By: Lauren Spigel, Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator

 

Build Empathy First

In our first blog post  about human centered design, we talked about building empathy for design thinking. But what does “empathy” really mean, and how does it translate into research methodology?

To have empathy is to understand another’s perspective. If your goal is to build empathy with the community you’re designing for, it’s important to budget time, space and resources to talk to a variety of project stakeholders about the challenge you’d like to solve before the project starts. While it’s difficult to convince donors to spend money on an extended R&D phase, giving communities a voice at the onset of your project can save your organization time and money by allowing stakeholders to voice their opinions and be active participants in the design process.

The methods we use to build empathy are reminiscent of the research methods found in academic settings. Human centered design is especially akin to the philosophy of community based participatory research (CBPR), which also recognizes that when given a voice, communities are best equipped to identify sustainable solutions to challenges they face. Like CBPR and more traditional qualitative research methods, human centered design relies on interviews, focus groups, observations, surveys, card sorts, among other interactive methods, such as role plays, immersion and community mapping to elicit feedback from stakeholders.

Let’s dive into the case example of how we are building empathy with health workers in Nepal to improve our user interface and workflow.

 

The Problem

The clinics we work with in Nepal are fundamentally different than the clinics we work with in Benin. In Benin, the clinics are urban and busy. There are vaccination sessions almost every day. Caregivers bring their children to the clinics for vaccinations.

By contrast, the clinics we work with in Nepal are rural. The population is dispersed. As a result, vaccinations only happen a few days a month. There may be one or two sessions that take place at the main clinic, but there are usually also a number of outreach sessions, in which the health workers walk several hours to sub-health posts within their catchment areas. Since the population is small, only a few children come to each session.

Building Empathy through Brainstorming and Workflow Cards

There are a number of methods we could use to get into the mindset of the health worker. The key is to remember that health workers are the experts. They understand their job better than anyone else. Our job is to listen, build empathy for what they experience in their jobs and translate that into our software design.

We are starting with the goal of understanding health workers’ workflows in different situations. In other words, what do health workers do to prepare for a vaccination session? What happens during a session? What happens after?

Work-Flow-Cards

Draft workflow cards

Our DC-based team started by brainstorming objects, people and actions involved in a vaccination session. We scoured the internet for images to represent everything that we came up with. We put together sample workflow cards and brought it to our project partners in Nepal.

 

Seeing the sample workflow cards inspired our in-country partners Amakomaya to continue the brainstorm. They looked at our cards and told us what images worked and which images did not convey the right meaning. They grabbed a marker and started brainstorming their own list. We sketched images together.

Amakomaya brainstorming workflow cards

Amakomaya brainstorming workflow cards

We designed an interactive activity with health workers to use the workflow cards to get a better understanding of the different workflows they use during vaccination sessions. We are currently working to add Amakomaya’s feedback into an updated version of the workflow cards, which we will test out with a group of health workers early this year.

Using cards with simple images on them is a great way to get health workers talking about how they do their work. Cards are tangible objects that health workers can put in their hands and arrange in different ways. It gives the group a visual to refer to when someone has a question. It allows our team and health workers to identify gaps in the work flow as well as pain points.

We hope that by understanding current workflows and processes, we can understand the challenges that health workers face in their daily jobs and iterate our software so that it improves their workflow.

Check out our next post in our series about human centered design next week, where we’ll give examples of how we’ve been prototyping a monitoring and evaluation dashboard with our team in Benin.


 

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