Category Archives: Learning

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:


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.

mHealth Framework WebEx

In our efforts to increase capacity across the region for the improved management of Technology for Development initiatives, the Regional ICT team is hosting a series of WebEx sessions on relevant T4D topics including: tools and technology solutions, useful innovations for Programme challenges, and methodologies for project management.

For our first session, we were very pleased to have Erica Kochi from UNICEF’s Global Innovations unit in New York join us to explain the mHealth Framework.  She was joined by a number of key partners who were involved in the mHealth Framework from its inception. The mHealth Framework has been developed in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization, and frog Design. The mHealth Framework is a tool for helping governments, donors, implementing partners or other stakeholders understand how to determine appropriate technology solutions for health interventions, and how mobile technologies can improve health outcomes.  The framework aids practitioners in conceptualizing the larger “health system”, so that challenges, constraints, and key actors are better incorporated into project design and implementation. For more background on the mHealth Framework, please see this paper.

See below for the mHealth Framework.

Erica Kochi gave the introduction to the session, and discussed some of the opportunities in East Africa for integrating technology and innovation in design into health programming.  mHealth aims to make connections and bridge gaps across the continuum of care, and the mHealth framework was developed, “somewhat organically,” she says, to guide practitioners in navigating this evolving space.

Peter Benjamin, who is Director of mHelp, the Capacity Building unit of the mHealth Alliance, gave us some background on mHealth and how it has evolved in the last few years.  While mHealth has come a long way, there are still many challenges in health systems that mHealth, as a tool, is not yet able to solve.  The challenges for mHealth solutions include improving interoperability, determining financially sustainable business models for scaling mHealth solutions, and improving the evidence to determine its tangible benefits. When it comes to scaling mHealth solutions, Peter emphasized that it is important to keep in mind the end-user, to plan for scale from the beginning, and to invest in evaluation so that lessons learned can be fed into future projects.

Alain Labrique is Director of mHealth Initiatives at Johns Hopkins University and focuses on Health Systems in Asia and East Africa.  He discussed how mHealth technologies improve coverage of over-stretched health systems. Johns Hopkins and WHO have been working to develop a mHealth Taxonomy in order to standardize the language around mHealth interventions.  Alain highlighted how using a common language will help practitioners identify complementary efforts and existing gaps. The mHealth Framework takes this one step further, by identifying and visualizing common constraints faced by actors in the system.

Garret Mehl conducts research on reproductive health and innovations for strengthening health systems at WHO.  He took us through the different components of the mHealth Framework and gave examples of how it can be applied.  The framework acts as a planning and communication tool, to help illustrate health projects to stakeholders and governments. It consists of validated interventions along the continuum of care (for now it focuses solely on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health), constraints and challenges, and possible mHealth applications (clustered by their different utilities). Garrett explained that the Framework allows for the “when, what, how and why a mHealth strategy is being deployed.”

Finally, Sean Blaschke (Health Systems Specialist, UNICEF Uganda) and Nick Oliphant (Health Specialist, UNICEF HQ) discussed their work on health systems strengthening at the Country Office level. Sean discussed the importance of working with government partners to implement national policies or strategies around the use of technology, and to focus on building the capacity of the Ministry of Health to manage and maintain a national health information system. He noted that one of the challenges to scaling mHealth initiatives can often be related to the enabling environment including legislative or regulatory frameworks.    Nick has been spearheading work with the University of Oslo to prototype the new features of the DHIS2, or District Health Information System. DHIS2 is being rapidly adopted in over 40 countries, 20 of which are national deployments, and can easily be mapped onto the mHealth Framework.

Thank you to those of you who joined this session on the mHealth Framework.  Once again, we’d like to extend huge appreciation to our presenters and to Erica Kochi for leading the call.  In addition, all of the documents and presentations referenced during the session can be downloaded here:

Below are the two components of the framework from a blog post written by our friends at Global Innovation for UNICEF Stories a few months back. The visualizations and descriptions provide a helpful conceptualization of how the mHealth framework can be applied to strengthen health systems, and ultimately, improve access to health services.


  1. A place to depict the specifics of the mHealth intervention, described as one or more common mHealth or information and communications technology (ICT) applications used to target specific health system challenges or constraints within specific areas of the RMNCH continuum of care.


2. A visual depiction of mHealth implementation through the concept of ‘‘touch points,’’ or points of contact, which describe the specific mHealth interactions across health system actors (for example, clients, providers), locations (such as clinics or hospitals), and timings of interactions and data exchange.

GHSP-13-00031-Mehl_Figure 2


In the coming weeks we will be sharing an edited version of the session for those who missed it. And stay tuned for more WebEx sessions in the future!

The Beginnings of Data Collection – The First Baby Steps in a Marathon

Data. Information. Data collection. Good data. Big data. Data-for-development.

More and more, data is becoming an important tool within the humanitarian world to aid project design and define programme objectives. Data allows for real-time monitoring and evaluation, adapting projects to changing circumstances, and ultimately making projects and initiatives more effective. Everyday it seems a new tool or platform is developed to collect, analyze, and visualize data. But, for those of us that aren’t as experienced as the techies developing these (cool) tools, navigating the data collection waters can be overwhelming. Decisions need to be made about what data to collect, how to collect it, and  how it will be used and shared.

Below is quick, three-step process to begin thinking about data collection. The questions are not intended to provide a comprehensive “how to guide,” but should instead begin to stimulate thinking about the data collection process.

1) Deciding what data to collect is the first step when thinking about data collection. It’s true that a myriad of tool exists to collect data from FrontlineSMS to Formhub to Data Winners to TextIt to RapidSMS, and it is difficult to know which tool to choose. However, choosing the right technology is not the first step. Instead, knowing what information is desired and how it will be used is the first, and moreover, most important step.

Questions to think about when deciding what data to collect?

  • Is a specific piece of information desired? (Structured data collection)
  • Do you want to conduct an interactive poll that modifies questions based on previous answers? This is known as the skip logic method.
  • Who will benefit from this information?
  • Are partners involved?

2) Figure out the logistics of the project. Like all project design, context matters and solutions need to be designed around the situation on the ground. Many times understanding the contextual environment is the difference between a successful initiative and a so-called “failure.” For example, designing a Smartphone app for Community Health Workers and then learning that continual electricity doesn’t exist nor an Internet connection, could have been easily avoided if research had been completed about the end-users. Thinking about the following questions will not only contribute to the project design but will also help decide the appropriate technology to choose later on in the process.

Logistical and context questions to ponder:

  • Do you want continual data collection? At what interval and frequency?
  • Who will be doing the data collection?
  • Small-scale? Large scale?
  • Is there infrastructure to support SMS? Internet connections? Electricity to charge phones?

3) Choosing the best technology for the situation. The final step when thinking about data collection is the technology selection, and this happens only after the project designer knows what data is wanted and understands the working environment. Choosing technology can be a slightly daunting task as many tools and platforms exist. Answering a few questions will help guide the selection process.

Questions to help think about when making tech choices:

  • SMS or smartphone? Web? Interactive voice response (IVR)? Excel? (A useful list for SMS pros and cons is below.)
  • Which vendor to choose?
  • If a partner is involved will platforms be compatible?
  • Is an interactive feedback loop desired?
  • Do you want to visualize data and conduct analysis?
  • Would a cloud based system be suitable?

Pros and Cons to SMS outlined by Matt Berg:


  • Any phone
  • Any network (no data required)
  • Messages queued (don’t drop messages when out of network or phone is dead)
  • Toll-free (defray cost of end-user but difficult to set-up)
  • Effective for monitoring. Users can trained to effectively use structured SMS
  • East to broadcast. Good for reminders/alerts


  • Data quality / User error
  • Best effort delivery (message occasionally drop)
  • Not ideal for larger surveys
  • Literacy
  • Cost (high vs. data on wifi)
  • Data security

A multitude of data collection tools exist, and in order to choose the correct one understanding what is desired from the data collection is the first step before researching the tech landscape to make informed decision.

At the end of the day, data is supposed to enhance decision making by providing information that was previously unknown. Despite all of the various tools and methods for data collection, we should remember to strive for common data, and ultimately common knowledge. Data collection is a very powerful tool, and creating common awareness around the basics of the collection process is crucial if data is to have maximum impact in the humanitarian world.


“Getting to Common Awareness.” Matt Berg. Presentation given for T4D Capacity Building Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. October 2013.

T4D Capacity Building Workshop – Nairobi, Kenya

Between October 22 and October 25 the Eastern and Southern African Regional Office facilitated a T4D capacity building workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. Participants came from 19 countries in the region as well as the Western and Central African Region and ICT Headquarters, representing a mix of both programme and ICT specialists. Over four days we learned about the essentials of the T4D toolbox, challenges that arise when integrating technology into programmes, and moreover, how we can advance T4D across the region, and ultimately, better achieve programme aims and meet beneficiaries’ need.

Common themes that emerged throughout the workshop and were discussed frequently: the need for cross-section and cross-country collaboration, thinking about scale from the beginning, sound project management, leadership, local and government ownership of initiatives, evidence-based approach, and technology choice.

Below you can find a brief overview of what was discussed each day and some key take away points.

Day 1: Setting Context and Sharing Experiences

The first day of the workshop was used to set the scene about T4D and Innovation initiatives throughout the region. We spent a lot of the day exploring the challenges surrounding T4D through case studies on specific projects that “failed.” Through a variety of sessions and activities we began to better understand why projects fail, and moreover, what lessons we can take away from the mistakes to help develop successful initiatives in the future.

Day 2: Opportunities for Integrating T4D in Programmes

After sketching the T4D landscape through learning about the challenges that arise when trying to integrate T4D into programme delivery, we spent the day talking about the bigger picture of how T4D can complement and not hinder programme delivery. The day’s sessions focused on some of the basic nuts and bolts of T4D in programmes by looking at the processes behind T4D. Take away from the day? Progamme comes first. Only after the programme section knows their needs, can one think about integrating the tech.

Day 3:  Working with External Partners and Vendors

During the third day we got down to the nitty gritty and really began looking at the basic roles and techniques used in business analysis and software development. We learned that the most successful projects have well-defined programme objectives and a clear project management plan. There are a host of external partners and vendors in the T4D spaces, and choosing tools and technology must be based on context. Learning about the various internal and external tools and technologies is crucial when designing a project, and can be the difference between a project that is successful and one from which we can learn lessons.

Day 4: Alternative Solutions

On the last day we looked beyond the traditional T4D initiatives and widened our horizons about T4D potential. The Intro to Human Centred Design was an excellent closing session for us to reflect back on what T4D can help programme sections accomplish. Lesson learned: programmes should be designed around the end-users. We closed the workshop with looking at the Regional Office next steps and received feedback on how we can best support T4D within country offices.

We hope everyone had a great week and a huge thank you to our facilitators and participants!

Welcome to T4D and Innovation in UNICEF ESAR

Over the last few months the Eastern and Southern Regional Office has recognized the growing trend of Technology for Development (T4D) and Innovation projects across the region. Since T4D and Innovation are cross-cutting and cross-sectorial, which is challenging the traditional programme landscape within UNICEF, the Regional Office is striving to tackle this emerging challenge. Specifically, the Regional Office has identified three areas to support T4D:

  • To assist the country offices with the identification, assessment, and integration of ICT into UNICEF programming
  • To strengthen internal capacity to lead and support T4D related projects
  • To maximize potential for T4D scale-up and roll out and increase portability from one country to another

To address the rising need in the region for T4D support and advancement we are raising awareness, formalizing processes, and creating best practices. We recently completed a survey in the region and collected information on over 60 T4D/Innovation initiatives in 18 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa. We have found that programme sections are using mobile phones (both smart and basic) to collect data, send reminders to pregnant mothers for prenatal care, deliver results of Early Infant Diagnosis HIV testing, and include youths in opinion polls.

Over the next couple of months this blog will be a repository for information. The idea is to include links to informative videos and sites and report what is happening throughout the region.

To begin here is a link to a great video that sets the scene about the opportunities and challenges within the T4D space: