Design Thinking Methodology: Experimenting Local Solutions in Iraq

September 30, 2020

Experimentation is an infinite learning journey saturated with ambiguity, fear, and risk, while it is also coupled with excitement to test the innovative solutions. At the UNDP Accelerator Lab in Iraq, we rely on Human-Centered Approach, specifically the use of Design Thinking Methodology, in the experimentation process. In this month’s blog, we highlight the experimentation process of three local solutions out of 100 mapped local solutions; Design Thinking Training Manual, INpoint platform, and Corona in Iraq Platform.

Design Thinking Methodology is an elastic way of thinking by the iterative process with five stages (Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Testing) to understand the target segement’s pain, challenge assumptions, identify the needs, and redefine problems in the aim of creating new strategies and solutions.

As per the AccLab Experimentation Strategy, we embedded the Design Thinking methodology to the DNA of each identified local solution as below: 

  • Design Thinking Training Manual: The methodology was used as a method for generating innovative ideas to tackle complex problems and guide the process of the way of thinking with various stakeholders.

  • INpoint platform: The methodology was used to design the experimentation process by using Human-Centered Design and use it to guide the testing process.

  • Corona in Iraq Platform: the methodology was used to guide the design of content to be more user friendly and used to redesign the content for end-users through Corona in Iraq Platform. 

Design Thinking Training Manual: Guiding to Ideation process 

The Design Thinking Training Manual is a localized training manual specific to the Iraqi market that covers the five stages of Design Thinking and their tangible application to the Iraqi market represented by selected local entrepreneurial start-ups.  The Five Stages of Design Thinking are crucial in the analysis of problems as well as in ideating for potential solutions. This becomes even more important in countries like Iraq that have complex problems. To  embed the use of Design Thinking in Iraq and inside the UNDP Country Office, the UNDP Accelerator Lab took the oath to test this local solution. In order to perform the testing and measure the impact on the  local community and UNDP Country Office, we assumed the following hypothesis to tackle youth and unemployment, climate change, and gender challenges:

“If the Design Thinking Training Manual is used as an educational tool in designing local innovations  then the designers will be better at identifying the roots of complex problems  thus they will be able to  ideate for more practical innovations”

To test the validity of our hypothesis, the Accelerator Lab team in Iraq designed experiments  based on the Iraq experimentation strategy with +500 participants from various stakeholders including UNDP, academia sector, government sector, entrepreneurship ecosystem, local and international organizations and private sector.

During the experimentation activities, mainly the workshops, we observed signals of change in the mind-set of the participants during the first and second stages of Design Thinking (Empathy and Define); participants started to identify specific problems based on their capacities rather than tackling big problems. They started to see things from different points of view and realized  their capacities and limitations. This laid the groundwork  for the upcoming stage to find practical innovations with market needs. 

Surprisingly, while testing the Manual with university’s teachers, the Acc Lab team concluded that the Design Thinking methodology is useful to improve the method of selecting graduation projects to be more fit for market needs, for both the teachers and the students. Thus, we focused on this topic and to encourage the students to design sustainable graduation projects  they can rely on after their graduation to make financially sustainable projects and to help the country in tackling current Challenges. Hence, we are working with University of Basrah, College of Agriculture to embed the Design Thinking Training Manual with the college curriculum.

INpoint Platform: Guiding the experimentation process 

INpoint is an innovative virtual platform, web and mobile app, developed by UNDP's Innovation for Development project. It supports the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Iraq including, entrepreneurs, institutions, innovation hubs, private sector companies, and institutions interested in Sustainable Development Goals in Iraq. It aims to provide an environment for learning and cooperation, exchanging experiences, and building partnerships inside the entrepreneurship ecosystems in Iraq.

One of the main features of the Design Thinking Methodology is its flexibility, and the UNDP Acc Lab in Iraq utilized  this feature in the experimentation of this platform. The main aim behind using Design thinking Methodology is to incorporate other methodologies to achieve the designed goals while verifying its features to be more human-centered, to find the best way of making the targeted people use it, and to build an ecosystem around this platform. To achieve the target, we assumed the below hypothesis:

“If Design Thinking Methodology is used to design the experimentation processes of INpoint platform, then behaviors and insights of target people will be extracted, thus developing the platform’s users experience” 

To verify the hypothesis and based on the AccLab experimentation strategy, we built a team of eight volunteers (50% female) from the community activists to be part of the experimentation process.

Since the INpoint platform aims to create a connected entrepreneurial ecosystem, then Design Thinking methodology can be used in parallel with Behavioural Insights to observe users' journey with the existing platform features. Hence,  the AccLab team invited 20 participants to hold a two-hour demo session that resulted in observing the users' behavior and identifying the pains, gains, interest and priorities through using this prototype. The collected insights led us to map the system again, identify the gaps and then define the challenges that face the users with the existing prototype in order to move forward for solving the problems and developing the platform regarding users' needs.

Following the Define Stage, the team decided to expand the targeted segments of testers in order to co-redesign the platform features by developing its UI/UX design and fixing the bugs of features.

To minimize the risk of failure, the second wave of experimentation just started by opening an online form to invite the targeted segments to join the platform gradually. Hence, 670 forms have been received to date that they will be considered as a sample for a small-entrepreneurial ecosystem inside the platform to observe their behaviour for the upcoming 3 months. 

During this experimentation journey, we discovered that in such radical solutions that make change in an existing system, we need to gradually embed the concept of change but also tailor it with a gamified approach in order to gain the target segment attention. Hence, we are developing the gamified module in response to the insights from the two rounds of experimentation; this approach is designed to provide a reward system with a set of desired actions through points and badges (to level up in this virtual gamified environment). 

Corona in Iraq Platform: Designing the content for the end-user 

Since the start of the Corona pandemic, the UNDP AccLab team in Iraq commenced sensing and exploring the local solutions to respond to COVID-19 and support Iraqi government efforts to confront this pandemic. Hence, the need for accessible tools for information disminisassion and an easy way to track COVID19 symptoms was identified after performing the system’s mapping and observing the targeted segments needs. The local solution that best addresses this critical point is Corona in Iraq platform, a local solution developed by an Iraqi young developer.

After the successful launching, we began mentoring and evaluating to measure its impact on people's lives by analyzing the data provided by Google Analytics. Statistics indicated that  the number of users was decreasing, indicating that people were not craving the content as much as they did when the site was launched back in April. This could be due to the saturation of information regarding COVID-19 and an adjustment to the new normal.

This insight led us to use the Design Thinking Methodology to identify the root causes and to lead us to the right solution in order to overcome this challenge. Hence, the process showed the importance of re-designing the user interface and the user experience of the platform to be more localized with human-centered content. Now we are in the stage of redesigning the platform according to the User Journey mapping.

The use of design thinking methodology in different domains and with different stakeholders showed us that the methodology is not magic, it is a mindset and a way of thinking. It supports our experiments in order to link our activities and solutions with the needs of the local community. Next, we will use Design Thinking Methodology to develop the agriculture projects inside the Academia Sector.