By Lauren Spigel, Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator

2015 was a year abuzz with talk about human centered design among the international development community. Words like “human centered” and “design thinking” may sound like international development buzzwords on par with “sustainability” and “capacity building” (thanks Devex), but behind the words are tangible methods you can use to elicit feedback from the people your project serves and use their insights to build better, smarter solutions.

sticky-notesIf we break down the jargon, human centered design means to listen to the people that you are building a program for – before, during and after implementation. You listen to them because they are the experts. If you are designing an app for health workers to register patient data, you listen to health workers because they are experts on their workflow and needs. If you are designing an educational SMS system for youth, youth are experts in understanding what they want to know and how they want to discover that information. Simply put, human centered design is a series of methods implementers can use to engage with users throughout a project’s lifespan.

The human centered design process walks us through methods we can use during three key phases:
(1) Inspiration: defining the problem, the audience, understanding facilitators and barriers
(2) Ideation: brainstorming ideas, testing out prototypes, finding the best solution
(3) Implementation: choosing the best idea and implementing it, while still getting feedback and iterating.

While human centered design is typically thought about in terms of technology projects, in recent years, the concept has been applied more broadly to solve complex global health challenges.

In an interview with WIRED magazine, Melinda Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, described human centered design as “meeting people where they are and really taking their needs and feedback into account.”

It sounds intuitive that we would want to understand the needs of the people we serve, but we often lack the tools and resources to do this well.

We are writing a three part blog series to share our own experiences designing a mobile vaccine registry system for health workers. Our blog series will give case examples of the methods we used at various stages of the human design process. The first post will focus on how we are building empathy with health workers in Nepal to improve our user interface and workflow. The second post will look at how we’ve been prototyping a monitoring and evaluation dashboard with our team in Benin. Lastly, our final post will emphasize the importance of iterating after implementation by sharing our experience customizing our software based on user feedback in Benin and Nepal.

We hope you will be able to use our experience to incorporate human centered design into your own projects.

In the meantime, don’t forget to register to watch our NetHope webinar on Tuesday, February 4 at 11:00 AM EST where we’re teaming up with PATH to discuss how we’ve built and customized an effective mHealth tool for vaccine data management, with experiences from Benin, Nepal and Tanzania.


 

To learn more about incorporating design thinking into your projects, contact Lauren at lauren.spigel@vaxtrac.com or check out IDEO’s resources.