Human Centered Design for Social Innovation – Class 1

This week I started taking an online course from +Acumen on Human Centered Design for Social Innovation. I am joined by three UNICEF colleagues (we represent Global, Regional and Country Office levels) as well as five other people from Nairobi. Our group is pretty diverse, which is cool because we all offer different experiences and perspectives. Each week I will write a blog describing what we learned and the activities we completed to help reinforce the concepts for that week.

Over seven weeks we will be introduced to the building blocks of human centered design (HCD) to help us design more effective, innovative, and sustainable solutions. From my beginners understanding of the concept, HCD requires gaining a deep understanding of the end-user by learning about their needs, hopes, and challenges. It is a continual process of learning from the end-user, ideating solutions, prototyping rapidly, reflecting back to the user for feedback, and then repeating until a good solution is found.

Every week we receive readings and a workshop guide to lead the two hour “class.” Rather than have a teacher, the course embodies the learning by doing and we guide our own learning through various activities and discussions.

Week one was our intro week. We read a couple of articles and learned a few fundamentals of HCD.

Reading Highlights:

It’s important to get to the root of the problem:  When designing the car, Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

  • HCD is empathetic, optimistic, experimental, and collaborative
  • It requires that we focus on the “behaviors” of our end-users versus their “demographic”

Design thinking process: inspiration, ideation, implementation (or discover, ideate, prototype)

o    Inspirationobserving and researching phase

Identifying the problem or opportunity that motivates people to search for solutions

o    Ideation – distill observations into potential solutions/opportunities for change

Divergent thinking is encouraged

o    Implementation – the best ideas are turned into an action plan and prototyping begins

Products and services are tested, iterated, and refined


Human centered design process as defined by

Human centered design process as defined by

Activity Highlights: Design a better commute for a group member.

Our first class activity was to design a better commute for a group member. We began interviewing Sarah* to understand her daily commute and routine. We asked questions such as, “How do you feel on your commute?” “What do you enjoy?” “What gets in the way?” and “What would you change?”

Right away we learned a lot about Sarah and her work. She works in the largest slum in Nairobi and provides micro-loans to artisans. She takes public transportation to get there, and she can’t enter the slum without a guide. Also, she enjoys the complete unknown about what she’ll experience each day.

We then started focusing on her actual commute. We discovered that she takes many forms of transportation, including, a motorcycle taxi (called boda bodas), a public mini bus (or matatus), and a regular taxi. Since we live in Nairobi, traffic is a perennial issue, but traffic isn’t a huge concern for her because she can always jump on a motorcycle taxi. She doesn’t carry many personal items when commuting, and generally limits herself to her dumbphone and a little bit of money. (It’s helpful to understand that public transportation is not like New York City where there are demarcated stops on the streets, route maps in the buses, or meters in the taxi. At first glance, the transportation system can seem very informal and chaotic.)

Standard matatu or minibus found in Nairobi, Kenya for public transporation. Source:

Standard matatu or minibus found in Nairobi, Kenya for public transporation. Source:

Standard boda boda or motorcycle taxi found in Nairobi, Kenya. Source:

Standard boda boda or motorcycle taxi found in Nairobi, Kenya. Source:

As we continued asking questions, our group began to understand that Sarah didn’t need a better commute. In fact, if we continued with the original exercise, we would have been designing a solution to a non-existent problem and that’s a no-no in human centered design. We began to understand that the root of Sarah’s problem was finding trustworthy and reliable drivers.

Therefore, when we transitioned from the inspiration phase to ideation phase, we first articulated a more pressing problem for Sarah – It’s not easy to find trusted and reliable transport operators – and then brainstormed solutions.  For five minutes we had a rapid fire brainstorm and some of our ideas were:


Mini bus route map online/mobile app Official mini bus and motorcycle taxi stops
Designated lanes for mini-buses and motorcycle taxis Look up MIT study of mini bus routes to know your way
Track a mini-bus/taxi/motorcycle taxi app Standards for security and customer service
Mobile lie detector Years of experience clear from driver’s license
“Refer-a-driver” mobile app SMS based rating of operators
Seal of approval on front of mini-buses or motorcycles Show confidence in your travels to and from destination
Nairobi. 2014. Brainstorming solutions for  the problem, "It's not easy to find trustworthy and reliable transport operators."

Nairobi. 2014. Brainstorming solutions for the problem, “It’s not easy to find trustworthy and reliable transport operators.”

We concluded our first class by briefly discussing the ideas we came up with and listening to feedback from Sarah. We quickly realized that the solutions we generated were all very tech heavy, and while technology offers many opportunities, they might not be the best for Sarah since she carries a simple dumbphone. Therefore, another HCD lesson was reinforced for our group – listen to the end-user requirements and design appropriate solutions based on these.

Even after only the first week of the course, we learned some of the hard and fast principles of human centered design and were able to put them into practice. I look forward to what is in store for us next week and writing up the experience. Stay tuned!

*Name has been changed.

Source: Design Thinking for Social Innovation. Originally appeared in Stanford Social Innovation Review 8, no. 1 (Winter 2010)

Link to Week 1 Readings:

IT Skills Building for T4D

These resources are ideal for IT Staff looking to learn more about software development, IT project management, and working with external vendors

The IT skills needed for supporting T4D initiatives will be dependent on which technical aspects Country Offices choose to keep in-house versus those they outsource to external vendors.   Some familiarity with commonly used tools and their technical components solutions will be essential regardless of whether or not T4D solutions are being produced within UNICEF.  Skills for the managing software development process and dealing with external vendors should be considered as key competencies.

Recommendations for building IT skills for T4D:

  1. IT departments should begin to evolve the required competencies to include T4D and these  should be included in the generic ICT Terms of Reference (e.g., familiarity with common tools, open source solutions, etc.)
  2. Country Office IT should partner with Programmes to improve awareness of programme goals and identify areas where T4D components could assist programme functions or improve outcomes. This will include involving IT staff beginning in the conceptual and planning phases for projects which include T4D components, and seeing projects through implementation and scale.
  3. The IT department should become a partner to Programme staff when negotiating with external partners and vendors who may be building or implementing T4D components. This will require IT staff to have a strong understanding and participate in
  • Project management approaches for software development
  • Business analysis and requirement definition

UNICEF-Supported Trainings (accessed via

Provider Title Description
UNICEF Skillport IT Project Management Essentials 1 hour Online Course: Planning, monitoring, managing risks, testing deliverables
UNICEF Skillport Managing Software Outsourcing 1 hour Online Course:  Vendor contracts, managing vendors, dealing with risks
UNICEF Skillport PMI/ScrumMaster Agile Practioner Online Course:  Agile essentials, requirement planning
UNICEF Skillport Linux Professional Institute: Beginner Online Course: Linux programming
UNICEF Skillport Linux Professional Institute: Advanced Online Course:  Linux programming

External Trainings:

Provider Title Description
Mountain Goat Software Agile and Scrum Certification Workshop/training: Agile, Scrum, User stories, $1,200.00
ThoughtWorks Agile Fundamentals 2 Day Workshop: Agile basics, $11,500.00
Carnegie Mellon (Rwanda) Masters in Information Technology Graduate Program: ICT, such as mobile applications, information security and networking, and software management, as well as critical business areas such as finance, operations and entrepreneurship, $40,000.00
UN University, Intl. Institute for Software Technology PhD in ICT for Sustainable Development PhD Program: ICT4D, $35,000.00
University of Manchester MSc in Information Systems: Change and Development (Distance Learning)  Graduate Program: Training of “hybrid managers” for the implementation of new information management systems in organizations, $20,000.00
Enhancement Centre GIS Capacity Building 3 Day Workshop: Introduction for project management Custom


Tools and Resources:

Provider Title Description
Tech Republic Various Resources including white papers, webinars, case studies Various Resources:  New technologies and skill sets, Free
Cutter Consortium IT governance and management, Agile approaches Webinars, Trainings, Workshops, & Free newsletter: Business Analysis, Agile, etc., Membership required
Mountain Goat Software Agile and Scrum Overview Key terms/Guides: Agile and scrum methodologies, Free
TechChange Standards and Interoperability Informational Video: Standards and Interoperability, Free

Sample Terms of Reference:

UNICEF Global Innovations has created sample ToRs for Innovation Lab staff. The following could be useful for IT-related positions:

  • Production Coordinator
  • Software Developer
  • Engineering Lead

See the sample ToRs here:

For more information:

Business Skills Building for T4D

These resources are intended for either IT or Programme Staff looking to learn more about project management, business analysis, and project planning.

The nature of T4D and innovation projects means that staff must often develop a business case, oversee consultants, and participate in a business analysis. Identifying and implementing a technology solution within a UNICEF programme should be as rigorous as it is for any private business. It is not expected that UNICEF staff undertake the entire business analysis themselves– this process can be outsourced to consultants and vendors. Therefore it becomes essential that staff understand the steps and reasoning involved in the business processes and develop project management skills that include an understanding of common software development approaches.

Recommendations for building business skills for T4D:

  • Country Offices should conduct an assessment of current staff capacities and identify which aspects of business analysis and project management can be handled in-house vs. outsourced to external vendors.
  • While Country Office staff may not find it necessary to achieve certification in specific project management skill sets, understanding the basics of approaches such as Agile and Scrum methodologies will improve work with external partners.
  • There are a number of project management and business planning resources and certifications already available through UNICEF Skillport.  Staff should be encouraged to include these courses in their personal Learning Plans in order to access UNICEF resources for professional development.

UNICEF-Supported Trainings:

Provider Title Description
UNICEF Skillport Business Planning Essentials 1 hour Online Course: Business plans, analyses, implementation prep, Free
UNICEF Skillport PMBOK Project Scope Management Online Course: Requirements, work breakdown, monitoring
UNICEF Skillport Prince2 2009 Project Management Foundations Online Course: General project management, Free
UNICEF Skillport Certified Business Analysis Professional Online Course: General business analysis, Free
UNICEF Skillport PMI Project Management Professional Online Course: General project management, Free
UNICEF Skillport PMI Agile Certified Practioner Online Course: Agile, Free
UNICEF Skillport Prince2 Certification Online Course: General project management, Free
UNICEF Skillport Certified ScrumMaster (Scrum Alliance) Online Course: Scrum, Free

External Trainings:

Provider Title Description
ThoughtWorks Studio Agile Project Management 3 Day Workshop: Agile project management, $16,500/workshop
ThoughtWorks Studio Agile Business Analysis 3 Day Workshop: Agile project management, $16,500/workshop
University of Manchester MSc ICTs for Development Graduate Program: Aims to create the ‘ICT4D champions’ who combine the necessary skills to see ICT4D projects through to sustainable delivery of development goals, $25,000

Tools and Resources:

Provider Title Description
ThoughtWorks Mingle (Agile App) Software Application: Agile project management, Free and paid versions available

Sample Terms of Reference:

UNICEF Global Innovations has compiled sample ToRs for Innovation Lab staff. The following could be useful for business-related competencies:

  • Lab Lead
  • Tech4Dev Coordinator
  • Production Coordinator

See the sample ToRs here:

For more information:

Subject Matter/Programme Skills Building for T4D

These resources are intended for either IT or Programme Staff looking to learn more about specific applications of technology for programme areas or methodologies for innovation.

In addition to the general project management skills for T4D, UNICEF staff may want to familiarize themselves with specific applications of technology or innovative design processes that could be useful for programme needs.  Real-time data collection, health care, emergency response, and citizen reporting include just a few fields where rapid advances in technology are being made. Keeping up with these trends is important in order to help UNICEF staff make good business decisions about potential vendors and to understand the challenges of implementing these solutions.  In addition to trainings and workshops, there are number of guides and frameworks that can be used for the conceptualization and planning of specific T4D and innovation projects.

Recommendations for building subject matter skills for T4D:

  • While there are multitude of exciting technologies and projects that exist, Country Offices should approach these resources with some caution.  It is essential that a technology is not chosen before thorough problem definition and business analysis. Projects should be programme need-driven, not technology solution-driven.
  • As UNICEF works to improve MoRES and especially Level 3 Monitoring, the benefits of real-time data collection should be carefully assessed to find the best way to integrate these into UNICEF’s M&E Operations.
  • It should be noted that Tech Change offers group rates for their online courses. Country Offices interested in specific trainings should contact the Regional Office in order to coordinate participation for these trainings.

External Trainings:

Provider Title Description
Stanford d.School Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking 90 minute Webinar: Design thinking, Free
TechChange Introduction to Mobile Money 2 hour Webinar: Mobile money, cash transfer, Free
TechChange The Art of Advocacy Webinar: Social media, information campaigns, outreach, Free
TechChange Open Government Informational Video: Open government, Citizen reporting, Free
TechChange Digital Organizing and Open Government Informational Video: Open government, Citizen reporting, Free
TechChange TC109: Technology for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Online Course: GIS, Participatory Mapping, conflict analysis, $445
TechChange TC103: Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management Online Course: Crisis mapping, crowd mapping, $445
TechChange TC309: mHealth- Mobile Phones for Public Health Online Course mHealth and Public Health, $445
TechChange TC110: Social Media for Social Change Online Course: Social media platforms, big data, strategy, $445
TechChange TC105: Mobiles for International Development Online Course: Data collection, banking, agriculture, surveys, $445
TechChange TC141: Mapping for International Development Online Course: GIS, Open data mapping, Ushaidi, $445
TechChange TC104: Digital Organizing and Open Government Online Course: Social Media analytics, big data, crowdhall, capacity building, $445
Keystone Theory of Change, Impact Assessment Consulting and Trainings: Theory of Change and designing impact assessments

Tools and Resources:

Provider Title Description
frog design Collective Action Toolkit Toolkit/worksheets: Participatory/Community planning, ideation, prototyping HCD Toolkit Toolkit/worksheets: Human Centred Design
UNICEF Child-Friendly Technology Framework Toolkit/worksheets: Project design and planning, concept notes
UNICEF mHealth Framework Planning Framework: mHealth project design, stakeholder mapping
Feedback Labs Citizen Reporting Research and blog: Open government, Citizen reporting
mHealth Alliance Various mHealth Research Research and Publications: mHealth applications
mHealth Alliance Health Unbound (HUB) Knowledge Sharing Platform Peer-to-Peer/Communities of Practice: Various mHealth topics
mHealth Alliance mHealth Expert Learning Program (mHELP) Consulting and Toolkits: Aimed at building the expertise and capacity of global health stakeholders using mobile technology for health by connecting them directly to consultations, tools and a network of highly qualified experts in the field.
MIT Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation M&E Tool:Measuring impact of technology tools.

Sample Terms of Reference:

UNICEF Global Innovations has compiled sample Terms of Reference for Innovation Lab staff. The following could be useful for subject matter-specific competencies:

  • Full Time Designer
  • Program Office for Youth Engagement
  • Ushaidi Mapping Deployment

See the sample ToRs here:

For more information:

Weekly T4D/Innovation Insights & Updates #6

Happy Friday! I’m pleased to share with you the featured conversation on the World Bank’s Striking Poverty website, “Ecosystems for Innovation and the Role of Innovation Labs.” The online discussion features UNICEF’s Chris Fabian, the Director of the World Bank Innovation Labs, Aleem Walji, and Maria May the Programme Manager for BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab talking about innovation and the value it brings in humanitarian work.

This is an ongoing conversation and so far the question posed to the discussants is “What is social innovation and why does it matter?”

Maria May: “Innovation should enable us to do more with less.”

  • “At its core, innovation is a form of problem solving. It can mean combining existing resources in a novel way (perhaps drawing from practices in another sector), adding a few new ingredients to a solution, or understanding a context in a way that others failed to. For organizations, it is best viewed as a process over time vs. an outcome, even though the outcome is what is most visible and tangibly useful.”

Aleem Alwaji: “Innovation is a muscle. It takes work to make it strong.”

  • “You can start experimenting, taking measured risks, and co-creating with clients in a way that gets you past the paradigm-changing moment. I think of it as the ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ moment. If you don’t reinvent yourself at these key moments, you guarantee your obsolescence. We need space and time to experiment and learn. We need accountability and opportunity. We need discipline and experimentation. We need to measure and we need to learn from failure. That’s the heart of innovation.

Chris Fabian: “Doing something new or different that adds concrete value.”

  • “In order for this new, different work to matter to an organization it needs to 1) be useful, 2) be recognized and 3) be counted/countable. The labs help us do these three things from the point of strength of the organization – which is, for UNICEF, its 135 country offices.”
  • Innovation Labs offer “A world of connected problem solvers, creating solutions in humanity’s most difficult operating environments, with the ability to scale successes and learn from failures is the only way that we will be able to solve the set of problems that many would have considered impossible only a few years ago.

This is an on-going discussion, so be sure to check out website for forthcoming questions and answering from the star discussants. Also, we heard form Aleem Alwaji and Chris Fabian a couple of weeks back on scaling innovation and how that can be done in large organizations.

Happy reading!

Themes from our Capacity Building Workshop

In October, the ESAR Office hosted a T4D Capacity Building workshop which brought together programme and ICT staff from 19 of our 21 country offices to discuss the both challenges and possible solutions for managing and scaling T4D and innovation projects. The workshop served as a good platform for information sharing and learning between country offices.

We are pleased to share the post-workshop report which serves as a summary of the sessions and discussions during the workshop. It offers a brief analysis of the common challenges met by Country Offices during T4D implementation, some practical examples and opportunities for integrating T4D into programmes, and a summary of the tools proposed to assist with T4D project management. Finally, it summarizes the key outcomes and offers a roadmap for future support from the Regional Office: ESARO T4D Capacity Building Workshop Report

To learn more about the individual sessions, check out the presentation put together by our facilitation partner for this workshop, ThoughtWorks, which highlights the main points of each session: T4D Synthesis-FINAL

We would like to thank all of our participants, especially those who shared case studies from their offices. Whether or not you attended the workshop, we hope this report will serve as a learning opportunity and spark discussion for those working on T4D and innovation initiatives.

Weekly T4D/Innovation Insights & Updates #5

Over the last couple of weeks, the Weekly T4D/Innovation Friday posts have covered some of the ins and outs of scaling innovation, worst practices in ICT4D, and challenges and opportunities of T4D application in programme delivery. Some of the themes that have emerged are the need to think about scale from the beginning, fail fast, and involve the end-user in the design process.

This week we’re going to focus on the why and how to involve the end-user in T4D and Innovation initiatives with a look at the blog post, “Building Human-Centered Design into ICT4D Projects.”


What is human-centered design?

  • “A problem-solving process that puts humans at the very center.”
  • 3 components: 1) learn from a community/end-user to understand the problem; 2) ideate and prototype rapidly; 3) feedback from real users quickly and frequently.

Why is human-centered design important in the social sector?

  • “In international development you have projects being implemented thousands of miles away from where decisions are made. Frequently, there’s no feedback loop so it’s hard to say: Is it working, and are people choosing to use this?”

Why is human-centered design important to the field of ICT4D?

  • “In general the development community is very risk averse…One of the benefits of human-centered design is to mitigate risk by testing early and failing fast.”
  • “In the context of ICT4D, human-centered design can help with the design of a technology, and the context around it, long before the technology is ready for launch.”

Is failure at certain times not only acceptable but important?

When you learn from it, failure can be a very positive part of the process. You want to try to get some of the failing out early so that you can learn from it and let it influence the design of a better more successful project.”

In October ESARO facilitated a T4D Capacity Building Workshop, and one of the sessions focused on human centered design. After learning some of the basics, participants discussed how human-centered design can be incorporated into UNICEF T4D programming, two conclusions emerged:

  • Human-centered design can be used internally to identify priority areas for T4D application;
  • Understanding the process can help manage external vendors such as software developers during the iterative software design process.

For a closer look at the human-centered design session, please see page 12 of the conference report.