Finding Community at U of T

Photo of MoniqueBy Monique Gill, Innovation Hub Big Ideas Team Member – Neighbourhood Communities 

Diversity is a quality that is celebrated widely across the University of Toronto campuses. Our Neighbourhood Communities team is looking at ways in which we can harness the diversification of our student population, and more specifically student neighbourhoods, to better cultivate student connection and U of T spirit. By collecting data on our student’s geographical areas, we are looking at the feasibility developing a platform that would allow U of T students to meet up in their very own neighbourhoods to facilitate student self-organization like social events, study groups, and ride sharing.

At the beginning of the academic year, the Big Ideas teams were formed to review last year’s Innovation Hub team’s research on this topic and conduct a viability assessment of the Neighborhood Communities idea. This year, our group began by attempting to solidify a mission for Neighbourhood Communities. We dove into research processes in hopes of uncovering where the need for student self-organization was most needed, and in what capacity. Our team members conducted informational interviews with stakeholders including student unions, student clubs, and University of Toronto officials that specialize in policy and program development across campus. We then held a team meeting in consultation with Innovation Hub staff lead Julia Smeed and  Nogah Kornberg from I-Think, an organization that specializes in integrative and design thinking, to exchange our research and determine the scope of our mission.

For many of us at that team meeting, exchanging the data collected from stakeholder interviews and hearing about some of the students’ personal experiences on finding a community on-campus was a reminder of why we joined the Innovation Hub. We greatly empathized with the student testimonials, because they reflected our shared feelings and experiences as staff and students in trying to find belonging within the U of T community.

As we assembled a more cohesive understanding of our research through causal models and journey maps, we were able to establish an improved mission for Neighbourhood Communities. In accordance with this year’s research, the mission of the Neighbourhood Communities is to facilitate student connection within the University of Toronto community through a platform that provides a safe & welcoming space to self-organize and make meaningful connections in locations convenient to students.

With an established mission, our UX prototyping team began testing user engagement by creating a Facebook group that would simulate a hypothetical Neighbourhood Communities experience. Members of this mock group set up coffee dates, study sessions, and ride shares amongst each other as the team monitored the frequency and types of communication to determine whether it would be a viable platform for Neighbourhood Communities going forward. We have also used the data collected from meetings with stakeholders to develop a diverse group of personas of students likely to access the Neighbourhood Communities platform in order to determine our hypothetical demographic.

We look forward to presenting our current project to leaders from across the university in April 2018 and we’re especially excited to present our findings and recommendations.  Neighborhood Communities is an idea that resonates so personally with our team’s experiences on campus!

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