Both food waste and food poverty are massive, pressing social issues across the UK, and especially in London. The Felix Project helps tackle both at once, by providing a free door-to-door service, powered by a network of committed volunteer drivers that collect surplus high-quality food from suppliers, sort it in one of four depots, and deliver it to more than 1,000 charities and schools in and around the capital.
After two years of rapid growth and a five times increase in food collected and delivered, The Felix Project wanted to upgrade the solution used to create and follow routes in its vans. So, the team applied to the Thoughtworks Social Change Lab to get some expert eyes on it, review its existing capabilities, and work closely with depot managers and volunteer drivers to discover what they really needed from a routing solution.
Thoughtworks has been partnering with NGOs and social enterprises like The Felix Project for more than a decade, providing pro-bono support to help them make informed technology decisions that support their social goals. Our Social Change Lab provided an open forum for those organizations to apply for our support.
During a three week discovery process, a team of Thoughtworkers worked with technology, business, and operations teams from The Felix Project to clearly map their needs, evaluate more than 30 routing app options, and provide targeted recommendations that the organization can use to take its next steps with confidence.
The challenge: optimizing routing for a volunteer workforce
Because The Felix Project’s drivers are mainly volunteers — many of whom can only commit one or two days a week — any routing solution used in its vans needs to be intuitive and easy to engage with.
Unfortunately, as The Felix Project knew, that wasn’t totally the case. “Our previous solution required strong tech skills to get to grips with, which was a big issue for some drivers” explained chair of technology steering and advisory group Ben Salama. “Many found it easier to simply use their own smartphone-based apps to get around.”
That in turn limited the team’s abilities to track drivers on the move and optimize their routes on the fly. With such important social goals on the line, the team asked Thoughtworks to help review their RouteMe solution, and decide the best way to move forward and deliver something better suited to its needs.
Getting some expert eyes on the problem
A team of Thoughtworkers led the client team through a user-centric discovery process to help identify what The Felix Project’s depot managers and drivers really wanted from a routing system, and how that might, in turn help optimize The Felix Project’s operations.
“When The Felix Project came to us, they knew that driver engagement with their routing solution was low, but they didn’t know exactly why” explained the principal design consultant. “To help, we put Thoughtworkers right on the frontlines, giving them the chance to discover exactly what it’s like for volunteers out on the road.”
“Our goal was to leave The Felix Project with a clear view of the capabilities that were important to the drivers so, whenever they choose to move ahead with plans to evolve their routing capabilities, they know exactly what they need to drive high engagement, improve driver experiences, and ultimately, feed more people in need.”
The power of a user-centric discovery approach
When the discovery process began, the team’s first task wasn’t dissecting the solution from a technical standpoint — it was talking to volunteers and operations managers to better understand their needs.
That user-centric approach enabled a more holistic, strategic discovery process — one that led the team to look beyond routing, and identify wider potential improvements to business processes.
For example, during the exercise, the team discovered that engagement with the current RouteMe solution was far lower than they expected. That limited the potential value that could be delivered by simple improvements in A to B routing, and drove the team to look more broadly at different routing solutions available in the market.
In just three weeks, the team evaluated more than 30 different solution options, getting them down to a shortlist of three that The Felix Project could focus on evaluating in greater detail, and comparing to their other potential course of action — enhancing their current custom solution.
The team’s advice and guidance was then compiled into a granular presentation and report — providing all of the insight needed to choose or create a stronger solution for The Felix Project and its volunteers.
Leaving a lasting positive impact
Beyond the recommendations and advice contained in the final report, one of the biggest impacts of the discovery exercise is that it helped The Felix Project understand the value and importance of volunteer experiences in technology decision-making. Whatever steps they take next, volunteers will be at the heart of them – which will help keep engagement high.
It’s also had a lasting impact on the people involved. “Everything was extremely organized, which for us is very important because we’re really busy,” said Anne Elkins, operations project manager at The Felix Project. “The whole journey was very flexible, very adaptive and the team was a real pleasure to work with. We felt their passion for our mission and could tell how eager they were to help us achieve our social goals, which meant a lot.”
That sentiment was echoed by the rest of the Thoughtworks team. “Since the project concluded, this experience and The Felix Project have really stayed with us. Working alongside the volunteers has been humbling, and their passion and dedication to such an important cause is something we won’t forget.”
Driving positive social change in the UK and beyond
At Thoughtworks, we’re committed to using our knowledge and skills to help drive positive social change, by amplifying the impact of our partners with tech. Projects like this one, offered to non-profit organizations through our Social Change Lab, are just one of the ways we’re acting on that commitment.
To learn more about our social goals and the work that Thoughtworkers are doing to help us achieve them, visit ‘Social Change‘ today. Or, to find out how we could help you achieve your own social and digital goals, talk to us today.
If you’d like to learn more about The Felix Project, or find out how you can support their mission to end food poverty and food waste in the UK, visit thefelixproject.org.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.