Adapting design thinking for development | #mediadev | DW | 03.11.2015
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Adapting design thinking for development

With development often being less effective than it could be, organizations are looking for alternative methods. #mediadev talks to Butterfly Works, which puts people and design thinking at the center of its approach.

Butterfly Works is an Amsterdam-based organization which creates education and communication projects in developing countries. To create its projects, the organization uses design thinking, a method of problem solving which has become popular in business and technology sectors. Butterfly Works, however, has adapted the design thinking method to include community participation in every stage of their project development. #mediadev talked to Céline Herbiet, education designer at Butterfly Works.

#mediadev: Digital transformation is a challenge for everybody, not just for those working media development. How do we need to start thinking about projects in light of this?

Céline Herbiet: I believe a lot of the digital revolution was about finding new and more creative digital tools. I think we should take a step back and see what is out there and what is already in use rather than going digital just for the sake of going digital. That is actually what our approach is about.

Can you tell me about this approach?

It's about changing our whole way of thinking. Rather than being top down and starting with the solution, we do an analysis of the problem. We work out the goal, and then start from the bottom and work with the people to get the answer from them in a co-creative process.

Isn't this something development organizations should already be doing?

I wonder sometimes why this isn't happening because I think it is so obvious. But I suppose also in terms of funding and evaluations and reporting to donors, it is more difficult to work in this way.

How does Butterfly Works do things differently to other organizations?

First of all, we are not afraid of failure. When we do a project, we test it and if it's not working, we start again from scratch. We are not afraid of thinking of a new concept and accepting that the direction we were going in was not the right direction. Also for the past five years, we have been working with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they have made it easy to be a bit freer in our way of working.

Do you have an example of failure?

For example, the C'est la vie project [in Africa], which is a digital platform created around a television series. In the beginning, we thought it could be a Facebook game and then it would become a Facebook application. Then we realized actually not everyone is playing games through Facebook and so then we had to find another way of putting this game online and we decided to make a website rather than a Facebook app. So you have to be honest with yourself when you realize [something] isn't working out or you need to realize when it is not going to have the impact you hoped for although you have already started it.

Butterfly Works uses a method of project development inspired by design thinking. What is the added value of this method for the projects you are doing?

You start thinking about your goal rather than the solution. You know where you want to get to and then you start designing the project. Usually, many projects start with a solution they have in mind and then they start building a project up in this way.

But you have adapted the design thinking method? What is the difference between what your organization does and classic design thinking?

We use design thinking because we believe it is the right way to go about a project, that is, to start from the goal and then work towards finding a solution. But we needed to adapt it because in design thinking, participants are only involved to a certain extent, for example, in the research phase and in the testing phase. We wanted participants to be involved in every phase to create greater ownership. Because if they are also part of making the projects, then they are going to be much happier and they are going to tailor the project to their own needs and values.

This is what you define as co-creation?

Yes, co-creating is working together with end users and stakeholders from step one of the project. So from thinking about the needs to the evaluation and scaling up, we do every single step together.

Butterfly Works is about social innovation. How do you personally define innovation?

I think it is about seeing things that are already out there in a different way and using existing tools in such a way that it changes society. I think finding new ways of putting unexpected thing together creates innovation and impact.

I have heard you say that when your organization starts a project, it doesn't have a clue what the project will turn out like. Could you explain this?

It's because we start with the goal rather than with the solution. So if we start a co-creation process, we know the goal, which means we know where we want to go to, for example, girls having access to health services. But what we don't know at that point is how we are going to reach that goal. It could be anything from running an awareness campaign to building an e-learning platform. But it is not up to us to decide what the project will look like – it is up to the end users and everyone we are working with.

How can classical development organization adapt these new methods?

There are a lot of different methods out there which are open source and ready to use. It is something we do at our own organization. We do design thinking and take courses and that is something that every organization could do.

If you are interested in reading more about using design thinking for social innovation in general, here is an excellent article.

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