The Journey of One Refugee

The United States Digital Service is a startup at The White House, using design and technology to deliver better services to the American people. It is staffed with top technologists that serve term-limited tours of duty with the Federal government.

In 2016, my digital service team was asked to do a discovery sprint focused on how the different organizations involved in refugee processing work together. The goal was to assess the current process, including the dependencies each organization has, so that we could understand the impact of these dependencies on organization motivation, efficiency and humanitarian relief.

My Role

Research Plan, Field Research Lead, Design Studio Lead, Prototyping


I used a user-centered, collaborative and creative approach to design, developing solutions by first understanding the motivations, goals and contexts of the people using our platforms.


Define what the user needs, business needs and technology capacities are.


Take the information you learned in understand and create frameworks that capture the needs, goals and motivations of your users.


Get out as many ideas as possible.


Use zen voting to pick a concept to prototype.


Make your idea testable.


Get user feedback and iterate quickly. Make sure engineering scope is appropriate. Share with stakeholders.


We needed to better understand the ecosystem — the people, organizations, technologies and activities. Specifically, we wanted to learn what each organizations decision points were and how these decisions impact progress. We also wanted to learn what was documented at each stage and how this data is used. Two other areas we explored were communication and scheduling. This is where we hypothesized design and technology could help.

Field Research in SE Asia


When I was in SE Asia, I was able to observe almost every step of the process from when a person is determined to have refugee status to when they get on a plane to the United States. From these interviews and observations, I was extracted pain points and mapped them to the refugee journey. Then, I layered in what organization owns each part of the process and what activities they take to execute.

The Journey of One Refugee


We brainstormed and sketched solutions to solve some of the biggest pain points of the caseworkers, those that support the caseworkers and the refugees themselves.

Design Studio

I facilitated a design studio with people from across the digital service team. We used the crazy 8’s method for sketching and storyboarding. Our goals:

  • Decrease the number of cases that become unreachable after hours of casework is completed, saving time and money
  • Remove routine paperwork from the interview process, allowing caseworkers to focus on admissibility and credibility of the case
  • Give caseworkers the tools they need to navigate cultural and language barriers, making each touch point with the applicant more efficient
  • Create standards for communication and appointment registration throughout the pipeline movement, reducing redundancy in rapport building and basic information collection

Next Steps

We shared the findings and inspirational concepts with The United States Refugee Admissions Program to rekindle ideas from the past and provide new inspiration so that the experience for all people is the best it can be.

adminDesign Challenge: Refugee Admissions