6ST Oxfam

6STOxfam is designed to improve the visibility of transport options and facilitate collaboration for Oxfam shop managers and area managers at the local level.

The app allows Oxfam’s local communities to better engage and visualise the state of assets and the location of transport both in the present and into the immediate future. In a dynamic and continually evolving business setting, this can help make better commercial decisions (e.g. where a lucrative house clearance can be scheduled in place of servicing some donation banks which may only be partly filled, or where valuable donated goods can be notified to the community and an appropriate sales outlet identified and transport arranged).

6ST Oxfam


In this demonstration we set out to develop and test a smartphone app designed to combine social networking concepts with asset tracking and monitoring to enhance the visibility of logistics operations within a national UK charity, Oxfam. With the smartphone's ability to accurately track users whilst providing a platform to allow data entry, interpretation and visualisation, we wanted to see how Oxfam's area managers, drivers, shop managers and volunteers might make improved business decisions if they could better visualise the availability of stock and transport options around them in time and space.

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oxfam.pngA series of wire frames and storyboards were produced and through and, through an iterative design-consult process, the core functionality was developed. The app itself was written in iOS for the Apple iPhone platform. As Oxfam operates across separate regions, each having an area manager overseeing a series of shops, which may or may not use an area van driver and sometimes, volunteer drivers, the app functionality was built around the concept of a community, in which all the players (area manager, shop managers, paid and volunteer drivers) post, share and view information about operations in real-time. The app enabled the members of the community to:

  •  Visualise where each member in the network was at any time
  • Visualise where members will be in the future according to their schedules
  • Visualise current donation bank fill levels (%) based on readings from remote monitoring sensors
  • Visualise when banks should be full (based on historic data)
  • Allow shop managers to record the number of items of stock collected from them each day (and moved to another shop or back to the depot for recycling or disposal)
  • Allow users to disseminate messages of general interest to the network
  • Allow drivers to record i) no. of units collected from banks ii) actual fill levels of banks before and after collection iii) comments on status of bank including photographs iv) no. of units delivered into shops v) no. of units collected from shops

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The app was trialled across three different Oxfam communities of users, over three separate counties in the United Kingdom:

  • (1) A driver, area manager and three shop managers in Hertfordshire (21/3/13 – 14/6/13)
  • (2) A driver, area manager and depot manager in Dorset (3/5/13 – 20/9/13)
  • (3) Two drivers, an area manager and seven shop managers in Cambridgeshire (3/6/13 - 3/9/13).

The three communities were chosen after a consultation exercise with Oxfam during which a general call for participant regions was placed and a number of area managers came forward expressing interest. The three communities were chosen as they covered the full range of Oxfam activities in terms of stock cascading between shops, textile and book bank servicing, house clearance and commercial collections. They also involved the full spectrum of staff in terms of paid full-time and voluntary part-time workers, some of which were fully smartphone enabled, with others who had never experienced the technology before.

Pre-trial background interviews were undertaken with all the participants followed by in-trial interviews and post-trial debriefs. All transactions undertaken and messages sent were recorded via the app onto a database. Participants either used their own personal iPhones or were lent a project iPhone for the duration of the trial.

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Key Findings

A personal smartphone can be used as a reliable tool to track assets and disseminate relevant information to community members in a charity retail setting, providing that the 3G network is available across the network.

The ways in which the community use the information to improve their performance very much depends on the existing relationships (shop to shop interactions, shop to driver, area manager to all) within a fluid business environment that is driven by dynamic donation patterns.

Using a five point Likert scale ('strongly agree' – 5; 'agree' – 4'; 'uncertain' – 3; 'disagree' – 2; 'strongly disagree' – 1), the shop managers in the Cambridgeshire trial all agreed that the app did provide them with extra visibility of the driver's activity over what they had before (μ=4.5) and their understanding of the drivers daily activities had improved as a result (μ=3.7). Views on whether the app had improved communications with the driver were neutral (μ=3.2) but the visibility of his current location and projected location into the future were considered useful by all: 'The visibility of where he [the driver] is and where he is likely to be is very helpful in planning activity. We are using real information instead of thinking – "he might be, he might be."

Decision making had been better informed with the data presented through the app (μ=3.7) along with enhanced understanding of donation bank performance (μ=4) and shop delivery/cascade patterns (μ=3.5). In terms of understanding how time is used in the business, five out of the six managers felt that the app had had a positive affect (μ=3.8).

Metaheuristic algorithms were developed to use the bank fill data to dynamically organise collections for the next working day based on a minimum 50% fill level service strategy. Over a period of 36 working days using 5 vehicles servicing 56 bank sites and 68 shops, the collection schedules recommended by the algorithms resulted in a 28% reduction in the total number of visits to bank sites, 1159km (464kg CO2) saved and a reduction in daily round time of 32 minutes.

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Tom Cherrett, Duncan Shingleton, Ben Norton, Fraser McLeod, Camille Forey, Janet Dickinson, Chris Winstanley, Nigel Davies, Chris Speed, Sarah Norgate.

Developing a smartphone app to enhance Oxfam’s supply chain visibility. (Accepted for publication, International Journal of Logistics Research and Applications)


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We understand the extent to which behavioural change in transport habits and practices can be facilitated through the creation of a new form of ‘transport network’, based on extending social tablet.pngnetworking principles to transport users.

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Mobile Apps

The project has developed a suite of mobile phone apps for each of the corresponding research contexts. Watch videos and read details of the projects aims, phone-exploded.pngkey findings and outputs.

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The 6ST team comprised researchers from the universities of Southampton, Edinburgh, Salford, people.pngBournemouth and Lancaster.

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