In April 2020, Knowledge SUCCESS hosted a four-week virtual design thinking co-creation workshop with 17 family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) professionals working in English-speaking Sub-Saharan Africa. In this interview, workshop participant Patrick Segawa shares his experience as a member of Team PAHA.
Can you briefly describe your role as an FP/RH professional?
I am a Team Leader with the youth-led organization, Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU). My role at PHAU is to provide general leadership to program management, implementation, design, and also provide technical support to project officers, village health teams, peer educators on different community projects in line with sexual and reproductive health, menstrual health, menstrual hygiene management, HIV/ADS.
During the workshop, you were tasked with reimagining ways FP/RH professionals access and use knowledge. What were your expectations going into the workshop for what would be discussed, what you would create? And how did the workshop measure up to those expectations?
I’ve always been very interested in human centered-design and design thinking, so when I saw the invite, I thought, this would be a unique opportunity to learn more about how design thinking is done through the different phases. I could also see how I could incorporate design thinking into my work or even become a facilitator at some point. I knew we were going to come up with solutions, but I didn’t have any predetermined ideas for what those solutions would be. I knew it would entail creative thinking and being open-minded. I also expected it would be an opportunity to network and meet other FP/RH professionals that are doing amazing work across various countries.
How did moving from what was intended to be a face-to-face workshop to a virtual platform impact your experience as a participant?
Personally, I had never experienced a virtual platform for learning. It was a first of its kind for me. Of course, there are challenges that come with it – many of us may not have been too familiar with the technology required. I had to adjust to using Zoom – I had only been familiar with Skype. There are also internet glitches, depending on the country you’re in. Sometimes there would be struggles to connect to the meeting. Then there’s the aspect of time zones. I remember one day, I mixed up the times for when the meeting was supposed to start, and I ended up joining an hour late. But by the second week, we had adapted to these challenges.
Another challenge was that we had to conduct group discussions and complete assignments together without seeing each others’ faces. But we could contribute very well because my team members were quite cooperative and very knowledgeable. This was a good experience in terms of learning.
What did you like about your team’s solution and why do you hope it moves forward into development?
We were actually the only team to present two solutions – so you can imagine how powerful our team was! (laughs)
I feel that our solution based on virtual reality for FP/RH professionals was a very unique prototype because it provided aspects where once professionals logged in, they could connect with others—we called it a buddy system—based on their program area or their location. They can even come up with a challenge, pair up, and execute that challenge together. That was one of the key components to our virtual reality solution.
There’s also the opportunity where once you log in and enter details into your profile, the system would reflect the different programs that are active in your particular location and match you with the different organizations that are working on various activities. This gives you a good idea of what is happening in your region and you can see the potential collaborations you can have with other implementing partners or connect you with other professionals in your field.
I think our prototype has a good chance of making it to the next step of implementation. I’d also like to congratulate the other group for their prototype — they called it a knowledge bank — a platform that provides you with all kinds of information that you need about family planning. I think this is actually something that could be incorporated into our virtual reality.
Do you think gender dynamics are an important consideration when developing KM solutions—why or why not?
I think gender dynamics are a very strong component and do need to be considered. Certain solutions may not favor women because of the gender roles that are assigned to them. For a married woman to leave her home and travel to another country because she has to attend a networking meeting or a conference or a convening—these considerations need to be thought through to make sure there are no conflicting aspects. Virtual reality has no limits in relation to gender dynamics. Both men and women can create a profile without any form of hindrance.
After participating in our workshop, what do you see as the top benefits of using a design thinking approach to problem-solving?
It helps you to be a creative thinker. You’re pushed to think outside the box. One time, we had a task where we had to come up with solutions in less than five minutes—when we had a brain-jam during a session.
It also gives you the opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of the people that you’re designing for. If you’re designing for a community, for example, you need empathy where you have to leave yourself and wear the shoes of the people being affected by the particular problem. We, program people, we tend to think for the community, we tend to think that this might work for the community but it might be totally wrong. So those insights from the community or the people we’re designing for need to be brought to the forefront. If we can’t speak with them directly, then we need to — to the extent possible — put ourselves in their shoes.
If you were to facilitate your own co-creation design thinking workshop, is there anything you would do differently to improve the process? If so, what would you change?
I think the facilitators did a great job. They really took their time to take us through the different phases. When we had issues understanding a particular concept, she would give us examples or probe to find out if we truly understood. That was something that stood out for me.
In terms of improving, I’d suggest increasing the duration. Sometimes we ran out of time because we had so many ideas to discuss. I think if it were in-person, we might have had more time to brainstorm. We did have a WhatsApp group to continue the discussion. And also to coordinate, for example, if someone was late to a session, we would reach out to them to see what was happening.
What is your biggest takeaway or learning about knowledge sharing in the FP/RH community from the workshop? Did participating in this workshop with other FP/RH professionals provide you with any new perspectives on knowledge sharing?
The most outstanding takeaway was embracing the use of technology as a methodology or approach. It provides ease to sharing resources, best practices, lessons learned compared to other models of sharing information. Once you have embraced user technology, there are several components to improve knowledge sharing whether it’s a website or an application or a database. So I think we, family planning professionals, need to embrace technology to help us collaborate better, create synergies.
The other takeaway was in relation to design thinking. Sometimes the communities we’re designing for are in a better position to give solutions or recommendations on what can work for them. When we sit in an office, we think we know everything, which can be totally untrue. We need to think about the people we’re designing solutions or projects for, and involve them in the whole process: designing, implementing, monitoring.
Do you have any final thoughts about your experience?
I had a good time and I learned a lot!