We Have A Point of View!

Post by Chelsea Lei


The goal of the first two weeks was to define several Point of Views (POVs) that would guide our problem-solving for the design challenge in Sierra Leone. In the d.school’s language, POVs are focused frameworks that connect the users, their needs and some insights (observations and interpretations) about the problem. This blog post describes our team’s process of reaching our Point of Views (POVs) through unpacking field interview notes and reflects on the experience.

Unpacking: Distilling Information through Dialogue

Kevin, Jonny, Aparna and I sat around a high table in the Bay Studio each with our notebooks, a stack of post-its and a marker pen. Behind Aparna and me was a white board demarcated into four quadrants labeled counter-clockwise as “Quotes & Defining Words,” “Actions & Behaviors,” “Feelings & Emotions” and “Thoughts & Beliefs.” As Kevin and Jonny read their field interview notes line by line outloud, Aparna and I (who did not go to Sierra Leone over spring break) were to record key phrases and insights that were compelling to us, write them down on post-its, and put them on the appropriate quadrant on the whiteboard. At the same time, we would ask questions about details of the interview itself or background information.

Over the four hours we had to do the unpacking, we examined three interviews. The process unfolded with frequent interruptions and some digressions as Aparna and I (and sometimes joined by Jenny) sought to reconstruct the scenes in our mind and understand not only what was happening at the time but also the backstories. Aparna approached the process by first visualizing personalities, meetings, transactions, and stories through sketches and diagrams in her notebook and then transferring information to post-its. I at first tried recording information directly on post-its without taking detailed notes. Later, I found it more helpful to take detailed notes on paper and then transfer information to post-its because I could refer back to my notes and remember the specifics of a given interview when I stare at the pieces of information scattered on the whiteboard.

To Aparna and me, the information we were getting felt at once concrete and foreign. We were able to follow the narratives mediated by Kevin and Jonny’s first-hand experience. But we found it hard to digest them because we could not readily relate what we heard to what we know or have experienced in our lives. For instance, we heard about this town chief named Joseph wearing green pants who sat in the center of a semi circle and addressed everyone. We learned about his list of grievances – the lack of a health clinic, clean water and teachers, among others. As for to whom he could turn to address these grievances, we had a hard time understanding his relationship with the paramount chief (who was apparently drunk at the meeting) and other entities that we heard Kevin and Jonny mention, including the Justice Council and District Council. At many points, we were tempted to step away from the narrative itself and get Kevin and Jonny to tell us how things really work in Sierra Leone that explain the situations they observed. Jonny was good about reminding us of our limited time budget though and helped us stay in focus and suspend desire to overanalyze for the time being.

By the time we finished the unpacking sessions,  we had had a short discussion about pretty much every sentence Kevin and Jonny had written down in their interview notes. While the discussions were not exhaustive, they were productive in two ways. One was that Kevin and Jonny were able to process and better make sense of their notes because they had to teach it to Aparna and me. The other was that Aparna and I were in a much better position to ask perceptive questions and identify patterns. For example, in a community called Yoni, we heard a  story which was told by the town chief named James (who had a Manchu beard, had a walkman, and was illiterate) about the town’s recent impasse with an agricultural company AgriCap over disputes of compensation for land use. We sensed that something was going on with the contract negotiation process between the community and AgriCap and dived into questions about what terms it contained, when and where the contract was created, negotiated and signed, who was involved in the negotiations and what the process felt like for the community leaders. Jonny and Kevin connected the dots for us and pieced together a storyline despite having to fill in some assumptions. We gathered that the town chief basically trusted his paramount chief to sign a contract with AgriCap but felt powerless to stand up to the paramount chief when he realized later that they had gotten into a bad deal. At multiple points in the story, we identified imbalance of power and knowledge gap as likely contributing factors to the outcome. We were excited by this insight and decided to focus on the contract negotiation process for our POVs.

Point of Views: Connecting User, Need, and Insights

During a two-hour meeting devoted to defining our POVs, we first focused on the negotiation process that the town chief James in Yoni experienced. On a whiteboard, we drew three columns: User, Needs, Insights and tackled Needs first. Based on our recollection and whiteboard containing the unpacked information from the Yoni interview, we started writing down the following needs: “to understand terms of contract,” “to negotiate terms more effectively,” “to hold AgriCap accountable,” “to authenticate information communicated verbally,” “to have truth authority,” “to get independent counsel,” and “to get help from beyond the paramount chief.” Seeing that the needs corresponded to different points in the negotiation process, Aparna took the initiative to draw out a “negotiation roadmap” that visualized the process so that we could use the map to identify points where things “went wrong” and therefore translate needs into insights. The map helped us see that during the one negotiation meeting he was involved in, the town chief James lacked the power to assert and the capability to protect community interest. In addition, there was no mechanism of accountability and transparency for what the paramount chief was agreeing to on the community’s behalf. These realizations led to the following insights: “knowledge gap and pressure from cultural norms prevent town chief from acting in favor of the community,” “town chief’s symbolic authority was not actual authority,” and “deference for but not trust in paramount chief.” Finally, after defining the Needs and Insights, it was relatively easy to note that our User town chief James was “illiterate,” “subordinate to the paramount chief,” “frustrated,” “taking money from AgriCap.” Once we had a fair amount of descriptive and interpretive statements on the whiteboard, we started to write them into a single sentence. Here are two sentences that we came up with:

POV 1. Frustrated and illiterate town chief needs to feel empowered to act on his legal right/authority to sign agricultural concessions because oppressive cultural norms and knowledge gap prevent him from doing so.

POV 2. Frustrated and illiterate town chief needs an alternative lawful way to hold corporations accountable because current traditional methods are ineffective.

Later, we spend some time the question of youth because we all felt there was a great deal of uncovered potential in this segment of the communities. Unlike the POV related to the negotiation process, this process of thinking and talking through the youth’s needs and insights felt more arduous. It was clear to us that youth in the communities were frustrated with their employment situation and that they had the potential and desire to do better. But it was difficult for us to translate their day-to-day situations into a set of core needs that capture the complexity of the conditions in which they live. In the end, we arrived at the following point of view:

POV 3. Unemployed, repressed but enlightened youths need greater influence over decisions made for their communities regarding mining concessions because they are willing to fight for their communities as a) they have seen progress elsewhere, b) they expect the mining companies to give them a better life, and and c) they have no other options than to work in mining.

With our preliminary POVs, our next steps will be to refine them through more research and reflection and to generate ideas for solutions. We are excited about the progress we’ve made and will keep you informed about what happens next!


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