Black Millennials For Flint (BM4F) is a grassroots, environmental justice and civil rights organization with the purpose of bringing like-minded organizations together to collectively take action and advocate against the crisis of lead exposure specifically in African American & Latino communities throughout the nation. Their roots began as a programming initiative within Thursday Network, the Greater Washington Urban League Young Professionals, then led by LaTricea Adams, Founder & President of Black Millennials for Flint. Their first project was to support the Buffalo Urban League Young Professionals Chapter with bringing in donations in preparation for a Flint Service Trip, where they helped bring in over 170 water donations. As a collective group of Black millennials, BM4F grew into an official movement on February 10, 2016.
I was contacted by the Black Millennials Chief Operating Officer, Krystina White, with the idea of creating a mobile app for the organization. They were interested in collecting data from users related to lead water testing. With their phones, users would be able to complete a survey and submit it with an image of an area they suspected to contain lead.
Black Millennials for Flint (BM4F) had an idea of what they would like the application to do. We sat down to establish a workflow architecture of the app; identifying the choices a user can make and the artifacts that BM4F wanted collect for the research purposes. Taking a step back to look at the workflow, we decided the app could would best be represented as a survey.
We first asked BM4F why they wanted to go with a mobile app instead of a responsive website. Primarily, this project was part of a grant research initiative that focused on technical literacy for underserved populations. In our case, low income residents of Flint, MI. Their research found that this community still had access to low cost smartphones. The wanted them to gain familiarity with using a smartphone for its features (downloading apps, taking photos, etc.).
Additionally, reporting suspected lead contamination, isn't confined just to the home. Users can be in other public spaces without access to a desktop machine. Having something available on a mobile device was an important focus. A mobile app is a call to action, compared to opening the browser and typing in the web address.
The workflow architecture was easy enough to create a design from. I wanted the design to be clean and easy to read for the users. I decided to be less text heavy and provide imagery to aid in the questions being asked on the page. There was no need for exploratory answers, so the questions were restricted to multiple choice, radio buttons, picture uploads and data entry fields.
I decided to go with the React-Native language as the backbone for the application. Since this was my first foray into mobile app development, I wanted something that would have an easy learning curve and have cross-platform development. The structure of React-Native applications reminded me of web applications, so I knew I would be able to create something worthwhile.
The database component of the application was built on Google's Firebase. With such a localized application user pool, starting with Firebase for provide an easy to use, free, open-source tool for the client to extract report data. In the future, we are considering moving over to a large platform (such as Azure) when the user pool grows.
Development took an iterative approach. Frontend components and database integration were done with unit testing. After the first version of the front end was completed, I met with Krystina White (BM4F) to conduct usability testing. Additional changes were implemented with a final round of acceptance testing.
The Black Millennials For Flint Lead Reporting Application was launched successfully to both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. We hope to gather feedback from users that can lead to new design changes and features with the next iteration fo the app.