How my team helped a volunteering association make sense of their issues and overcome them
Gioco degli Specchi, an association that works with migrants / Uni project
Team lead, Strategy, Planning, Facilitation, Workshop Design, Visual Design
Andrea Molnar, William Costello
Research, Modeling, Workshop Design
Interviews, Facilitation, Content Design
with 4 interviews
The first client meeting
Gioco degli Specchi is a volunteering association in Trento, Italy. Among other activities, they help migrants with free language courses and language practice.
My university team and I met with S., an italian language teacher to understand how we could help them. No challenge was set as of yet.
The client seemed to have a solution to propose to us.
“Not entirely sure… But we’d like a digital space where to put our stuff.”
They want Dropbox? It can’t be that simple!
During that meeting we came to understand that due to a
lack of funding to the organization, the number of activities
offered had decreased in recent years, and had also resulted in
GdS no longer being able to afford hired staff for administrative
support – in recent months, all work has been distributed among
volunteers. We suspected that this development has resulted in
subpar communication and information exchange within the
We hypothesized that less people were participating because of subpar communication & information exchange, but we also just needed a deep dive in the context.
We ran shadowing in 4 lectures, and a fundraiser dinner. By participating in these activities we could build the necessary rapport and trust to schedule every other activity with the members.
6 teacher interviews, as the goal was to understand their context we asked questions about their background, role and relationship with the association, how they structure classes, which technology do they use, which tools, where do they find their teaching material,
if they share it, what are their biggest challenges and finally their relationship with technology.
Framing the situation
The internal problem framing workshop
Every member of the team collaborated, brainwrote the key findings, scattered them on the board, categorized patterns, voted on impact & relevance.
We ran a workshop within the team to map the research results and frame the problem.
Thanks to this method we identified and evaluated the areas of concern. Namely:
Sharing teaching methods and materials
Administration & management
The souls of Gioco degli Specchi
As soon as we made sense of the most impactful challenges and mapped all research findings we decided
to set a reminder for ourselves. Personas helped us to keep in touch with the particular
individualities within the association.
We later validated the personas with 4 teacher interviews.
The 4 personas me and Bill made, every field is carefully placed, we iterated them 3 times
It was around this stage that we were 100% certain some Dropbox or Google Drive solution would have done more harm than good.
An eterogeneous, chaotic, non-hierarchical, flat organization with members of any age, experience and motivation level such as GdS
would have had a hard time adopting the solution and an even harder time maintaining it.
Yet, we determined that knowledge, method and material sharing was indeed the core concern of the members.
That amazing, eterogeneous, flat group of generous teachers had real trouble setting performance standards and accountability.
Solidified problem statement agreed with the client
We are going to help GdS with “knowledge and materials sharing”, on multiple levels
(eg. what was covered in each class, complex aspiration knowledge such as model lesson plans and teaching best practices)
We had observed them in class and interacted 1on1 but still had to witness their behavior in group.
So we designed a workshop specifically to make them collaborate, reflect on their organization and even out their expectations.
Observe group interaction
Align project views & expectations
We had the participants brainwrite about knowledge sharing, discuss and choose reflections about their context.
Then they worked in groups to create a fantasy instrument that would fix their problems.
One word “icebreaker”
Split participants in 3 groups. Make space on walls, draw hierarchy with a line of paper tape.
2 mins: Think of words and phrases about knowledge sharing, write as many as you can on post-its.
5 mins: Share and comment post-its.
5 mins: Contextualize post-its to Il Gioco degli Specchi and choose those those that make sense with the context, together, reason why you are picking those, you’ll have to show them to the other groups.
10 mins: one by one, groups stick post-its to the wall, presentation & comments. Note about our research vs outcome of first activity
10 mins: discuss. You’ll work in groups to create a fantasy instrument (eg. psyonic squirrel) using what you can find. Anything is good.
Whenever you’re adding something to it, discuss, tell why.
10 min discussion / 5 min plan / 20 mins present and discuss. Bring it together.
After the warm up and group discussion about the words they came up with (organizing them into general categories/concepts somehow) they can think individually about a way to transmit that knowledge sharing, inventing a device (conoscientilizzatore ad esempio), then in groups with a piece of paper (cardboard tablet would be nice) and sticker/pins/glue/ weird small objects we can find lying around to act as the device they're inventing, they arrange their features on the piece of paper/cardboard and then explain it to everyone.
Me discussing workshop results; On the left, one of the teams
The workshop would have been better if we had participants clear the tables and if we didn't stuff them with that much food.
Each other’s stories, knowledge, experience and methods are intertwined, take place within the GdS structure, they are the ladder to students' learnings.
Harmonious Box of Sharing
Where a plurality of diverse voices come in, and more homogeneous results and voices come out
Proven mismatch of attitudes on how to organize own work
The unwinding of the workshop highlighted the difficulties in group interaction and organization.
The outcome of the workshop made apparent they lacked a common vision to standardize their methods and materials.
The workshop received an overwhelmingly positive reaction, the volunteers expressed the desire to continue participating in such activities, which help bring the staff together.
As we reached the design phase around Christmas time the team was split in 3 different continents.
For this reason I introduced Crazy 8s as a tool to expedite design, and bring together our visions.
We used Google Docs to play them.
The Crazy 8s showed we had two product paths ahead of us:
A booklet for design thinking in education, possibly with some workshop instructions attached
An app to create and manage workshops
During the Crazy 8s’ sketches evaluation the app solution was discarded as it would have been much
harder to implement, would have provided value only to the most tech savy volunteers and its maintenance
would have been an issue.
Among the Crazy 8s most notable contributions:
Formalizing steps in course creation
Framework to guide them to share essential information
Workshop that they should execute to find their own communication / organization process
Workshop to shape planning and organization
Process for communication where they create it for themselves. They should hold this workshop every few months, when there’s change and need.
At this stage me and Nathalia designed the booklet and curated some of the content.
I created a card sorting workshop. Bill made a communication workshop. Andrea curated the in-depth explaination of
A booklet to structure their future activity
It’s difficult to take decisions and make sure that every voice is heard in a flat organization. That’s why we provided them with a tool to structure their meetings and workshops, to find tradeoffs on their best practices and to organize their teaching material.
We chose to work on this impactful challenge, focusing on
“designing for design after design”: Teachers want to share moments and knowledge, so they will design their
own meetings, workshops.
It was only after observing teachers during their meetings
and seeing the outcomes of our first workshop that we all
realised how they perceived knowledge sharing and how
much more intangible and high-level their need was.
Communication workshop to map communication issues and tackle them
Digitalize, a workshop to sort information with card sorting, make taxonomies emerge to organize teaching material
Validation and Takeaways
Nathalia and I held a product validation session with 4 GdS teachers just after they had tried a workshop
from the booklet.
We asked them what do they remember about that workshop and how it went, if they thought
the booklet was useful/valuable, and if it was flexible.
All 4 reported that the booklet helped a lot in being time efficient and avoiding herd of sheep behavior
and instrumental making sure every voice was heard.
6 months later we got back in touch and we found the association had used the workshops
from the booklet 4 times. Few of them had integrated design thinking in teaching.
However the adoption of organization workshops was decreasing. S. wanted to make sure
we understood the booklet and our intervetion helped them grealy in their communication
and organization, and had a lasting change in their ability to self-organize and facilitate.
Survey the area of the workshop prior to it, or ask for pictures if it’s impossible
Don’t let your clients drown in their own food and clear those tables!
Wrapping up the cool stuff
In this project my team reached depth in the problem at hand and solved it thanks to a research driven
human centered process. Each step was tailored to the situation at hand, considering the context, but
also the circumstances of the team.
I am proud of how I worked as a project manager, as I planned and structured activities,
defined goals, outcomes, deadlines, provided frameworks to make sure every meeting was productive, every voice heard
and did my best to track everyone’s load, assessed and re-assessed expectations and motivation.
I’m also super honored to have worked with those guys and girls. They are amazing. You want to work with them.
It was super cool risking delivering something non-tech to a UX course.
Even cooler presenting it with a story about witches and dragons (ask me about this).
And then getting honors and best project award.