Panning for Gold

This is the first of a series of blog posts summarizing recent need finding efforts for the Governance Collaboratory, an initiative to bring design thinking to governance challenges in the developing world.  

Gold-PanningEmpathy is the foundation of the human centered design process and was our primary focus during the fall quarter.  Designers gain empathy for users through observation, engagement, and immersion.  Engaging with people directly reveals a tremendous amount about the way they think and the values they hold.  A deep conversation can surprise both the designer and the user by the unanticipated insights that are revealed.  The stories that people tell about themselves and their experiences are strong indicators of their deeply held beliefs about the way the world works.  Good designs are built on a solid understanding of these kinds of beliefs and values.

Over the last several months, we interviewed individuals who fit our three profiles (activists, reformers, and technologists) and are widely recognized as innovators in the governance space. Examples include inspiring people such as Rakesh Rajani (Twaweza, Hakeilimu), Ken Banks (Frontline SMS), Erik Hersman and Juliana Rotich (Ushahidi), Felipe Heusser (Vota Intelligente), Nikhil Dey (MKSS, India), and Beth Noveck (former Deputy CTO, the White House).

Our interviews begin at the beginning: innovators describe where they grew up, their childhood influences, their major educational experiences, and their initial career choices.  This helps us understand at a deep level what motivates individuals to do the work they do.  As our interviews to date have focused on successful governance disrupters, we spend a considerable time discussing the events surrounding the innovation for which our interviewees are known.  What activities led to the insights behind their intervention?  What resources did they draw on?  What were their biggest missteps?  What would they do differently?  We end the interview with a discussion of the challenges they are grappling with today and how they are approaching them.  Almost all of our interviews ran long — governance innovators were eager to tell their stories, most found the discussion thought provoking and many even thanked us for listening.

We reviewed and synthesized our interviews by user segment, which allowed us to uncover parallel needs and motivations for each distinct type of governance innovator.  Stay tuned for a series of posts on the insights that have come from these incredible conversations!