Why Core uses human-centered design

The Core project employs human-centered design as its key approach. What is it and why does it work for addressing healthcare challenges in low-resource settings?
October 23, 2019
India, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania

Effectively addressing a complex multi-causal issue like sexual and reproductive health requires a combination of experience, expertise, data and knowledge to deliver effective interventions at scale.

“Human-centered design (HCD) facilitates complex intervention design for such issues by placing people at the centre of the problem-solving process. It allows each stage leading up to the innovation be shaped by the needs of those we seek to serve”, explains Jarkko Kurronen, Scope’s Senior Service Designer.

Essentially, HCD provides a framework that takes different stakeholder perspectives into consideration, including the women and communities we serve. It helps stimulate the cross-pollination of ideas and facilitates continuous collaboration across sectors and partnerships. This creates the necessary conditions required to innovate for a complex issue.

HCD in Core

“The uniqueness of Core’s HCD approach is the multidisciplinary project team it has brought together, which draws on the social sciences, design, development practice, public health, and the creative arts to examine the challenge from diverse standpoints”, continues Kurronen. This approach allows Core to build on existing research and root our work in evidence from the different disciplines.

The versatility extended by this approach equipped us to adapt the life course approach, a social science paradigm, to serve as the conceptual bulwark for addressing a public health challenge. “The life course took us beyond just a sequence of events or roles, letting us take a deep and wide look at women’s experiences of sexual and reproductive health. For all their complexity and dynamism, we were able to break through to better understand how women perceive their health, make choices, prioritise things, what health challenges they face, and where they need support”, Kurronen explains.

Core's human-centered design process has four stages where information is first expanded and then filtered to find the most suitable solutions. The stages are named: discover, understand, create, and test.

Visualisation of Core’s four-step human-centered design process

A design mindset together with design methods makes such agility and synergy possible. Creative, participatory research immersions in local contexts keep us up-to-date with rapidly evolving realities on the ground and we are able to gather novel, cross-cutting perspectives and entry points into the issue at hand.

“Ultimately, this makes us effective at identifying appropriate challenges and transforming them into potential opportunities for intervention.”

More than a four-step process  

At first glance, human-centered design comes across as a straightforward four-step process. However, unpacking the four steps reveals it is much more.

The starting point is always existing data, research and evidence. Human-centred design commits time upfront to understanding the key problem, which it does by building on existing knowledge from a range of secondary sources including a thorough landscape analysis and by soliciting inputs from subject matter and country experts. Importantly, immersion using creative participatory methods helps us gain first-hand knowledge about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) challenges faced by our target communities.

“Questions we might ask cover ground such as how women understand their health, what experiences they have had, and how they make health-related decisions. We gain a deeper understanding of people’s lives through these interviews as opposed to relying only on desk research”, informs Kurronen.

After background research and design research field immersions, the team gets together to synthesise gathered data, which is rigorously analysed through cross-disciplinary lenses to uncover patterns, correlations, and learnings.We create custom strategies for interviews and group discussions with local communities, develop design tools for productive interactions with women around their SRH journeys, and open engagement with in-country partners to immerse in the field. The tools we develop to aid interactions with women are also informed by background research and expert perspectives. This is the Discover stage of the human-centered design process.

“The Discover stage equips us with the body of evidence coupled with first-hand insights from local contexts. Then we try to see how the information relates and might be used – what are the health needs and service gaps, and the ‘drivers’ for designing solutions. This is ’Understand’ or the second stage of the HCD process then helps frame the problem we try to solve”, Kurronen explicates.

Then, together with our partners and communities, we prioritise and define the opportunity areas with the greatest potential and set about co-designing possible interventions. Based on this, our interdisciplinary team drafts and tests ideas, iterates and co-designs multiple concepts, and develops early representations of interventions. We then test solutions with stakeholders and end-users through experimentation. “It is common at this stage of the HCD process to discard many prototypes as others are taken to the next level of development”, says Kurronen about the ‘Create’ stage.

“In product design, end-users don’t participate to this extent. The product is tested with users and they are asked for inputs, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be taken into consideration. Co-creation is different. In HCD, designers turn to the experts – the people we are  designing for. First and foremost, we ask the participants to define their needs and requirements, making sure their viewpoint is included.”

Co-designing brings value through a continuous process of questioning and learning, as well as greater eventual ownership of piloted solutions as the people we seek to serve are involved every step of the way.

Solutions at the end of the unknown

It is important for the team to keep an open mind throughout the design process.

The teams, as mentioned, are also no coincidence. The project team is intentionally built to be interdisciplinary and inclusive of perspectives from different relevant fields. This also helps us choreograph varied external and inter-sectoral partnerships. We invest a great deal of resources, time and effort on building partnerships as they are key to design relevant solutions and sustain long-term implementation and ownership.“In the beginning, we don’t have any assumptions or a ready idea of what we will create in the end. The intervention or solution might be a product, but it could also be a new working principle, service improvement, behaviour change model, social movement, communications campaign, business model or improvements to spatial design. It could literally be anything”, Kurronen says. “The process determines the resulting innovation.”

Launched towards the end of 2017, Core will run through 2020, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by Scope, in close collaboration with in-country and global partners.

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