The need to apply design thinking within NGO contexts by Daphne Nakabugo

Automatic Summary

Understanding Design Thinking from an African Perspective with Daphne Nakao

Today's article is an incisive look into the world of Design Thinking and how it impacts the work of NGOs and communities within East Africa and the Horn of Africa. The discussion is led by Daphne Nakao, a software engineer, project manager, and digital skills trainer at Defend Defenders.

The Importance of Design Thinking

Design Thinking may still be an unfamiliar term in some parts of Africa, but its practical effectivity cannot be ignored. Its correct application results in innovative and efficient solutions specifically tailored to the users’ needs. However, wrong application, due to lack of understanding of its principles, can lead to more problems.

Case Study of Design Thinking Misapplication

Daphne shares an insightful story about a well-intentioned NGO that built a water well to help women in a village who had to walk over 5 kilometers to fetch water. Surprisingly, even after the well was built closer to the community, the women continued to walk long distances to fetch water.

The puzzle was eventually solved. The daily trips to fetch water provided the women an opportunity to socialize – a benefit they valued. This valuable lesson underscored two critical points in Design Thinking : understanding users' need and context, and always involving the user directly in the solution process.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is an iterative process where people try to understand their user's challenges, redefining goals and assumptions in order to produce innovative solutions through continuous prototyping and testing. It involves keen observation and active engagement with the users to understand their environment and needs.

The Five Steps to Design Thinking

  1. Empathize: Understanding the user by interacting with them. Getting a first-hand insight into their daily lives and their challenges.
  2. Define: Analyzing the users in their surroundings to identify the real challenge.
  3. Ideate: Coming up with as many ideas as possible. No thought is considered stupid.
  4. Prototype: Testing the ideas that have been distilled and formulating drafts or working templates of solutions.
  5. Test: Taking the prototype solutions back to the users to gauge how they interact with and feel about the solutions.

Successful Implementation of Design Thinking

An excellent example of the successful application of Design Thinking is by Star and his wife in Vietnam in 1990. They were tasked to solve the question of malnutrition among children under five. Through rigorous Design Thinking steps, they were able to come up with solutions that were effective and sustainable within that community. The point underscored here is the use of solutions that are indigenous and sustainable within each specific community.

Key Takeaways

  • User interest always comes first. It's crucial to ask questions and practice active listening.
  • Design Thinking mandates collaboration across different departments to encourages diversity of thought.
  • Do not be afraid to start over. Design Thinking is an iterative process, always refining and improving.

It’s vital to keep in mind that Design Thinking calls for solutions tailored to each unique community or user. It seeks to create innovative, suitable and well-rounded solutions that work for the intended audience.

Video Transcription

Yes. Um Like I said, uh my name is Daphne Nakao. I'm a mom, I'm a software engineer, a project manager and a digital skills trainer.I work with Defend Defenders, um which is an organization working to promote uh the work of human rights defenders within East Africa and the Horn of Africa. And I hope that girl looks like me. Uh Yes. Um Today, I would like us to speak a little bit about design thinking, especially in the context of uh NGO S um design thinking is uh is still a very new concept, especially here in, in Africa. Um Not very many people are actually taking it on. So I think it's something very interesting. I've seen it. Um Wanda in some cases. Um and why it has not been applied like in the story I'm going to share. Uh it has actually left um a lot lacking. So the story, um an organization, a well meaning organization uh went into a community and discovered that um the ladies were walking such a long distance to get water for their families for just the everyday use. They're walking more than five kilometers every day, uh which they thought was really burdening to these women. Yeah, it could be to anyone.

So now um this, well, meaning NGO uh went ahead and built a, well, that was much closer um to the to the communities, to the ladies. Um And of course they go home, they're feeling like yes we did it. Um the reports are showing the work was done. Everything is, you know, on paper, everything is, is looking, looking right now um on going back to, to do the monitoring and evaluation that and you of love, um They discovered that the world was not being used and the women were actually tricking the same distance that they were before this world was built and going all that way to get the water every day.

And they were puzzled. They were like, you know what, we solved the problem. So why are you still walking such a long distance for water? And they discovered the fetching water was the only activity that got these women to socialize. So they tracked these long distances just so they can have some time to talk to their friends and you know, chat and catch up. Uh which was something that the NGO overlooked or maybe did not take into account when uh they were building the well. So these women prefer to go these long distances just for the company rather than stay around, stay at home in the same surroundings. Uh You ask yourself where was the problem. Why did like how didn't they discover this at the beginning? Well, the key to design thinking and what we're going to talk about today is in the fact that your user is your number one solution, they already have the solution. And it's just about you uh trying to understand the circumstances, the environment, their needs before you actually provide the solution. So many of these ladies maybe didn't get to express what they really felt about um the fishing water from that long distance. So um that brings us to what is design thinking. Uh Basically what design thinking is, is a process uh the kids going back and forth. That's me trying to explain the nonlinear bit of it.

Uh an iterative process where people are trying to understand their users, their challenges, removing assumptions and redefining the problems in order to create innovative solutions to prototypes and to be tested. So basically, that's what I thinking is uh when you're doing design thinking, I'm sorry if I'm too fast and if you need uh um clarification, please just type in the chat and I will definitely get back to you. Um The five steps to design thinking. Uh The first thing empathize uh which is the main issue of uh understanding your user understanding your client. Um Here, it's mostly about interacting with them, asking them as many questions as possible, interviews, you know, uh getting into their environment, their everyday life and just watching and seeing um how do they actually do what they do? How can we solve their problem? Is this even a problem to them? You know, and then defining is where you ask your question. So you have analyzed their surroundings, them in their surroundings. Uh You're not coming up with the question, what really is the challenge here? Um And then ideas would be the, the time that you sit down and then just try and come up with as many ideas around the the problem. So no idea is stupid.

By the way, when it comes to design thinking, you never know where it's going to take you. So the best thing to do is to put it down and just see how it can be built on. So before I even go any further, uh one of the key elements of design thinking is that you collaborate. Um It's not about someone sitting down and just having all of this in their heads and trying to work it all out by themselves. You need a team and you need a diverse team. What do I mean by diverse? I mean, you would probably need someone from your finance department. Uh Just to give you a look on what it might mean to come up with a solution that you come up with. Um Of course, keeping the user in mind at every stage, you need someone from the tech team, you need someone from the management team just to, you know, so that these ideas keep bouncing around and solutions are hard at every corner so that you do not present something. And then at the end of it all, um it just doesn't work in one way or the other, uh maybe it's too expensive or it doesn't make sense to produce with the technology that's available. Uh Because one of the of the cornerstone of design thinking is that you produce sustainable solutions, right? Yeah.

So coming back to our steps, then we have the fourth which is prototyping in which you're testing some of the ideas that you've come up with uh that you've narrowed down. And uh you are now um coming up with, let me say I call it the prototypes really uh or drafts or working templates just to see how this idea might work in real life and then testing you take it back to the user and see how have they, how do they actually engage with this solution?

Yeah. So those are our steps. Um And now I wanted to give you an example of uh this, I am thinking in its best form in a way that it was well um well practiced. Um in 1990 star and his wife were asked by the government of Vietnam to come up with a solution to their problem, which was malnutrition. Um Children below the ages of five were highly malnourished. About 65% of them were considered malnourished. And the problem was that the government and the UN were actually providing food supplements, but they were not working. So the question is why are they working? So, um, sting and his wife and uh a group, the group that they were working with came down on ground and realized that um, amongst his families, there were actually um about six families that were considered very poor. However, their Children were not malnourished. So they started to study them, study their, their behavior around food preparation around how they collect their food. How do they clean it? How do they, you know the whole um shebang? And what happened is that they realized that they were adding um certain foods, uh like uh shrimp crabs, like small, small food snails to their dishes that were not, um, being added by the rest of the family simply because uh they were considered unsafe for the Children.

Um However, I think it's the way that they cleaned them. That was the key because their Children were not falling sick and they were actually um healthy. Um, yeah, so they picked a leave from this and also the fact that they were serving food in smaller portions, which was working for the Children as well. And before he knew it, it was um, a system that was being enrolled um, in a number of villages in Vietnam and it was working out and 80% of the Children that had been enrolled in the program were actually um healthy, healthy enough. So this solution may not necessarily work in another area. It fits the place in which it was and it worked perfectly for that um cultural context. So that's what design thinking is that you're thinking for your community within the context, a sustainable solution. And this is very key to um to the work that we are doing as NGO S because sometimes we um copy and paste solutions but do not necessarily work um in each community simply because it works. For example, I work in Uganda simply because it worked in um the northern um districts in Uganda doesn't mean that it will come down to the central and work. So all this should be kept in uh consideration when um when coming up with solutions now.

Yeah, because it's really short and I don't know, maybe I'm a bit too fast but um I will try to clear up anything that you feel like is not clear at the end of this. Um Yeah, just a short summary of everything that I've talked about. The user always comes first, always. Um you have to actually ask questions repeatedly. Anything that you don't understand, do not assume and you have to practice active listening. Sometimes um users may not necessarily tell you everything. However, if you um watch, listen, um you pick up on things um three collaborate, get a diversity, you might already have a team. Um But you will probably need input from other departments as well. So if it's possible, I know it's not always possible with every project or every NGO to actually practice this. But where possible um it would be highly recommended and don't be afraid to start over. Now, this is a key one because sometimes you come up with a solution and you think, oh yes, we've got it and this is it. And then at a point um through the process, you may realize something is not working and you need to go back to the start. Now, that's where the iterative bit of design thinking comes in.

Um That there is no point where it's um you know, like everything is done. You have to always be ready to keep going back to keep revising and to keep learning and relearning and always keeping the user fast. Uh Yes, this is the end of my presentation and I'm open to any questions uh discussions clarification. And thank you for joining me. I'm going to stop sharing my slides now. Yes, Mary is a the part of the collective. Yes, that's true. And love. Number four. Recognizing and accepting, failure and permission to change direction. Yes. Sorry. That's so true. Yes. Um Hello. OK. I don't have a lot of feedback but I'm really glad that everyone has, has uh listened in and chipped in today. Um I think our session is still going on. So if you still have any questions, please uh feel free to ask. Thank you guys too. Thank you for coming.