Community support for ex-offenders at heart of new app

Innovative student project offers collaborative support system

Date posted

25 May 2018

09:22

Last updated

25 May 2018

An Edinburgh Napier student has joined forces with a social enterprise to develop a ground-breaking new app aimed at providing professional and personal support to ex-offenders.

Valentina Marin Echeverria, who is working towards her Masters in Interaction Design, collaborated on her idea with The Wise Group, which offers mentoring services for people serving short term prison sentences and on release.

The app, called Tribe Spot, is a digital platform for ex-offenders who are ready for employment. It offers activities to gain knowledge in their area of interest, encouraging them to fulfil objectives to receive microcredits and certificates. These build towards a profile similar to a CV, which they can use when looking for employment to show their experience and commitment towards personal goals.

Valentina got involved with The Wise Group by creating workshops for the young men to attend, and it was in these workshops she saw potential in the way they talked and helped one another.

“I could see that enhancing that interaction was crucial to create a community, a support system based on equals with similar experiences and goals,” she said.

“Working with The Wise Group and their customers was an amazing experience. I have no words to thank them for their kindness and their genuine interest in the project. They opened the doors of the organization and taught me so much about their work, which helped guide the whole process. I am not exaggerating when I say that this project could not be what it is without their support.”

During the workshops, Valentina asked the men how they searched for information and connected to others. Their answer – through their phones – was what defined the digital platform of the app in order for it to meet the needs of the people who would be using it.

“Engaging with real people, not assumptions of who they are and what they do, makes all the difference,” she said. “The potential users of the app were the driving force behind the project. They opened up about their goals and challenges and allowed me to learn from them. I want to thank them and everyone I talked to during this process.”

Tribe Spot functions by allowing its users to enrich their CV and get ready for employment by keeping their personal and professional goals in mind, sharing their knowledge to find understanding and gain experience to face challenges outside the community.

“We all need to belong somewhere and we need to feel accepted within that space to thrive and become a positive force for the whole,” explained Valentina. “When we belong we don’t only want our own benefit but we reach out to our community and become strong together.”

Once they have achieved a certain amount of credits, the users can also create and host their own activities or propose new ones if they don’t find one that meets their needs. At the same time, a mediator manages the platform and activities, looking for ways to improve the overall experience.

“Ideally after acquiring the experiences the users would also become mediators and, consequently, the platform would be completely run by them,” said Valentina. “Nonetheless, the users need to grow and prepare for such a role.”

Valentina believes that Tribe Spot is the “helping hand” needed to support change from within.

“This project was never meant as a magic solution to the challenges that arise during the reintegration process, but as a tool design to help the people involve with it: mentors, organizations, employers and of course the customers,” she said. “This is a very complex situation that needs everyone’s participation and that is the perspective I always kept during the design process.

“The people I designed for are already enrolled in reintegration programs voluntarily. That means that they are in charge of their improvement. The mentors will guide them but ultimately the decision is theirs. With this I want to convey how much they want it and how hard they work for it. This project is meant to enrich their relations with others similar to them and even if the circumstances they come from are not ideal, they can find understanding and a safe space to grow in the reintegration community.”

Study Design at Edinburgh Napier