The Digital Volunteering App Discovery Phase Research Insights

By Sahra Rosenkvist & Vera Johansson

“A digital volunteering app is a great idea, it creates a bridge between the ones who need help and the ones who would like to help.”

(Alicia, 30s, social entrepreneur and volunteer)

Volunteering is a way of taking personal initiative to do good in society. Volunteers spend their time selflessly and for free for other humans, animals and nature to get benefit from. Volunteering means not only doing “good” for others but also for oneself since it helps the individual to adapt and develop social behaviors like sharing, helping, understanding and empathizing with others. But, how does volunteering work in our digital era? A huge need for volunteers has occurred during the corona outbreak, especially for elderly people here in Sweden – so how can one safely volunteer to help while limiting physical contact?

This summer we conducted a pilot research for Loop Digital, supporting them in developing their new app called The Digital Volunteer. The app aims to help people during a crisis or in need of urgent help. It is a platform where people, businesses and governmental organizations can collaborate and get help from all over the world. Some examples of volunteering tasks are helping the elderly with grocery shopping, picking and dropping food, mitigate fake news spreading and ensuring access to warm meals. There are two unique aspects to this app: the first one, no smartphone is needed for the elderly, as they can use their landlines to call a number in order to get help; the second one is the usage of contactless delivery. For instance, drones can be used for food delivery to the elderly, avoiding any physical contact.

In this pilot project, we conducted three in-depth interviews with perspectives from different stakeholders: the volunteer, the elderly, and the social service. Loop Digital is using these insights to better adapt their service to potential users and find different development areas. The interviews centered on themes such as usage of electronic devices, perceptions of volunteering, and matters of safety in regards to the app. Focusing on different stakeholders is essential when creating a service to, a) examine the interest in the app, and b) understand what functions are necessary for the app and what can be explored more.

Here are some of the non-confidential insights that came out from our research project for The Digital Volunteering app:

1. The motivation for helping others

Each volunteer has his or her motivation to help others, this might be doing good, personal growth or/and feeling good. One of our interviewees said:

“I think I just inherited this, I know helping other people is a good thing, volunteering is more for yourself, to feel good. I think if a person needs help and if you can help, you definitely should…Volunteering has a deeper context for me, it is relevant to personal growth, like being more patient and stronger.” (Alicia, 30s, social entrepreneur and volunteer)

2. An app makes it easier to become a volunteer

From a volunteer’s perspective, using an app for volunteering is more convenient since it allows more control over what tasks they can pick, how and whom and where they would like to help. Additionally, volunteering through an app is also time-saving for some because applying to become a volunteer through a municipality or other platforms might be more complicated, might require an individual application at a physical contact center and that process can take time and require follow-ups.

3. Elderly people dialing numbers sounds like a target-minded brilliant solution

As mentioned above, one of the app’s unique aspects is that elderly do not need to use smartphones and can instead dial a number where they can reach a responsible person for getting help through the app. As one of our interviewees said:

“On this app, dialing numbers option instead of using the app on a smartphone shows that the product is solution-based and it is designed to be inclusive for the elderly without tech skills. I think it is a great solution.” (Alicia, 30s, social entrepreneur and volunteer)

4. Safety aspects of payment e.g. for grocery shopping

From an elderly’s perspective, giving out cards to a volunteer would not feel comfortable. The better option would be to pay in cash or have the cost included in their meal plan. As one of the interviewees pointed out, the elderly might be surprised if a volunteer would take somebody’s credit card because of the responsibility that such an action brings. Cash or using Swish would be a better alternative where the person getting help could choose how they would like to pay.

5. Volunteering can fill a social function

“When I worked in the city of Malmö we collaborated with a volunteer center where volunteers would offer their service as a walking buddy which would enrich the social life. It worked very well, the elderly had the chance to come out more if they wished to and it worked as a kind of compliment to regular walks. They still had their walks according to their approved plan by social service, so the volunteers did not take over this task. I think volunteering works really well for this easier kind of task that does not demand any education but adds to the social life of the elderly.” (Patricia, the 30s, branch head at a nursing home)

6. An elderly perspective on getting help from a volunteer

Some elderly like Anna (80+) have high technical skills and already use online platforms like Facebook groups to get help. For instance, Anna gets help from volunteers for walking her dog. She also sometimes gets help from her neighbors, which is more convenient and accessible for her:

“There is a helper man in the district that helped me once to have a ceiling lamp fixed, he was kind of a volunteer and very nice.”

7. Volunteer work can uplift the work of assistant nurses

From a social worker’s perspective, volunteering can work as a complement to the services that their users do not have included in their plans from social service. The interviewee did not view the volunteer app as a way in which the staff’s roles would be threatened. Instead, she recognized possibilities that health care could focus on professional tasks and volunteers might be able to help the elderly with tasks that do not require any education. In that way, health care could benefit from this app, making the profession more attractive.



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