Designing for Organizational Intelligence in Nonprofits

Enabling effective use of information and knowledge leading to sustainability.



For my Master of Design thesis, I partnered with The Center for Victims of Violence and Crime (CVVC), a small local nonprofit, to create a communication system with elements of knowledge management that would afford a more effective use of information and knowledge, leading to higher organizational intelligence.



Many public charities are dependent on the skills, experience and talent of its members, volunteers and staff to further their missions. Being knowledge-intensive bodies, their competitive advantage largely depends on the level of organizational intelligence. Consisting of organizational structure and culture, stakeholder relations, knowledge management and strategic planning, high organizational intelligence enables the nonprofit to become a learning organization able to innovate its structure and processes, which leads to sustainability.

Often times lacking funds and staff to perform daily operations, many local nonprofits do not have the resources to implement the knowledge management systems that would systematically capture and transmit their knowledge. Stored in local folders, in hard copy formats or people’s heads, this knowledge is scattered across the organization, inaccessible to those who could benefit from it.

So the question becomes:

How can human-centered design help create a sustainable system within the constraints of the time, resources and funding of a small nonprofit?


Contextual Inquiry

To begin understanding the culture, activities and relationships within the organization and its training department, I interviewed all seven CVVC training department employees, photo-documenting the artifacts and practices mentioned in the interviews.

Collage Session

To explore the ideal scenario, I held a collage session with four CVVC training department employees. The session confirmed previous findings from interviews and led to key design implications.

System Assessment

Using activity theory, I analyzed the interviews. I created seven individual activity system diagrams that I then combined into a comprehensive diagram that revealed the issues expressed in multiple interviews, leading to core needs.

Key Findings

Reconcile operating modes.

Clarify staff roles.

Establish formalized workflows.

Track department-wide activity.

Organize shared training folder.

Establish document versioning.

Enable easy capture of tacit knowledge.

Design Implications

Be simple and intuitive.

Manage large amounts of documents.

Create atmosphere of trust and control.

Have motivation-reward system.

Take care of cumbersome admin tasks.

Facilitate human contact among staff.

Provide access to shared documents.

Approach to Design


To address most of the core needs, the best approach to design was to create a knowledge management practice supported by an online communication system that would enable the systematic capture and dissemination of organizational information and knowledge, while also leveraging the organizational resources.


The solution consists of four components implemented with Microsoft Sharepoint (MSP) 2010:

The workflows model the knowledge management practices leading to systematic capture and dissemination of knowledge and information.

These workflows are supported by the information architecture that both sustains and grows out of DRC/CEO activities and manifests itself through the MSP user interface.

The user interface combines the three components and affords interaction with the system.

The custom services help make the system respond to the particular needs of the client.

Usability Testing

I held five separate usability sessions and asked the participants to upload five to seven documents to the system.

Testing Objective

The primary objective of each session was test the ease of navigation and to see if the information hierarchy of the system matched the user’s mental model. Secondly, I wanted to uncover any glitches and get general comments on the solution.

Evaluation Criteria

After each session, I mapped the steps each participant took through the system to upload each document and evaluated any problems they encountered based on these four criteria:

Severity: How serious is the problem on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most severe?
Frequency: How many users are likely to have the some problem?
Impact: Can the users still accomplish the task?
Persistence: How likely is the user to repeat the behavior that led to the problem?

Thesis Poster 1

Thesis Poster 2

Thesis Document


Graduate Thesis
Advised by Suguru Ishizaki
Carnegie Mellon University


2 semesters
Completed April 2011

Made With

Adobe InDesign Adobe Illustrator Adobe Photoshop Microsoft SharePoint 2010