This app uses blockchain so it is decentralized: each device never requires access to another device, allowing first responders to always have information they need in times of disaster.

Accenture is continuing to pursue an aggregator for disaster relief resources, and I’m proud of the company for exploring #Tech4Good. We can’t always foresee disasters on the way. But, we can act now. By activating the tech community, we can make a difference, together.


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