Indian women gather water from a local well. The Ripple Effect project, done in collaboration with Acumen Fund and with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, improves access to safe drinking water for more than 500,000 of the world's poorest and underserved people.
What would the world look like if we applied design-thinking to address poverty? Hunger? Gender inequality? Today, the global innovation firm IDEO is announcing their commitment to this huge question with the launch of IDEO.org this fall. Over the last ten years, IDEO has expanded its work in the social sector with projects like the Ripple Effect improving access to safe drinking water and the Human-Centered Design Toolkit (HCD Tookit) funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. IDEO.org will reflect the human-centered, design-based approach IDEO has championed since its inception in 1991. IDEO.org's work with partners from the social sector will focus on design projects addressing health, agriculture, water and sanitation, financial services and gender equity. Through these projects, they're looking to create tangible outcomes -- a product, service, business, or system -- that will directly benefit the community or people for which it was designed. In anticipation of the launch of IDEO.org this fall, Core77 had the opportunity to chat with IDEO.org co-leads Jocelyn Wyatt and Patrice Martin, to get an inside track on how IDEO.org came to be, what goals the organization hopes to accomplish and the importance of prototyping solutions for local problems.
Core77: My initial exposure to IDEO was in a Nightline segment about redesigning shopping carts where David Kelley (IDEO Founder) was running around, hanging things from the ceiling and crafting objects. And then, when I began working in this field professionally, I encountered your firm again, and suddenly there was this emphasis on nonprofits and doing social good. And at that time, I was curious about the back-story of this shift and was wondering if you could re-illustrate to me how that transition occurred.
Jocelyn Wyatt: Over time, as IDEO has grown as a firm, we've realized that what we have is a process around human-centered design, and that process can really be applied to taking on any number of challenges. Through IDEO's evolution, there [arose] an interest in applying human-centered design first, moving from focusing solely on product design to focusing on designing services and systems, businesses and spaces. This also extends to thinking about how we might apply human-centered design in that process to different sectors as well. Now with the launch of IDEO.org we are moving from working with primarily private sector companies to focusing on working with public sector organizations and social sector organizations as well.
Especially in the transition to working on social innovation work, we really saw two different forces that were happening in the world. On the one hand we saw that designers both within IDEO and outside of IDEO were interested in applying their skills to these really tough challenges that face the world. On the other hand we saw an increased interest by foundations and nonprofit partners in innovation and in the human-centered design process. Doing social innovation within IDEO and now working through IDEO.org, is an opportunity to really scale the impact of our work but also to make it more accessible to foundations and nonprofits.
A man in India delivers water in his community.
Core77: What is IDEO.org and what do you hope to accomplish through this new direction?
Patrice Martin: IDEO.org is a breakthrough scalable model which allows philanthropic support to spread human-centered design and improve the lives of low income communities across the globe. We want to do this in three ways, when we think about our impact. First, dedicated design teams will work on design projects with nonprofit social enterprises and foundations on their pressing challenges related to poverty. The focus areas will likely be in agriculture, water, sanitation, gender, equity, financial services and health-related challenges.
The second is our commitment to fellows and using the fellowship program as a way to spread human-centered design. The residents who form the design team are a part of the fellowship program and will be senior designers from within IDEO that come to IDEO.org for an 11-month period as well as designers from outside of IDEO who will apply to be part of the program, with the intent that they will take that human-centered design process and the experience in working across these types of problems into their future careers.
The third is an emphasis on spreading human-centered design and looking at opportunities around knowledge sharing. This includes sharing our insights, our opportunities and our concept across the project work we're doing with our partner organizations, and looking at opportunities around new tools, such as social networking and open innovation platforms.
Core77: What is the purpose of creating IDEO.org as a separate entity versus continuing to do work for nonprofits out of your first brand?
Jocelyn Wyatt: It allows us to move from doing projects on a one-off basis, to having a larger portfolio of projects, allowing us to really increase our impact. It also allows us to have a mission of spreading human-centered design through the social sector. And the third piece of establishing IDEO.org is that it allows us to make the offering more accessible to nonprofits, because we're able to attract philanthropic funding.
IDEO's Human-Centered Design Toolkit. The HCD Toolkit is a free kit that walks people through the human-centered design process. Funded by International Development Enterprise (IDE) as part of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it was created specifically for use in the developing world.
Core77: It seems like IDEO.org is moving towards a process-based solution and you don't want to be doing one-offs, but if you're talking about a protocol for repeatedly solving problems, that sounds to me like shareware or freeware. One of the projects that IDEO has worked on for the public sector was the Human-Centered Design Toolkit (HCD), a protocol that NGOs can use over and over again to solve projects. In addition, you'll have people who've actually worked directly on your cause, spreading this approach human-to-human, virally.
Patrice Martin: Yes, so I think that's a great clarification. When we are working with our partner organizations on specific challenges we will be exposing them to the human-centered design process. They will have a specific problem that we are actually tackling and although we'll work with our design team to come up with an innovative solution, we will also be exposing our partner organizations to the way in which human-centered design works so they can continue to work that way.
Jocelyn Wyatt: We will also be very public about sharing -- as widely as possible with the sector and with the world -- insight, learnings and concepts from that project work as well as stories of how designers have an impact on these challenges. Through things like the HCD Toolkit, OpenIDEO or other tools that we'll develop for the sector, organizations are able to undertake a human-centered design approach without always having to work directly with us on a project.
A woman in India carries water back to her home.
Core77: One project that would be appropriate to speak about is the Ripple Effect project because you have the metaphor of the ripples of change, along with an individual process conclusions. Is that something that you can showcase as a particular example of this?
Patrice Martin: I think the Ripple Effect is a great example. On that project we were working with a couple different organizations in both India and Kenya to increase access to clean water and water distribution. With this particular partner organization, their problem is as much about awareness and education as it is about that last mile, creating that access. We worked with them to really take a different approach and part of that approach was creating an event for people to really own and engage with information around the health benefits of clean water as opposed to just brochures or information that wouldn't change anyone's behavior.
But instead, we did things like events in the evening that really bring people together. We can have live music. We'll have different performers, and we'll also have demonstrations where we actually invite people to bring their current drinking water and put it under a microscope and have that be exposed next to the clean drinking water that, in this case, Water Health International was providing. And those events have proven to be very powerful. Across the board for them, they have seen an increase of three to seven times the number of water subscriptions they were selling before.
Core77: In terms of thinking, all of these problems are fundamentally small-scale problems. And I think when I was looking through Jocelyn's biography, I saw that both KickStart was mentioned, along with things like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation. So, there are these huge differences in scale between these monolithic funding organizations and really getting down to the individual. And what you're telling me is that you're trying to convey those truths to the large-scale organizations so they can better serve the individual?
Jocelyn Wyatt: What we're finding is that there's actually a significant amount of interest from foundations to really connect with the individuals that they're ultimately looking to serve. We've seen an interest in working with IDEO to better understand the needs of the local communities and partnering with a nonprofit that is working with those communities on the ground to come up with innovative solutions that really have a positive impact on people's lives. So, for instance, the Ripple Effect Project was actually funded by the Gates Foundation, because they were interested in seeing what it would look like to infuse innovation and the human-centered design process into local water organizations in India and Kenya.
As part of a locally based solution, The Ripple Effect team worked with India's Naandi Foundation to design a more accessible water container. The team found that many of the existing water containers were too heavy and unwieldy for woman and elderly people to transport, sometimes preventing the collection and purchase of purified water.
Core77: Is there a human tipping point that comes out of all of this? I know that for things like Kiva loans, sometimes this tiny little incremental change will have lasting effects on a person, because rather than struggling for their day-to-day needs, they're able to focus on things that will actually better their lives.
Jocelyn Wyatt: I would say one story comes from the Ripple Effect Project. One of the organizations that we worked with is called Piramal Water and their CEO is Anand Shah. After working with us on the Ripple Effect Project, he went back to his organization and basically said, what we need to be doing as an organization is spending more time in the field and everyone in all levels of this organization, from the bookkeeper to the CEO need to be meeting with the communities that we're serving, the people that are actually buying the water from us and understand their motivations and needs. And we need to be taking an approach of prototyping different solutions as opposed to just coming up with ideas at our head office here and then scaling them up.
And so I think what we're seeing is a really catalytic impact on many of the individuals who are within the organizations that we've worked with on these challenges who see the power of the human-centered design process and then make really significant changes within their own organizations in terms of the work that they're doing.
Moneymaker Deep Lift Pump for KickStart helping farmers in Kenya.
Core77: So, our readers are going to understand prototyping and the rapid prototyping or working with yellow foam or blue foam, but to talk about prototyping in the context of international problems, are you proposing that you're applying solutions to different regions and seeing what the results are?
Patrice Martin: When we say prototyping, we mean being comfortable with testing and iterating and putting solutions out to get feedback on them. This definitely comes out of our product design backgrounds with blue foam. That's [essential] to how we work, but it's really translated into how we think about service design or even prototyping business systems or solutions. So, it's really just a commitment to say we're going to go and put this in place, see what we learn from it and go from there. It could be that we set up a mock shop. It could be that we quickly throw together a space. It could be that we work with an entrepreneur to see how they end up selling something. So, we're very loose in the way that we apply that term.
Jocelyn Wyatt: To answer your questions about geography, we believe that there are certainly design modifications that need to happen, whether it's a product, service, system or business just needing different geography. Often we'll start with one location and then do another round of research and prototyping if we're going to bring that innovation to a different location. For instance, we did work with KickStart in designing treadle pumps in Kenya and Tanzania and are now taking on another treadle project with proximity designs in Myanmar.
And so the constraints that are faced by farmers in Myanmar are quite different than the ones faced by farmers in Kenya and Tanzania. Manufacturing capabilities are different. The organizational capabilities are different between those organizations as well. And so we certainly recognize the need for modification of design based on local context.
Core77: So the design process is iterative, learning from problems to reach a parallel solution. Any chance you can apply those concepts to the U.S. government?
Patrice Martin: IDEO.org is mostly focused on social sector work, so we define social sector as nonprofit NGO's and public sector as government and beyond.
Core77: Our conversation so far has been about interacting with people through not-for-profit funding. And the question in a lot of these regions is: What's the core factor that's been causing them to struggle? When you say we're going to solve things structurally, the government is usually the structural framework in which individuals have to operate. Do you experience friction or problems, or do you generally find that the governments in places as tumultuous as Myanmar are accommodating in the work that you do?
Jocelyn Wyatt: We rely pretty heavily on working with partners that are deeply embedded locally and have those relationships. So, one example is in Ghana where we are currently working with an organization called Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor. They have been in Kumasi, Ghana for a few years, have a deep relationship with the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly, the local government in Kumasi. And as we were designing this new set of sanitation services for urban Kumasi, we're working very closely with the KMA.
So, they were helping us to set up observations, they were participating in systems discussions with us and really following along the human-centered design process with us. Ultimately, when the solution comes out and there's a new set of services related to sanitation implemented by the WSUP and others, the public sector in Ghana will have felt like they were bought in on this process and have been involved in the design of this new solution. We really look to work with partners that have those strong public sector relationships, because you're absolutely right, that can completely derail a project. We've found many organizations that do have those relationships and that has really helped to support the work that we've done.
Jocelyn Wyatt, Co-lead and Executive Director of IDEO.org, and Patrice Martin, Co-lead and Creative Director of IDEO.org.
Core77: Hopefully it'll be up to the design community or the design commentator community to seed this. To go back to the way that I began the interview, asking about spreading things virally or having freeware, that ultimately if you're a nonprofit, whether you're personally involved in social good or you've simply seeded social good to others through your business model it's a win-win.
Patrice Martin: Thinking about the role of IDEO.org exposing the fact that designers are really hungry to be able to get in there and work this way, thinking about what does design mean, in terms of how inclusive we are when we talk about human-centered design, we're talking about it for all lives.
Jocelyn Wyatt: We hope that IDEO.org will be an organization that allows more designers to work directly on these types of challenges both through the fellowship program that we're launching, as well as through opportunities to work with us on other design projects. If we're able to really have this focus in terms of running human-centered design through the social sector that's going to provide more demands for designers, period, allowing more and more opportunities for designers who want to focus on these challenges to be able to engage in applying their skills to these questions related to poverty alleviation.
Core77: I think that's our takeaway: anybody who deals with systems regularly knows that asking people to change doesn't work, but from an economic standpoint, good results can come from implementing a system which ultimately has benefits for their own best interests.