Ask Izzy: Helping the Homeless find their way

Post 4 by Alice Stollery


Disruptive media is a design studio based in Melbourne that collaborates with community-focused organisations such as not-for-profits and community services, to tackle social issues across a number of different sectors. They recently teamed up with Infoxchange, a not-for-profit social enterprise specialising in creative technological solutions for social change. Disruptive Media and Infoxchange collaborated to create the app Ask Izzy, a health, welfare and community services directory that bridges the gap between support services and those affected by or at risk of homelessness. It makes these services more accessible “empowering people to take control, easily find location-based services, and get the support they need” (Disruptive Media). The app was launched in January of this year and its success was evident within the first month, with over 31,000 people using it to access essential services. Not only does Ask Izzy act as an essential tool in providing shelter and support to the homeless, but it will also inform government choices about future investments through the anonymous data collected from the app and website. This data will enable them to determine the demand for particular services.

Disruptive media worked on naming and branding the app, while Infoxchange focused on the app’s development along side Google, REA Group and News corp. The project was a result of a Google Grant received by Infoxchange and stemmed from a directory of homelessness that they had already created called ‘service seeker’. Ask Izzy is essentially a rebranding and repositioning of this directory, using insights gained from research, making it more accessible and putting it in the hands of those in need.



To achieve this, the above organisations worked closely together with people experiencing homelessness and those working to provide support to them, to understand the issues they face on a daily basis. This project falls within an emergent practice context as it is a form of service design. The issue they discovered, this disconnect between the homeless and service providers, came out of a number of ethnographic research methods conducted by the organisations. The foundation of their design strategy was to have a comprehensive understanding of the issues faced by people experiencing homelessness. They conducted these ethnographic studies to both identify the issue of accessibility of services and to gain critical insights that directly informed their design decisions.

The workshops they held, found that avoiding common stereotypes was an important consideration within the branding. Stereotyping is a recurring theme throughout my research and it is interesting to see how it has also played an important role within a design context. The workshops highlighted the ease at which people can find themselves homeless. The fact that homelessness can affect anyone, meant that the name and branding of the app needed to appeal to a wide audience, including those who may not fit into the stereotypical view of homelessness, or interestingly, those who do not consider themselves homeless. Had the branding been directly associated with homeless services, those who do not consider themselves homeless, such as couch surfers, would be less likely to use the app, hindering them from accessing essential support services due to stigma. As a result, research identified that the name should rather be friendly and approachable. Thus, ‘Ask Izzy’ was chosen, as it rids the app, and users, of the stigma associated with the label ‘homeless’.

Through my initial research in the mainstream media, (although not included in my first blog post), I noticed a disconnect between those affected by homelessness and the services designed to help them. I thought it would be interesting to look into why this disconnect occurs, whether it is a conscious choice not to use the services or an inability to access them. Throughout my secondary research into scholarly articles I began to understand the role technology plays in the lives of the homeless and I was surprised to learn that 95% of homeless people own a mobile handset. So it’s really interesting to see how this design studio have uncovered these insights through researching the issue, connecting the two to create a technological solution to the problem. It was thought-provoking to learn through Disruptive Media’s research, that a number of homeless people do not use these services as they do not consider themselves homeless. I was not aware of this and had not considered framing the issue in this way. I would be interested in further investigating how services are being designed for people who fall within this category. Perhaps reframing how we approach those who do not consider themselves homeless could work as a preventative measure or early intervention to decrease the numbers of those who find themselves with no where left to go.


References

Ask Izzy. 2016, Ask Izzy, viewed 22 August 2016,<https://askizzy.org.au/>.

Design 100. 2016, Ask Izzy: The A to Z Directory of Homeless Help, Design 100, viewed 22 August 2016,<https://design100.com/MEL16/entry_details.asp?ID=14914&Category_ID=7387>.

Disruptive Media. 2016, Ask Izzy: The A to Z Directory of Homeless Help, Disruptive Media, viewed 22 August 2016,<http://disruptivemedia.com.au/ask-izzy/>.

Gillet, C. 2016, Ask Izzy App connects homeless to food, shelter and health services, Herald Sun, viewed 22 August 2016,<http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/askizzy-app-connects-the-homeless-to-food-shelter-and-health-services/news-story/bfae67275552be421af4dd54bfd575a6>.

Infoxchange. 2016, Homeless Help, Infoxchange, viewed 22 August 2016,<https://www.infoxchange.org/au/community-programs/homeless-help>.

Millar, S. 2016, Ask Izzy – New site to help the homeless, Real Estate, viewed 22 August 2016, <http://www.realestate.com.au/news/ask-izzy-new-site-to-help-the-homeless/>.