Development Anonymous

Post by Kara Downey, Manal Dia, Ryan Harper, Aaswath Raman


Although we came to the class from a variety of backgrounds—law, physics, business, journalism, education, political science, and more—our reasons for enrolling were remarkably similar.  Our first meeting last March began to sound like an “Alcoholics Anonymous” group for frustrated students of development: “Hi, my name is…, and I became disillusioned with traditional approaches to development and political reform when…”  We weren’t naïve enough to think that the design process would be a magic bullet.  But we did hope that this new approach would allow us to better tackle problems we cared about deeply but did not know how to address.

We did not get our first full taste of the design process until this past Saturday, several weeks after our work with Simeon and Timap began.   We spent all day engaging in the full design process—from empathy work to prototyping and test—around questions of how to get youth more involved in politics.  For those of us new to the design process, it was somewhat uncomfortable but ultimately valuable to develop, test, and get feedback on an idea so quickly.  The idea of rapid iteration seems very useful, but can’t help but make us wonder how much iteration will be needed before we can develop something useful for the challenges we observed in Sierra Leone.  Five weeks seems like far too little time for problems that complex.

Our physical distance from Sierra Leone adds to the difficulty of using the design process to address the problems facing local communities there.  We are very lucky in that we have Simeon to answer some of the many questions that have arisen in the process of unpacking our findings and developing points of view.  However, we are still limited by our inability to probe our direct users with further questions, and to evaluate our prototypes with them.  As was stressed repeatedly at Saturday’s workshop, testing prototypes is an important chance for a second round of empathy work with users, but that’s something we just can’t do directly.  It will be interesting to see what sorts of remote-testing and need-finding options we will be able to develop with the Timap paralegal team currently in rural Sierra Leone.

To that end, we spent a week capturing interviews from the trip in the form of empathy maps. These maps were constructed by going through transcripts of the interviews so that all team members could share the experience of being in one of these communities, and collectively extract both observations and inferences. From these empathy maps (in our case, for four interviews and users) we then sought to construct Point of View (POV) statements that distilled the deep needs of these users and connected them to surprising or compelling insights. A key challenge in this project is keeping in mind the system insights and learnings we also had during our trip. It’s not just a question of picking the most compelling user needs, but also needs that connect to the broader systemic issues we hope to tackle.

More generally, we struggled with the question of how one can construct a user-centered POV that is actionable and that indicates potential levers of influence in the network we observed? As we move forward, we hope to address the user-level challenges encountered by developing interventions or solutions that engage with key system-level interactions and connections. Understanding where these connections might be incentivized or pressured to act differently or more responsively became an important background consideration as we filtered and wrote a final set of four POV statements. In the coming weeks, this combination of user- and system-level concerns and thinking will, we believe, prove essential to tackling the complex problems we have identified.


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