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Diminishing Leftover Meal Swipes for Georgia Tech Students

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Introduction

My team was tasked with finding and solving a problem in the sharing economy - a system that will help both producers and consumers receive what they each want.

The Problem

A lot of students at Georgia Tech purchase meal plans, particularly freshmen, who are required to purchase one. At current rates, freshmen are required to pay $2,420 per semester for a meal plan. Meal plans consist of a number of meal swipes that expire by the end of the semester.
Students who are running out of time to use up their remaining meal swipes have few options. Many use their meal swipes at fast food restaurants located on campus. Students also use their meal swipes to buy food for their friends, but they might not have many friends who are not on the meal plan or their friends may also be stuck in the same situation as them.
Our goal is to design a system which will allow students to share meal swipes they don’t plan on using by the end of the semester with other students.

User Research

Surveys

We sent out a survey to our friends at Georgia Tech and also posted it in Georgia Tech Facebook groups. The survey isolated the meal plan participants from non-meal plan participants through a series of conditional questions. As part of the survey we recorded the class standing, gender, and residence area (on or off campus) in the event that statistically significant correlations between any of these factors and meal plan preferences could be found. Because anyone involved in paying for a meal plan is a stakeholder in the problem area, we asked meal plan holders how their meal plan was funded. Similarly, we asked non-meal plan holders if the cost of a meal plan played a part in their decision to not sign up for a meal plan.
To determine if there was potential to address dissatisfaction on the part of the non-meal plan holding consumers, we asked them to indicate how satisfied they were with their current food arrangements, which could comprise cooking at home, eating out, or some other system. The idea behind this was that respondees who were not satisfied with their current food plans would be more open to changing the way they get their food than someone who doesn’t feel like making any changes.

Interviews

We interviewed multiple GT students who have and don't have meal swipes.
Interview questions for those with meal swipes:
  1. Why did you sign up for a meal plan?
  2. Do you have meal swipes/money left over the end of the semester?
    1. How do you feel about that?
    2. Have you ever swiped someone into a dining hall?
  3. Which dining hall do you prefer to visit and why?
  4. How often do you eat at a dining hall and why?
  5. How else do you take care of your meals when you don’t eat at a dining hall?
  6. Do you have any dietary restrictions (allergies, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc)
    1. Do your dietary restrictions influence your food decisions?
  7. If you could suggest any changes to the current meal plan structure, what would they be?
Interview questions for those without meal swipes
  1. Why did you decide not to purchase a meal plan?
  2. Have you eaten at a dining hall before? How was your experience?
  3. Where do you eat the majority of your food?
  4. Are you satisfied with your current food arrangements?
    1. If you could change anything about your current food arrangement, what would it be?
  5. Has someone ever shared a meal swipe with you?
Interview questions for GT Dining Services
  1. Have you seen students with meal swipes left over by the end of the semester?
  2. Have you witnessed students swiping other students into the dining halls? How did you respond?
  3. Were you aware that 100% of the meal swipe users have meal swipes left over and 60% of them have swiped other students in based on our survey. What do you think about this?
  4. What could GT Dining services possibly provide to help the students whose meal swipes that are going to waste?

User Personas


Design Criteria

  1. Convenience: Getting rid of extra meal swipes must be simple to both the providers and the consumers.
    • Success: Providers can get rid of their extra meal swipes with minimal steps.
    • Failure: Consumers have a hard time receiving meal swipes from Providers and vice versa.
  2. Saving: Providers shouldn’t waste their extra meal swipes.
    • Success: Providers successfully use all of their meal swipes by the end of the semester.
    • Failure: Providers have a lot of meal swipes being wasted at the end of the semester because they couldn’t find a way to use them all.
  3. Sharing: Providers should be able to share their extra meal swipes with others, including friends, family, and the homeless.
    • Success: Providers share their leftover meal swipes with others with no restrictions.
    • Failure: Providers are restricted from sharing their extra meal swipes with other people.

The Solution

In the beginning of this project, we wanted consumers to be able to purchase meal swipes at a much reduced rate from producers. However, after talking with GT Dining services, we learned that Meal swipes are tax-exempt and the person who buys them has tax implications that are non-transferable. However, there are ways to circumvent these rules without breaking them, i.e, limiting the amount of meal swipes one can donate. With this in mind, we modified the donation solution to limit the number of swipes the users can donate. The swipes they donate are part of a “Guest Meal Plan Swipe,” which are swipes specifically set aside for donating. They will receive a set number each semester. Based on the feedback from our user research, we decided to go with a phone application for the solution. This solution satisfies the requirements for all three parties(consumers, providers, and GT Dining services) involved and the design criterias. This app would allow Georgia Tech students to sign in with their credentials and send meal swipes to their friends, donate to a shelter, or cater for personal events.

Low-Fidelity Prototype


Conclusion

Our team realized that the issues regarding leftover meal swipes was a rampant issue in the Georgia Tech community. We listened to all sides of the problem space and implemented features into our application that satisfies everyone.
If we were to do this project all over again, we would focus on the legal issues that we weren’t able to completely solve for our sharing economy. In the beginning, we weren't aware that students are not allowed to share swipes with one another. As we delved deeper into our problem space, we talked to GT Dining Services later in our project. However, if we were given the opportunity again, knowing the extremity of the problem, we would have gone to the GT Dining Services earlier and asked for their participation in ideas so that this solution could actually be made available for GT students.
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