No Kid Hungry City Innovation Fellows Use Human-Centered Approaches to Address Food Insecurity

Co-Design Process Provides Opportunities for All Stakeholders to Engage in Developing User Experience

 In 2022, No Kid Hungry launched the City Innovation Fellowship to bring leaders from diverse backgrounds into city innovation teams and community-focused organizations to seek out ways to creatively address food insecurity. The program’s fellows have been leading human-centered design projects to bring new voices to the table, develop bottom-up solutions, and pilot new approaches to addressing food insecurity. Human-centered design is a creative problem solving process that focuses on understanding what communities want and engaging them in creating solutions.

 In Boston, Mark Araujo’s work straddled the City of Boston Office of Food Justice and one of the nation’s pioneering city innovation offices, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM). Mark is a design engineer, artist, educator and systems thinker with a joint Master of Arts in Design Engineering from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. 

 Boston City Councilor Gabriela Coletta, who represents the Charlestown and East Boston neighborhoods, allocated $100,000 in ARPA funds to the Office of Food Justice for The Harvest on Vine Food Pantry in Charlestown. The Office of Food Justice and MONUM proposed a co-design process led by fellow Mark Araujo as part of the grant. This combination of resources provided a unique opportunity to center the needs and preferences of communities using the pantry and to inform how the funding would be spent.

Mark has spent the last 18 months working with community organizations serving individuals and families living with food insecurity alongside Tom MacDonald, Director of The Harvest on Vine Food Pantry. Mark and Tom brought together co-design committees including pantry volunteers and clients from Spanish-speaking and Chinese-speaking communities. They tackled line management, signage, what culturally appropriate products to source, as well as how to use community spaces to provide a more joyful experience. 

According to Mark, some of the biggest changes at The Harvest on Vine came about directly as a result of the co-design participants. “A lot of food pantries, the wait time is two to three hours, and it causes all sorts of problems on the line. One participant suggested splitting the line in two alphabetically and just switching the order for every distribution, so that everyone waits less time and there’s no favoritism about who goes first. And it worked. We also did things like having coffee and tea to greet people and an accessibility line for wheelchair users and older adults. It’s not perfect, but it’s so much less stigmatizing now.” That’s human-centered design in action.

 “I think we have to remind ourselves that we’re living in other people’s imaginations. So often the voices of Black, Indigenous, and communities of color are not part of the conversation,” said Mark, when asked about encouraging others to take on the co-design process. But co-design is participatory involving all stakeholders, it’s about designing with, not for. “A big thing too is that it’s a very bottom up, not top-down approach. I think people in the community often have things figured out and we just need to listen to them.” 

MONUM, the Office of Food Justice, and No Kid Hungry have created a collaborative design guide for food pantries based on the experience at The Harvest on Vine. Pantry operators across the country can find tools to guide them through the co-design process, and to better understand their clients’ needs, aspirations, and lived experience and to design solutions with them engaged through every step of development. 

“Community engagement is often daunting. This guide offers tangible tools to design with community members from start to finish, and to create better user experiences together,” said Samantha King, senior manager, Program Innovation at No Kid Hungry. “We hope pantries and other community organizations that have been thinking about more community engagement are able to use ideas in the guide to take the first step.”

About No Kid Hungry

No Kid Hungry is a campaign of the national non-profit Share Our Strength that’s dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America. No Kid Hungry works with schools, local nonprofits and elected leaders to help launch and improve programs that give all kids the healthy food they need to thrive. Through grants, advocacy work and efforts to increase awareness, our No Kid Hungry campaign has helped connect millions of children across the state with nutritious food.