Thesis Project: 

Design of an Animal Management Tool to Support Lifesaving Practices in an Animal Shelter

Background: I started volunteering at Fulton County Animal Services right before I started my Masters program in Industrial Design at Georgia Tech. The challenges of the animal shelter industry were top of mind when I was thinking of topics for my thesis. I had the privilege of working with the staff at FCAS and LifeLine Animal Project, and learned so much from them.

You can access my thesis paper here!

Challenge:

  1. To examine the current state of animal shelter management tools and how it currently limits progressive and lifesaving shelter operations.

  2. To design and test a digital tool for shelter animal management (product) that uses event-based metrics, in order to help shelter employees (target group) to align with the lifesaving practices and supports no-kill efforts (impact).

 

Impact:

For dogs in care

  1. Equal right to access 

  2. The dog as an individual 

  3. Shorter time at the shelter 

  4. Increase lifesaving

For shelter employees

  1. Tools that reflect the lifesaving culture

  2. Focused on strategic efforts towards moving dogs out of the shelter

  3. Allows for reflection and internal data analysis 

  4. Alleviating the emotional toll

Research Questions:

  1. What features do the target audience identify to be included in a shelter animal management tool to facilitate lifesaving sheltering practices? (informing design)

  2. What is the effectiveness of specific design features in aligning the shelter animal management tool to lifesaving shelter operations? (evaluating design)

 

 

Method:

Background Ethnographic Work:

  1. Literature Review

  2. Expert Interviews

  3. Stakeholder mapping and Personas

Phase 1 for RQ1:

  1. Technology Audit

  2. Adoptions Flow Workshop

  3. Placement Info Workshop 1

  4. Placement Info Workshop 2

  5. Case-Study Scenarios

Phase 2 for RQ2:

  1. Co-design activities and feedback sessions

  2. User testing with shelter experts

Process

1. Personas

Created personas for both the dogs in care, as well as various shelter staff to help center the process not only on the people involved, but the animals directly affected as well.

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2. Technology and data siloing audit - Submission to ACM's CSCW

I then started looking at all the systems, technology, and methods that data is captured about the animals in care. I created this Shelter Touchpoint Workflow diagram to show how fragmented the data is and which types of data are stored on which touchpoint. I submitted this work and presented a research poster (shown below) at ACM's CSCW conference in 2019. You can check out my short paper here!   

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3. Workshop series

I conducted a series of three workshops at FCAS to understand how the workflow and data capture around dogs relates to lifesaving outcomes. This also allowed shelter staff to participate early in the discovery phase of the design process.

W1 - Adoptions Counselor Journey Map:
  • Deep dive into challenges and information flow for the adoption counselor job role

  • Key ethics and themes: balance, time management

W2 - Placement Info - High Risk Dogs:
  • Mapped all the data, types of data, and events, pertaining to 10 high-risk dog scenarios

  • Key ethics and themes: transparency, urgency, triggers, trust and accountability

W3 - Placement Info - Lifesaving Gap:
  • Mapped all the data, types of data, and events pertaining to 10 different long-stay/urgent dogs

  • Key ethics and themes: proactivity, advocacy, access to programs, communication

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4. Case Tracking program pilot

As an experimental study, I worked with FCAS to implement a pilot program where volunteers would serve as "Case Workers" for a select set of dogs. During this experiment, the volunteers were responsible for obtaining behavioral and personality characteristics for the dogs, ensured they participated in shelter programming & field trips, and were advocated for and had proper marketing materials. We tracked the outcomes of the dogs in the pilot program in order to see how we can embed this process into a digital interface.

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5. Paper prototypes

Because I was starting from scratch, I created paper prototypes and invited shelter staff to move the pieces around into the dashboard designs they thought would be useful. This allowed for a very rapid and nimble early prototyping method.

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6. Low-fi Wireframing

I then created low-fi wireframes to start sketching the structure of the platform. I had recurring and frequent meetings with shelter staff to gather feedback and continue to improve the design.

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7. High-fi wireframes

After a number of iterations, I created the high-fidelity wireframes. An example of 2 of the screens are below. The platform consisted of two main areas - the Home animal management section, to view animal traits and high priority animals, and to take action on specific animals in order to work towards positive placement outcomes. The other side of the platform is the Dashboard, which gives shelter staff a level of transparency and real-time metrics that isn't available in shelters today.

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Values and sheltering ethics as 
design opportunities

The progressive movement in the shelter industry inspired a strong foundation of 8 ethics that I embedded into the design and vision of the platform.

  • Program accessibility → All dogs have the right to equal access to programs, Technology should also support program tracking accessibility 

  • Individuality → Technology should emphasize the idea that each dog is unique and has a unique story 

  • Integrity in euthanasia → Technology should assist staff in assuring integrity in death decisions, and assure that no human error happens (not cause error)

  • Care for shelter workers → An ethics of care for shelter employees should be included in processes and tools in acknowledging the emotional toll of the job

  • Program management → Technology should treat dogs as “cases” like “tickets” in SCRUM PM

  • Awareness/access to numbers → Technology should work to highlight and help staff focus on needed KPI’s

  • Innovation in Behavior → Technology should work to close the behavior gap and assist staff in tracking the progress of animals

  • Proactivity→ Technology should incorporate features that nudge users towards proactive actions