IDEO.org + American Refugee Committee
This is my most recent project, having consulted for the past 16 months, 4 of those full-time at IDEO.org's San Francisco studio, working to develop a refugee feedback system with American Refugee Committee. We spent three design research and prototyping trips to the field in both Uganda and Rwanda. The goal of the feedback loop systems we create are to help ARC HQ make better decisions that put refugees at the center of their decision making – a powerful goal something not common in the world of global aid.
The project has grown from the seed of an idea to a full-fledged functioning pilot program at Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Western Uganda. Starting from prototyping and research, we put refugees at the center from the start. What led was a pilot plan of tools ranging from suggestion boxes to tech-centric buttons at service points to a mobile phone service.
This is all about changing how ARC does business. No longer as just a service provider, but now, as a customer-centered NGO that adapts to the needs of those they are serving. We needed to rethink not just because the work deserved it, but because we were breaking new ground – this level of undertaking had never been tried before.
Design Principles + Outcomes
At the core of every human-centered design project are a set of design principles that lead from insights during our research. Some of the key principles of our work included:
We heard this from ARC many times. To truly work differently, everyone involved would need to be willing to be radically transparent in how they worked, and be willing to let anyone around the world see into the work they are doing.
Build continually for scale.
While we were focused on one camp in Western Uganda, this system should be prepped for scale to a global level with every step.
Create opportunity for intuition and collaboration.
Acknowledging that staff, especially at the local level, are the pros we should be relying, the pilot should focus on ways to improve their own natural intuition and ability to collaborate on solutions.
We are now at a place where the pilot is up and running in Nakivale Refugee Settlement. The focus is on a tablet based input prototype and a team of refugee-led staff that works in the community to collect feedback from residents. We'll continue to learn, and let refugees lead the way, to how a 21st century NGO operates with empathy and purpose.
Our first test in the field were these cards. We first needed how refugees wanted to be heard from, so we tested visuals, language, questions and answers, each with a goal of learning what we could at the core of the issue.
Early first steps at learning from quantifying all of the different voices we had heard.
Homebase at IDEO.org San Francisco studio.
Early on in our research we focused on listening to as many refugee voices as we could. On this day we asked the local Chairman if we could talk to 10 people. The next day when we arrived the entire village had come to be heard.
What led from the first phase of work was that we would need a way to digitize, organize and spread the voices of refugees in a quantifiable way, so we piloted a dashboard of statistics and visuals focused on learning from them and spreading those voices at a global level.
This is Mama. Her weathered hands were a daily inspiration.
This photo is of our first refugee-led tablet prototype, taken at our first training session with them.
This was one of our failed but insightful prototypes. We build an arduino-based button box to be placed at service points that refugees could press to give instant feedback. Watching the feedback come in on my phone was exciting. Hearing it was forgotten about and the weather destroyed it were keen reminders to stay simple and human.
Our first prototype was this suggestion box placed at the center of basecamp. Letters poured in at first, but they created a log-jam of feedback that was almost impossible for the staff to manage. Though it reminded us to not forget about the individuals and their important stories, this just wasn't' the method to listen to them.