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First do no harm–including data harm

Team Rubicon’s culture has a bias toward action

January 6, 2020

This post is one in a series focusing on the second networking group of NetHope members participating in IDEA (Imagine, Design, Execute, Assess), a broad umbrella for digital transformation processes offered to NetHope members through The Center for the Digital Nonprofit. The first IDEA implementation pilot was based on Dream, Design, Deliver, a social impact accelerator developed with Microsoft.

By Jean-Louis Ecochard and Fredrik Winsnes, The Center for the Digital Nonprofit

Imagine being a volunteer responding to a disaster. The situation is hectic. People are at risk. Chaos can quickly spring from nowhere. As a trained professional, you have built muscle memory that makes responding to the worst situations almost instinctive. Yet, protecting private information is new to you, particularly digital data, and, while trying to do the right thing, you mistakenly jeopardize someone’s identity, a vulnerable victim of the disastrous event.

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in 49 BC in an attempt to seize the Roman Republic it was literally a do-or-die situation. Today, "crossing the Rubicon" has become a metaphor that means to pass a point of no return. Losing one’s personal identifiable information (PII) can be akin to Caesar's famous march. Many of us have experienced this violation. For Jean-Louis, 2019 marked the 20th anniversary when his identity was stolen, the result of a stranger using his PII. It is a situation that still impacts his life negatively today.

Team Rubicon, a nonprofit, takes its name from the previously mentioned Roman event. The organization serves communities by mobilizing military veterans to continue their service by leveraging their skills and experience to help people prepare, respond, and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises.


Dream Books have been posted for several organizations. Please access the NetHope Solutions Center to view and download.

For two days in Houston, a team of passionate Team Rubicon leaders assembled to begin addressing the important question: How might we create a culture that brings a way to protect the data of the people (survivors) we serve and the people who serve them (volunteers) in a way that we can still get “sh*t” done?

The IDEA Journey workshop took place at the Houston Microsoft office and included 17 participants. Ryan Risley and Chris Bryant from Wipfli facilitated the session. Microsoft sponsored and attended the workshop.


To get acquainted and to learn more about Team Rubicon’s business, several of us were able to join the Houston Rebuild team the day before the two-day Dream session. After a day of physical labor (some of us are not quite used to that!) our appetites were primed for an authentic Texan evening meal with BBQ brisket and chicken with all the trimmings at the Team Rubicon Rebuild Center in Houston. Seeing what happens during the Rebuild process provided great context for the activities of the following two days.

Team Rubicon’s culture has a bias toward action, so it is with no pretense that Wipfli and Team Rubicon jointly had carefully prepared for the workshop virtually, developing four key personas representing beneficiaries, volunteers, and staff.

The first day of the workshop started by recalling and empathizing with these personas and gaining a good inventory of the pains, needs, rewards, and other challenges associated with them. This enabled us to associate these into early ideas, to relate these to the personal journeys, and to vote on the most promising ones. The top ranked ideas were cross-referenced with the full group to ensure that the collective benefited from the work of each team. These top ideas were then organized on the axes of ease of implementation and security risk in order to identify strategic and high ROI opportunities. During the IDEA Journey, even though nonprofits pause two days to imagine solutions to their challenges, their mission does not pause for a second.

The second day saw us stretching our minds even more with exercises designed to increase ideas and yet respect different workstyles. During IDEA workshops, it is essential that the portfolio of activities suit the diversity of interaction styles, from silently working alone to vocal group collaboration. Adapting to group dynamics, Wipfli led the group to usher even more ideas and potential solutions that turned into numerous “How might we …” statements that included:

  • How might we create a culture of data security awareness for volunteers in a way that engages and motivates tech-enabled learning, so that beneficiaries and volunteer PII data is secure?
  • How might we facilitate two-way communication in a way that focuses on security and promotes trust, so that survivors remain confident in the services provided throughout the duration of the journey?
  • How might we build TR brand trust with beneficiaries so that we can connect with them in a way that they feel comfortable accepting our help on their worse day?
  • How might we create beneficiary-centric solutions in a way that minimizes data collected so that we can better protect their identity and privacy and build trust?

It was then time to prepare for the pitch to an imaginary donor. Each team gathered with renewed energy to create clever acronyms, logos, posters, and stories of their solution to the challenge.

Presentation were done, “TR Style” with grit, laughs, smiles, and practicality.

  • TRACI or “Team Rubicon Compliance Initiative”: A step-by-step approach to maximize information delivery and securing comfort to someone stuck in a refugee situation by ensuring minimal PII is collected and stored in the process.
  • DXS or “Digital Transformation Security”: a roadmap for dramatic improvements of the already advanced learning management systems deployed at Team Rubicon, ultimately deploying VR and simulation to train volunteers on best practices when privacy and data security might be at risk.
  • TRAPPS or “Team Rubicon Achievement Performance Point System”: a gamified training platform using badging as incentives to progress.
  • Homebase: a dashboard for Team Rubicon donors, volunteers, and rebuild homeowners (survivors) where home rebuild progress updates such as reconstruction information, status reporting, and other statics are securely reported to keep all stakeholders up to date.

At the end of the two days, we had the opportunity to reflect, using a single word to describe our experience: “Hilarious”, “Surprising”, “Evolving”, “Impressed”, “Valuable”, "Creative", were tossed out in rapid succession. Further reflections produced the following quotes:

“Design thinking allows us to go up the hill a little bit. Actually, thinking up 10 years perhaps, a statement of possibilities.” – Raj Kamachee, CIO/CTO, Team Rubicon

“Even with little to no experience in the process, you can come in here with an open mind and start with a big problem and come to a solution. You’ll be surprised with how creative your team gets and you’ll be very pleased with the outcomes you receive.”  –Brian Calcagno, Development/Strategic Partnership, Team Rubicon

“It really helps you focus on the process and learn how to develop for yourself the direction that you want to move forward in a way that really allows you to consider different possibilities…. I’d highly recommend it.” – Drew Hanna, Deputy Director of Regional Operations, South Central Territory, Team Rubicon

In addressing the human aspects of data security by dramatically enhancing data safety awareness with staff and volunteers, Team Rubicon is not only accelerating its digital transformation, but also contributing its work in service of the broader sector – and that is yet another way for Team Rubicon to keep true with their motto to “get sh*t” done!”.


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