Compact Impact: Increasing Environmental and Public Health Community Engagement

20161208_095326Erin Dolan

Grace Denney

Genevieve Friedman

Project Title: Compact Impact: Increasing Environmental and Public Health Community Engagement

Requested Amount: $10,000

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 12 months

Describe your Project:

For someone looking to get involved with local issues, there is not one individual place on the Internet where they can view all relevant opportunities. Yes, there are websites related to jobs, volunteer programs, or individual news articles, but nothing that consolidates all of this information into a single, simple interface. Through Compact Impact, we will save citizens hoping to get involved with local environmental and public health issues time spent scouring the Internet.

The idea we propose is to create a website that helps people become more informed about local environmental and public health issues, and then connects them to potential job and volunteer projects. Users that visit the site will be able to input their location and choose the specific types of issues they are interested in, almost like Craigslist for environmental issues. From there, the user will be able to see one column of related news and another column of opportunities, ranging from job and internships, to volunteering, to making a donation, that they can be involved with. Upon selecting a certain opportunity, they will be connected with an individual or organization to allow them to get further information and proceed from there.

There will also be a community discussion forum, where users can see what other people in their area are saying about particular issues, and engage in productive discussion. Users can create a login and profile in order to discuss issues centralized to their community in forums, as well as save opportunities or organizations that they are interested in. Users who work for or are affiliated with local organizations will be able to apply to become verified users and post their own job and volunteer opportunities.

We will generate an algorithm to automatically find environmental and public health related articles on the Internet, as well as available opportunities through job boards and volunteer organizations. It will collect data from news databases, such as Google News, and different job and volunteer opportunity sites.

Through marketing efforts, Compact Impact will partner with local organizations such as newspapers, nonprofits, and government departments to share our website with our intended audience. For example, a local newspaper could link our website to the bottom of online articles related to the environment or public health and advertise it as a way to get involved with such issues. If a reader of this newspaper is reading an article related to the Flint Water Crisis, they could click on the Compact Impact link and view a column of related articles and different opportunities to get involved.

What unmet need does your product meet?

To discover unmet consumer needs, we sent out a survey to University of Michigan students about awareness and involvement with local environmental and public health issues. From this survey, we found that 56.25% of respondents do not feel well informed and would like to get more involved with local issues. We heard similar ideas expressed from some of our interviewees. Many people expressed that upon reading the news, they learn about pertinent issues but don’t really know how to get involved or how it affects their area specifically. Our website will provide a way for individuals to become more informed about local issues and provide a mechanism through which they can get involved. For example, after reading a newspaper article about climate change, a growing global problem, people may feel a desire to make a difference. Our website would be promoted at the bottom of the article as a website where they can learn more about how it relates to them and how to get involved. If they visit our page, they will be able to input where they live and what they are interested in, allowing them to become better informed and engage with the problem.

Interviewees

Meghan Campano, 20, University of Michigan Junior (mcampano@umich.edu) – Meghan is very interested in getting more involved in local environmental issues, but often struggles to find out what is actually going on in her area. She feels that major news stories often overshadow what is going on in her own backyard.

Doug Dolan, 59, Retired New Jersey Resident (ddolan0409@gmail.com) – In the past, Doug was involved with many town boards in order to do his part in the community. He wishes that he knew of more opportunities to get involved locally when he was a college student.

Maddie Riley, 21, University of Michigan Senior (madriley@umich.edu) – Maddie feels that it can be difficult to find enough news about certain local issues. Sometimes she wants to learn more about a topic and would perhaps be interested in getting more involved if she had access to more information.

Janet Boltax, 61, New Jersey Portrait Artist (jsboltax@verizon.net) – Janet feels that people are extremely involved with national politics, but it is equally as important for people to get involved with local and state issues.

How big is the potential market for your idea?  

Compact Impact not only provides relevant environmental and public health news, but helps users get involved. A majority of our survey respondents were interested in civic engagement and wanted to make a difference. The Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact Report discovered that 76% of respondents believed they could affect positive change, although only half had recently volunteered for or donated to a cause they cared about. Additionally, Pew found that there are approximately 75.4 million millennials in the US. This market gives Compact Impact the ability to reach millions of young adults and grow its market through other age groups.

How is your idea innovative?

Compact Impact is unique because it acts as a conglomerate of information relating to local environmental and public health issues. Currently internet surfers are linked to individual websites for jobs, news, or something else, depending on what their looking for. This is not ideal for getting information about news or  ways to get involved. On getting involved with and learning more about local issues, Michigan senior Maddie Riley said, “I was reading articles, but there weren’t articles written on what I actually wanted to know. And I couldn’t find articles on what I actually wanted to know.” With Compact Impact, users interested in issues in their locality can get information about jobs and internships, volunteering, donation opportunities, and news from one source.

Potential competitors are websites that provide the individual aspects of Compact Impact. Sites like Idealist.com and Linkedin.com act as competitiors for those seeking paid work where they can specify the type of work and location; Volunteermatch.com would act as a competitor for finding volunteer opportunities; local newspapers are another source of news people may turn to; and individual nonprofits often have donation pages. However, Compact Impact provides all of this in one, simple place.

How will your idea be financially sustainable?

The best part about starting our website is that it costs very little to produce. Annual domain registration will cost around $100 to $200 dollars to maintain. Professional website design will cost $50 to $300 as a one-time charge, depending on whether we hire a freelance designer or a design company. Also, since our algorithm will generate lists of news and opportunities from outside organizations, we will not need many employees. In terms of keeping the website running, one key form of revenue for our website would be advertisements. Through programs like Google AdWords, pay-per-click advertisements will be featured on our homepage, on the sidebar and top of the page. We can also advertise our own site on other areas of the Internet in order to bring users directly to the homepage.

Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?

As Neuroscience, Public Policy, and International Studies majors, we come from a diverse background of studies, but all have interests in the environment and public health. We sympathize with the desire to find impactful employment and make a difference in the world. We understand how millennials use the Internet and are interested in community engagement. As students at the University of Michigan, we have access to experts in a variety of fields from environmental and public health research to computer science and web design. For these reasons, we are well-suited to produce a website that is engaging, relevant, and informative.

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5 Responses to “Compact Impact: Increasing Environmental and Public Health Community Engagement”

  1. This is an awesome idea because it involves spreading awareness of local issues and occurrence while providing ways for the audience to become directly involved! Also, I like your idea of conducting a survey to configure a statistic.

    Although it’s great you have a local focus, since all courses of actions start small, it might become problematic for the app to continuously provide job and/or volunteering opportunities. For example, the positions might get filled fast and be limited. Therefore, certain individuals who are seeking to become involved will miss out on the opportunity to help. Also, since local news don’t always entail stories relating to the environment and public health, what will the app offer as news during these circumstances? Similarly, what if there are no jobs or volunteering opportunities that could aid with an environmental or public health issue?

  2. First of all, I think that you have some really great ideas in this application. There is definitely an unmet need for users to become actively engaged in the news. This is actually really similar to my own Knight News Challenge group’s idea, so I have a lot of questions, comments, and suggestions for you. First of all, how are you going to manage what volunteer/donation/internship opportunities are presented? Is this really going to be structured like craigslist? I think you may ultimately need more employees than you’re expecting just to make sure that only genuine opportunities are being presented—Just something to consider, given the current issues with phishing and such on craigslist.

    You also have several competitors—Beyond my own Knight Challenge Group, there is an app called “Ideal Impact” which is essentially doing what your website intends to do, but in app form. You may want to change the name of your website, just because “Compact Impact” sounds oddly like “Ideal Impact.”

    I also wonder whether you may want to consider having an app version of this website. Don’t do the exact same thing as Ideal Impact, obviously, but in this modern era, millennials (your target audience) are more apt to open an app every day than a website.

    Another question I have is whether users will have to search through a list of all donation, volunteering, and internship issues, or whether these will be separated by category. I just feel like if I’m looking for an internship on your website, I’m not going to want to see volunteer opportunities or donation opportunities.

    I also wonder whether you narrowed your potential market too much. I’m just thinking that most millennials don’t have a ton of money and aren’t as apt to donate to causes as older generations are. Is there any way you can make this website accessible to everyone who is able to use a computer? Basically our parent’s generation, our generation, and everywhere in-between. This is a huge potential market that you should definitely try to engage.

    I know I had a lot of comments and this probably seems really harsh, but I really think you have a great idea and I want it to be as successful as possible. This is a very innovative and unique idea and I’m so excited to see what you all decide to do with it!

  3. First and foremost, I find this idea really interesting because it is quite similar to my proposal for the Knight New Challenge application. What is a big difference is that your proposal provides job postings in addition to volunteer opportunity. My first reaction to this is that there are actually many environmental/public health job/volunteer websites. Some I have used myself to find internships. Nothing is identical to your proposed idea but here are some of the top results after a quick google search :

    http://www.ecojobs.com/

    http://www.environmentaljobs.com/

    http://www.ecoemploy.com/

    I also think that their really explicit names have an advantage because they are on they are easily found on the internet. For Compact Impact to show up when someone searches “environmental jobs” it would take more money. This is maybe something to consider in future financial planning.

    Your idea seems to be tackling a wide range of opportunities. A question that I have after reading this application is how you will manage quality control on your website with automated algorithms that will somehow search the internet for such a wide variety of opportunities? Will your algorithms rival the techniques of google or linkedIn search engines? If not, your algorithms could post fraudulent opportunities, or have trouble finding more opportunities that someone could find with a simple google search. Something that could be beneficial is a promise that there will be full time employees doing quality control on your website. Or recruiters/company reps for city areas where they are reaching out and meeting with local businesses that use your website.

    I really liked the rough numbers you provided for the financial part of the application. It made it seem as though you really thought out the idea and a reader would be able to trust that yes, in fact the idea is financially stable.

  4. Thanks for all of the comments! It’s super helpful to get perspective from outside of our own creative process, that can improve our idea.
    What we thought really set Compact Impact apart was its local focus, and all in one platform.

    Like everyone has mentioned there are a lot of websites that can do environmental job searches, or link you from news articles to engagement opportunities, but this proposes creating more of an online community where people can find opportunities to engage with environmental and public health issues while also connecting with other civic minded individuals in the forum section of the website.

    I really liked the suggestions of hiring a few people to serve as quality control moderators to make sure that postings on the website remain valid and up to date, especially because of the rise in wide distribution of fake news sources.

    Also, Ellery, I appreciated your suggestion of naming the website something that would easily come up in an internet search. Honestly, we struggled a little to come up with a name, and never even thought about search-ability.

  5. Your mission of increasing civic engagement resonates with many people. Here is a list of resources on this topic — not the survey info near the bottom:
    http://www.nytimes.com/ref/college/collegespecial2/coll_aascu_civicresources.html

    I think that doing your own survey is a really interesting approach to exploring the needs in this space. But the results of the survey would be more meaningful if you told us a little more. For example, how you developed the questions? Did you model after any existing surveys looking at civic engagement or volunteer participation? If you had this would have allowed you to compare to other data. How did you solicit participation in the survey? How many people responded? Surveying is a science, and results can be easily manipulated. So help your readers have some confidence in your findings.

    As an earlier comment noted, why are you only focusing on Millennials? I agree that this narrows your market. You do a good job differentiating your idea from near competitors. But I still wonder: Why do you think these other sites have not expanded to include the options you suggest?

    Also, how will you convince news companies to share content with you? Will you drive traffic to their sites? How will you attract an audience for your product?

    Since you are focusing on engagement at a very local level, I wonder if you might consider partnering with community foundations. These local foundations are part of a national network. According to an umbrella organization called the Council of Foundations, “more than 750 community foundations operate in urban and rural areas in every state in the United States” http://www.cof.org/foundation-type/community-foundations-taxonomy?navItemNumber=14849

    Overall, good job here. Please keep polishing your thinking. Civic engagement is key to democracy, so this is meaningful work you are doing.

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