Duncan Schouten

100 Dinners

Overview

The problem

In 2017, the UBC Alumni Association (aka alumni UBC) launched alumni UBC 100, a year-long constituent engagement campaign to mark its 100th anniversary. One of the campaign’s major initiatives was 100 Dinners, a newly-created program to help facilitate dinner parties hosted by UBC alumni around the world.

With a limited budget and minimal staff resources for operation, however, the project team was challenged with creating a lean service model, including a central microsite that would require little ongoing maintenance.

Our approach

Our solution was informed through a combination of discussions with potential participants and extensive dialogue with staff at another organization that ran a similar program. By reducing the service to only its essential parts and leveraging automation wherever possible, we established a model that met core business and user needs with little operational overhead.

My Role

Working with a team of two alumni UBC events staff, I helped to evaluate and synthesize pre-existing research, consult with stakeholders on program requirements, and devise an blueprint for efficient service delivery. I then designed a lightweight microsite for the program within the alumni UBC brand and assisted IT Services in its development and launch.

Main areas of responsibility:
  • Research (evaluate and synthesize)
  • Service design (map out processes for touchpoints across the program ecosystem)
  • Prototyping and usability testing
  • Front-end design

Research and Discovery

Early 100 Dinners workshop notes

Audience definition

Like all activities in the alumni UBC 100 campaign, the 100 Dinners project was intended to help provide UBC alumni with opportunities to stay connected with their alma mater and engage with other graduates.

To that end, the target audience was broadly defined as inclusive of all alumni. There is, however, a self-selecting bias in our audience to those alumni who have elected to keep their contact information up-to-date or are otherwise reachable through institutional communications channels.

Constituent research

In the early planning phases for alumni UBC 100, a series of focus groups were carried out with a variety of alumni. Among other goals, the discussions were intended to gauge interest in possible activities to be pursued in the campaign. With few exceptions, the idea of organizationally-supported, alumni-hosted dinner events was of interest to the majority of participants.

Some months later, a series of emails were sent to constituents explaining the 100 Dinners program and inviting alumni to submit a provisional request to host. From this outreach, we received 128 expressions of interest—enough to feel confident proceeding with development of the program.

Interviews with counterparts at Johns Hopkins University

The 100 Dinners concept was originally developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for their own centenary. In our discovery phase, the alumni UBC 100 Dinners program lead established an ongoing dialogue with her counterpart at Hopkins to learn what did and didn’t work in their implementation.

What worked well:
  • Providing a searchable online map of dinner locations was highly effective in building interest
  • Program staff assisted in email outreach to potential guests in the areas surrounding each dinner
  • Asking hosts to take pictures at their events and share with the school
What didn’t work well:
  • The website grew too complex for internal implementation, necessitating the contracting of external developers and adding costs to the program
  • Processing guest RSVPs was handled by program staff and required significant resources
  • While hosts were asked to provide guest lists after each dinner, few followed through
  • Both guests and hosts relied heavily on asking questions of program staff, rather than referring to online FAQs

Business goals and measuring success

As a new, untested idea for alumni UBC, relatively few concrete business goals were set for the inaugural series of 100 Dinners. The single measurable target we established was a goal of 1,000 total attendees across all events.

Service Design

Service blueprint

Rather than reinvent the wheel, we chose to build on Hopkins’ program model and address areas where they encountered difficulties.

Our approach included:

  • Developing an online system for automated intake of host applications and easy surfacing of upcoming events
  • Investing a small amount into an external event management platform to handle RSVPs
  • Building an online toolkit for hosts, including FAQs, checklists, and suggested pre-event timelines
  • Incentivizing post-event reporting and photo submission with a prize giveaway, as well as providing an online form to ease the process

Service blueprint

We developed a detailed service blueprint over several iterations (seen above), giving a clear overview of staff requirements and operational processes.

Website Design

Key functions

The 100 Dinners microsite was intended to serve several key functions:

  • Facilitating host applications and post-event reporting
  • Surfacing details on upcoming dinners
  • Passing guests to the appropriate RSVP page
  • Showcasing photos from past events

Design constraints

At the outset of the project, we established the importance of keeping the 100 Dinners program within the alumni UBC brand, rather than giving it a distinct identity.

Because of this, I based design of the microsite on layouts and page elements found elsewhere on the alumni UBC site. This had the added benefit of streamlining the web design process, allowing the team to focus our efforts on fine-tuning the service as a whole.

Primary challenge: Managing processes for host applications, event posting, RSVPs, and post-event reporting

Problem: Risk of staff time lost to operational tasks

In speaking with our counterparts at Johns Hopkins, they emphasized the risk of losing significant staff time to administrative tasks. At their program’s busiest times, it required the equivalent of at least one full-time employee—an option we did not have.

Wherever possible, we had to investigate methods for efficient service delivery and minimize operational overhead.

Solution: Leverage automation

The solution was deceptively simple: web forms.

I worked with our development team to establish a process for automatically creating event postings with the details submitted by hosts. These were set to remain private until staff had approved their posting.

Once program staff had populated ePly—an RSVP management platform—with the event details and handed it off to hosts, putting the event live on the 100 Dinners website required only changing the privacy settings and copying in the ePly link.

Event posting process

Opportunity for improvement

Unfortunately, ePly did not provide an API for pushing data. This meant that while operational complexity was reduced, preparing each event still required manual input.

Usability testing

The simplicity of the website meant that few problems were encountered when we engaged people for “guerilla” usability testing.

The one area that was improved based on user feedback was the inclusion of a dropdown on the page of dinner listings, allowing users to filter by region. This feature was implemented before launch.

Results

Collage from events

Expectations exceeded

Despite our uncertainty on how 100 Dinners would be received, the program was unambiguously successful.

In the end, we tallied 1,156 attendees at over 90 events around the world, well-surpassing our goal of 1,000.

Reflection

This was a project where function took precedence over form. While I would have appreciated more time for front-end design (the finished product was really rather bland), our careful attention to efficient service delivery meant that the program operated far more smoothly than Hopkins’.