Ideating for Landowner Needs

Post by Chi Hung Chong, Michael Lindenberger, Guy Mordecai, Ramya Parthasarathy


We presented five Point of View statements to the class, and found that both our peers and the teaching team responded to the same central insights: Landowners’ unique position in the communities make them ideal targets for intervention. We believed this because they possess latent power that can be leveraged against the companies seeking to sign concession agreements, and because we believe there is strong, if imperfect, alignment between their interests and those of the community as a whole.

We filtered our POVs and focused on landowners. The fact that they had leverage, albeit minimal, compared to the other community members hinted at the possible impact of the solution.

Next, we developed a series of ‘How might we’ statements, looking at ways to tap into this power from different angles. We brainstormed as a group, plodding through several issues and unearthing key insights that might help in this process.

Once we had selected the statements, we tried out different brainstorming approaches for the ideation of solutions. We started with brainstorming together as a group and throwing out ideas on the spot before transitioning to a different approach – an initial quiet period of five minutes for team members to write down their individual ideas and coming together later as a group for review and discussion. The motivation was simple – while trying out the first approach, we realized that we constantly had interesting ideas that were not related to the current discussed idea, but had to put them off in fear of digressing. It felt like the holding back was limiting our creativity.

For the selection of the different solutions, we practiced a democratic approach. Before delving more into about that, we would like to emphasize on how helpful it was to put up our ideas/ thoughts/ solutions on post-its on the board. It lent immediate clarity to our problem at hand, and made it easy for references by other team members. We did just that for our selection of solutions. We put everything on the board – colourful post-its populating the short boards, and had two rounds of voting. For each of the round, we had three votes to give across the panoply of solutions. During this voting period, it was crucial that our action would not influence the team members (we learned that in the later period). One of the best ways is to number the solutions, and have the members write down their picks on secret small pieces of papers. Think of this as a ballot – it is fun!

Once these two rounds were completed, we each selected a particular solution and became its spokesperson – to pitch it to our in-country partner, lawyer Simeon Koroma of Timap for Justice, as if this was the final solution. We then discussed each solution extensively, focusing on its pros, cons and possible impact. It was easy at this point to veer off and think of a one-size-fits-all solution, but it was helpful that we constantly reminded ourselves of the Sierra Leonean landscape – anecdotes and stories are always important grounding points. The 2 solutions that stood out to us were solutions from 2 different spaces – technical vs human platform for facilitation of information sharing to later increase the bargaining power of the stakeholders.

The technical platform came with its own sets of pros – robust, sustainable, allows opportunities for other NGOs to piggyback off database, but seemed hard to pull through technically considering Sierra Leone’s current landscape. The other human platform was on the other end of the spectrum. We then voted!

The human platform was ultimately the winner. While the final decision was not unanimous, we came to appreciate the final solution as we had taken the time to go in-depth to talk about the solution. It was important for us to agree in advance that whatever solution won out in the voting would have the full buy-in from all members of the team — something that we achieved. We also built in ideas and testing methods that would address some of the assumptions and shortcomings of the human platforms. The most basic assumptions were: would landowners actually want to share information, and are their interests aligned with those of community members.

In terms of process, this process went much faster and smoother – perhaps we have gotten more familiar with the topic/ process? However, the painful awareness of the limited time constraints constantly sprung at us, and it was hard to rush through the process considering how much discussion was needed at every stage to unearth the stories and infer the emotions behind.

Another limitation was that we had many questions that we were not able to validate by conducting further empathy work with users on the ground. One of the key questions was – why aren’t they already doing the solution we proposed? It was definitely helpful during this period to take this into account, take a step back, lay out the assumptions that we were making and think of ways on how to test out these assumptions. Not being able to carry out prototyping allowed us to not be overly attached to our ideas, and to think of ways to successfully test the underlying hypotheses.

We probably all agree that five weeks was too short a time to fully evaluate the alternatives we had, but we believe as an experiment in using human-centered design the experience has been helpful, even with the time constraints. We also feel pretty good about the solution we came up with.

Speaking of that, we are currently working to finalize our presentation slidedeck, and will share more in the next post!


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