All development projects start with a challenge. But too often, a project will define that challenge by presupposing a solution.
If, for example, a challenge people face is poor information or media access, practitioners might ask: “How can we support independent community radio?” or “How might we develop an SMS-based information delivery service?”
These kinds of assumption-based projects risk failure, no matter how many times or where else they have worked before, because they don’t consider how people in a specific context actually behave or the unique characteristics of the environment.
Framing and defining a design challenge, therefore, is key for program design, and for the design research that will inform it.
Coming up with robust and realistic design challenge was no easy task.
Based on Internews’ existing work and team members’ experience working in the region, everyone agreed that FATA communities needed better information channels to get information about the world, and to share information about themselves. But there were differing opinions as to how this should be done, and what timelines it should be accomplished within.
Interactive voice response technology showed promise as a news and communications tool for low-literacy users, like many FATA populations, and the upcoming elections were certainly a factor in planning timelines.
Ultimately, however, the team agreed to keep the prompt as broad as possible: “Identify opportunities to improve information access and relevancy for communities in the FATA.”
While technology and new media were of interest, they were excluded from the challenge definition to not prematurely bias findings. And while Internews had timelines and programming that could be strategically integrated with the project, it wanted to untether the research of institutional priorities to truly benefit from the generative nature of design research. The challenge, therefore, was intentionally free of constraints to encourage research that may contribute to the broader development community.
A workshop to bring together key members of the project team in an open forum to explore the research focus and target outcomes.
A living document defining research themes and questions.
A day-by-day timeline of the investigation, which included data collection goals.