myGRcitypoints Responsive Web App

City of Grand Rapids

Can a city encourage citizens to be more active in their community? Grand Rapids' leaders thought so. They created myGRcitypoints, a web and mobile-web app that rewards citizens for recycling, volunteering, and other civic-minded activities.

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Government

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MESSA and its design logo are marks owned by Michigan Education Special Services Association, registered in the U.S.

Grand Rapids wanted to empower its citizens to improve their city and neighborhoods with a program that would:

  • Tell Grand Rapidians about volunteer opportunities, park cleanup days, etc.
  • Award them points for volunteering, recycling, etc., and allow them to redeem those points at local businesses.
  • Show them how their actions were improving the community and environment.

They called the program myGRcitypoints and partnered with Atomic Object to create a web app that would manage the rewards program.

Starting Small Enough

For the first release of myGRcitypoints, Atomic Object encouraged the City to narrow their scope and focus on recycling—something the community was already familiar with.

By framing myGRcitypoints around recycling, Grand Rapids was able to reward users for something they were already doing. This made it much easier to get the people of GR excited and involved in the project, and drove sign ups and adoption.

Atomic is great to work with. They really break everything down into layman’s terms so it’s easy to understand. Working as a team, we came up with some great ideas. I love their enthusiasm and their creativity.

Jasmine Olsen, Project Coordinator

Coordinating Stakeholders

In addition to team members Grand Rapids and Atomic Object, this project brought together lots of different groups. Having this many cooks in the kitchen required a lot of coordination and a complex project schedule that balanced several timelines and sets of constraints.
Recycling data from the GR Public Services Department
Dozens of vendors with rewards of various sizes, types, and durations — recruited and coordinated by Local First
The myGRcitypoints information website, created by The Image Shoppe

Technical Specs

Atomic designed the system architecture and wrote software and firmware for:

Custom Protocol
Reduces required bandwidth and handle collisions, allowing reliable transfer of a high volume of information through RF and cellular communications back to the data collection service.
Gateway Devices
Each is a Technologic TS 7800 single-board computer with a custom RF receiver. They run a combination of C and Ruby on an embedded Linux system.
Web App
A JRuby on Rails application using an Oracle database that deploys to IBM Websphere.

Phase 2: Developing a Full-feature Workshop Experience

With the Learning Map developed into a digital product, Root wanted to further help users dive into their organization’s strategy, financials, or processes with a second release. Among other features, they sought to create a kind of a virtual whiteboard, where everyone’s voice could be heard in a fun, engaging, and meaningful way.

Atomic’s Software Design Practice Lead in Ann Arbor, Bryan Elkus, led design work on the project. He saw the user experience of going through the Learning Map activities as a type of collaborative online challenge.

Under the guidance of Atomic's Software Consultant & Designer Bryan Elkus, the project emphasized collaborative user experiences, akin to an online group challenge, focusing on:

  • Consultants facilitating onboarding, ice-breakers, and exercises.
  • Client company employees engaging in organizational change.

Atomic Object Software Consultant & Developer Matt Soto his development work focused on delivering Root’s vision of polish, complex features, and emphasizing a business model around the digital product.

Root's VP, Nate Butki says Atomic’s consultative approach helped the project team uncover and address underlying needs rather than merely executing requests.

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it,” he said. “If they had listened to us and spit out exactly what we asked for, they would have only gotten 80 percent of it. Atomic’s team asked the questions and pushed us further.”

Technical Specs

Atomic designed the system architecture and wrote software and firmware for:

Custom Protocol
Reduces required bandwidth and handle collisions, allowing reliable transfer of a high volume of information through RF and cellular communications back to the data collection service.
Gateway Devices
Each is a Technologic TS 7800 single-board computer with a custom RF receiver. They run a combination of C and Ruby on an embedded Linux system.
Web App
A JRuby on Rails application using an Oracle database that deploys to IBM Websphere.

Phase 2: Developing a Full-feature Workshop Experience

With the Learning Map developed into a digital product, Root wanted to further help users dive into their organization’s strategy, financials, or processes with a second release. Among other features, they sought to create a kind of a virtual whiteboard, where everyone’s voice could be heard in a fun, engaging, and meaningful way.

Atomic’s Software Design Practice Lead in Ann Arbor, Bryan Elkus, led design work on the project. He saw the user experience of going through the Learning Map activities as a type of collaborative online challenge.
Under the guidance of Atomic's Software Consultant & Designer Bryan Elkus, the project emphasized collaborative user experiences, akin to an online group challenge, focusing on:

• Consultants facilitating onboarding, ice-breakers, and exercises.

• Client company employees engaging in organizational change.

Atomic Object Software Consultant & Developer Matt Soto his development work focused on delivering Root’s vision of polish, complex features, and emphasizing a business model around the digital product. Root's VP, Nate Butki says Atomic’s consultative approach helped the project team uncover and address underlying needs rather than merely executing requests.

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it,” he said. “If they had listened to us and spit out exactly what we asked for, they would have only gotten 80 percent of it. Atomic’s team asked the questions and pushed us further.”

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it.”

Nate Butki, Root VP

Taste-testing the Product in the Field

Delivering A Great Product and An Empowered Team

By getting to share their decades’ experience with agile practices, Atomic’s team got to watch the counterparts at Root develop new skills over the course of the second engagement.

Soto says he loved watching Root’s inherently collaborative culture adopt the agible practices they were learning.

“After a few months, they loved how easy and smooth it was to make last-minute changes, to pivot in another direction, and use feedback to spend their time where it was most impactful,” he said.

Root’s Jared Page says the agile approach to product design, development, and management he saw during the engagement had a profound impact.

“One of my favorite things about this project is that everyone got better—better at our jobs and better with communication; it just feels cool,” he said. “Sometimes you work for a year and don’t know if you’ve improved but everyone could look back on this project and say they’ve improved. This project changed the way I will work forever.”

Doing Good

The first version of myGRcitypoints was released in early 2011, as the City was switching to a single-stream recycling program. Within the first 10 months, the new program increased the volume of recyclables by more than 80%.

myGRcitypoints continues to grow. Since the initial release, Atomic Object has helped develop an accompanying web-mobile app, added a volunteering function (with help from the Heart of West Michigan United Way), and performed several annual updates. The focus remains on adding new users and functions while keeping the recycling function a high priority.

The myGRcity points program is not just achieving significant environmental results—it is achieving economic results, as more Grand Rapids households are shifting their spending to locally-owned businesses.
Elissa Hillary, Executive Director of Local First

Coordinating Stakeholders

In addition to team members Grand Rapids and Atomic Object, this project brought together lots of different groups. Having this many cooks in the kitchen required a lot of coordination and a complex project schedule that balanced several timelines and sets of constraints.
Recycling data from the GR Public Services Department
Dozens of vendors with rewards of various sizes, types, and durations — recruited and coordinated by Local First
The myGRcitypoints information website, created by The Image Shoppe

A Partnership with a Storybook Ending

The team’s careful project management, client communication, cutting-edge architecture, and cohesive design strategy helped the team ship the product on time and on budget.

Reflecting back on the multi-year, high-profile project, Robinson said Atomic helped his company arrive at a special moment in time.

“We'd never done anything this big. Ever,” he said. “We’re live across all the major pillars Atomic said they would deliver on. It was delivered on time, on budget, to expectation, live. Not three or four milestones late with people leaving and the platform half-baked and full of bugs.”

StoryLoom began open-beta in December 2022. A global launch is scheduled for the spring of 2023.

“We’ve been given a rare opportunity," said Robinson, "to find success by chasing opportunities Starship Enterprise-style: going where people aren’t—pushing boundaries.”

The Atomic Team

Here are some of our current Atoms who worked on this project. Click their photo to read their bios!

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Project domain(s)

web

web

mobile

mobile

desktop

desktop

embedded

embedded

Industry

Services provided

Software Product Design
System Architecture
Information Architecture
Interaction Design
Visual Design
Software Development
User Testing
Exploratory Testing
Deployment

Tools used

ASP.NET MVC (C#)
SpecFlow with Watin
StructureMap
SubSonic