Student Fellowship

Building Resilience Through E-commerce

Project Area:

Economic Recovery


Providence, RI

Reporting to:

Chief Innovation Officer

The Challenge

The hospitality sector, specifically restaurants, play an outsize role in the local economy of Providence. Many of these restaurants are small businesses, owned and operated by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) or immigrant residents. From the city’s perspective, it is crucial from both an economic and equity perspective that the city supports one of its most substantial industries, particularly during such challenging times. As of December 2020, the city has supported the business adaptation of a local parking valet service into a food delivery and runner service for local vendors. In addition to providing funds to support the onboarding of new restaurants and vendors to the delivery app, the city has secured about a month of free delivery for participating vendors. The goal is to prevent small restaurants from closing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and help restaurants that would otherwise face high commissions charged by typical third-party delivery services.

The city hopes to expand the use of this service and subsidize delivery for as long as possible, but first, it wants to ensure that the restaurants most in need are able to access and benefit from the delivery app. In addition to understanding whether the intervention is providing the support that small, locally-owned and operated restaurants need to stay open, the city also hopes to deepen its relationships with local business owners and open pathways to greater collaboration on economic development initiatives. A successful summer fellowship would provide a substantive evaluation with qualitative and quantitative data for the city to better understand whether their intervention provides the support that small, locally-owned and operated restaurants need to stay open.

What You’ll Do

The fellow will be expected to:

  • Assess the impact of this intervention on the sustainability of restaurants and answer questions like:
    ◦ Which restaurants benefit most from the program?
    ◦ Which restaurants were unable to access or did not benefit from the program?
    ◦ What were the barriers to entry and participation?
    ◦ Which technology tools and training supplements were effective? What was missing?
  • To answer the questions above, the fellow will conduct the following analyses:
    ◦ Survey participating restaurants and conduct ethnographic research to determine relative benefit by type of restaurant;
    ◦ Disaggregate sales data by restaurant type; and
    ◦ Analyze delivery data through the app to determine total purchase amounts and commission percentages passed on to restaurants.
  • Propose revisions to the program to better meet the needs of local restaurants, which may include preliminary research on legislative action or programming that can reduce the cost burden of third-party delivery services on restaurants.

What You’ll Bring

  • Experience conducting interviews and collecting, cleaning, and analyzing quantitative data (using Excel and/or RStudio)
  • Conversational Spanish language skills highly preferred for communication with local restaurateurs
  • Design thinking and human-centered design skills
  • GIS experience (QGIS or ArcGIS) preferred but not required
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