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Harnessing Design Research in Pakistan

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The tools in this Hub and its companion Guide feature a running case study to illustrate how design research can apply to media development. All examples are drawn from an investigation conducted in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region of Pakistan in September 2012.

Socially, economically, and politically, FATA is the least developed region in Pakistan. Sixty-six percent of the population lives below the poverty line; its key industries are farming, smuggling, and illegal drugs; unemployment is estimated at 60 to 80 percent; and the literacy rate is 22 percent (and 1.5 percent for females).

Politically, FATA has traditionally been ruled, not governed, by unelected tribal leaders. The region is strongly conservative and culturally isolated, constraints that are heightened by geographic and security factors. United States military operations using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) have targeted the region since 2004, in an attempt to defeat Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. Drone strikes have killed up to an estimated 3,400 people.

Yet opportunities for change are on the horizon. The upcoming 2013 general election will be the first time that political parties are able to form and operate in FATA, meaning the first chance for FATA communities to have their interests represented on the national stage. To leverage this moment, independent and good quality information about the political process will be vital to its residents.

But the region remains media dark, with variable access to mobile networks and Internet and tight restrictions on journalists. Although there has been an increase in media access and channels in recent years, little is known about the information and media behaviors of FATA communities.

Given the FATA’s communications landscape and its population’s low literacy rates, ICIL and the Internews Pakistan team were interested in the potential of interactive voice response (IVR) technology to get information about political processes to FATA communities, particularly around the upcoming elections. But as we began planning such an initiative, we realized we needed answers to a few key questions.

To start, it was critical to understand what were the technology behaviors of FATA communities, and whether IVR was even a realistic option. And beyond the choice of communications channel, what kind of information did people want? What did FATA communities already know about the elections? Furthermore, what did they think about politics in Pakistan? And finally, how should information be presented? What sources of information were perceived as trustworthy, and how did people evaluate the credibility of information?

We realized that a more nuanced understanding of the information and communications landscape in the region was necessary to ensure programs would be appropriate and impactful. And we determined that design research – a research and analytical process that combines ethnographic, journalistic, and systems thinking approaches – could help answer these complex questions, and help identify opportunities to improve the information ecosystem for FATA communities.

Thus, we embarked on a design research investigation over four weeks in September 2012.

This Hub features descriptions of various stages of a design research project, but uses specific examples and tools from our work in FATA to illustrate design research principles, and to enable our colleagues to be able to quickly and easily adapt these in their work. We hope that by following along as we planned the investigation, trained a team of 10 researchers from FATA, and conducted the fieldwork in seven agencies in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), you’ll be able to see how a design research project comes together. We have made available all the tools used in our project –– and to see better understand how they were used, please refer to the Guide for more project context.

Now, we are in deep in design synthesis and look forward to sharing the results of that stage and our final design outcomes in early 2013.

We are eager for your perspectives and feedback, and hope that our projects and efforts can spark ideas on how you might integrate design research principles and practices into your work, stretch your creativity, and find new solutions.

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