In June 2020, Knowledge SUCCESS hosted a two-day virtual design thinking co-creation sprint with 13 family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) professionals working in the United States. In this interview, Luis Ortiz-Echevarria shares his experience as a sprint participant.
Can you briefly describe your role as an FP/RH professional?
I started off my career supporting FP/RH programs, particularly the Knowledge Management side of it through USAID investments in East Africa, Central America, and Madagascar. The last five years, I was working in a more general role—not solely on FP/RH. Two and a half months ago, I joined the Jhpiego team where I am now re-integrating myself into KM for the broader RMNCH community.
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 was curious about how the team was going to facilitate the co-creation process with everyone being virtual. I was expecting to see the use of different tools and approaches to engage people and that’s pretty much it. I had participated in co-creation workshops for similar activities, and those meetings were generally very intensive. And discussion is so important. I was really surprised by the approach that was taken here, and I thought it was great. I had gotten so many ideas about not just the tools and approaches but how you go about preparing for this kind of virtual discussion. Things that the team had—like the large slide deck, some of the graphical elements—it seems like you had a little parking lot where you could grab them at different points. The facilitation teams were really great. And the KM Profile—when I first saw it, I wasn’t completely sure what the purpose was, but actually being in the workshop itself I thought it was a really great idea—it’s something I’d like to integrate into other virtual activities that I’ll be working on.
When completing your KM Profile, was there anything new you learned about yourself and the way you find, share, and use knowledge?
Yes! And I’m glad that we talked about that in our smaller group. My thought process as to how I get the information that I need is kind of a combination of things that are best practices but also just things that I like–for example, websites of organizations that I like to visit because they are reliable and I’m familiar with its informational architecture. And many of us in my small group had that same experience. It wasn’t just about “best practice”; there was a strong subjective element to it. I thought that was a really interesting result of the KM profile discussion.
How did moving from what was intended to be a face-to-face workshop to a virtual platform impact your experience as a participant?
I found the co-creation workshop as equally engaging as the in-person one I had done. I was surprised by that. It might be a combination of the tools and approaches you used. But it might also be that we now have a new normal. And the virtual environment needs to be as enriching. So it’s a little bit on the designer’s side, but also the perspective that I went into this may have influenced that.
The only thing I feel was missing was a sort of “social hour.” There were definitely people in our group with whom I often felt on the same page—we were completing each other’s sentences. Had we been in person, I’m sure we would have gone for a walk to talk more informally, while continuing to build that professional relationship.
What did you like about your team’s solution and why do you hope it moves forward into development?
I liked our solution because it proposed a framework for thinking about the interaction between supply and demand [of information]. So while the prototype itself may have been underwhelming — given the time constraints — the actual issue that we were trying to solve was right on. And there was a lot of energy around it. But we could have used one more session of iteration, after we saw it presented and got some feedback on how we could change it.
Do you think gender dynamics are an important consideration when developing KM solutions—why or why not?
Yes, they absolutely are. The gender piece, I don’t feel that we were able to really integrate it into our discussion. When we talked about it in our small group, it felt like an afterthought. I would recommend that in the future, make sure that that discussion is not separate—that the workshop is designed with gender considerations in place. One thing that came up in our group was that there are a lot of other identities that intersect with gender. So when we’re thinking about how to design things, this kind of reinforced our supply-demand. And how that could radically change the way that gender is integrated into a solution.
After participating in our workshop, what do you see as the top benefits of using a design thinking approach to problem-solving?
Being able to talk about things in the initial stages is so important to making something that is relevant, beyond a small group of people. So by having so many different perspectives and different organizations who might interact with the problem and solution in different ways, I think we came up with not only a list of really good ideas, but consensus that we chose the one that made the most sense for us. I came out of that experience feeling validated by my feeling that this is such an important issue—and that I really contributed to the solution. I did learn from people and was able to modify my language based on what some of the other participants said. And I was also able to see my ideas reflected in the discussion. That’s a really critical element in problem-solving.
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?
There is so much rich experience across our community. And being able to harness it makes any solutions that are proposed all the more strong. Because we were people who had been involved in this space for some time, we were able to translate some of the chronic challenges in knowledge sharing into something that was really relevant for what’s happening today in this world. All of the different ideas that came up seemed really legitimate. I can’t remember any that were too “pie in the sky” or silver bullet solutions. Looking for a “silver bullet” solution is often a big barrier to accomplishing something that is more nuanced and practical. It was a combination between the people that were invited, the shared experience of everyone being virtual, and the design of the workshop.
I’m so accustomed to being the facilitator, so being facilitated, I could see how challenging it is to reconcile all of these great ideas. And the passion within these groups. All the things that were done to make the participants feel that all of our contributions are respected and valued, while also saying “we do need to move on”—that’s a hard thing to do.
Do you have any final thoughts about your experience?
I came out of it feeling that it is possible to have an enriching and productive discussion and co-creation process to make new connections in a virtual space. I just want to underscore that it’s a combination of participants, our current environment, and all of the steps that were taken to think through the design side of the workshop. There were so many little elements that I really appreciated — all of those teeny tiny details made it easy for us as participants to navigate and really feel like we’re accomplishing something. That’s a really hard thing to do, even when you’re in person. I’ve already shared with my colleagues how it’s definitely possible to do an enriching co-creation over Zoom.