By: Michelle Marshall from the Knowledge and Learning Sector at the Inter-American Development Bank
The challenges faced in the development and public policy arenas are often complex in nature. Devising relevant, practical, and innovative solutions requires intensive research, analysis and expertise from multiple sectors. Could there be a way to streamline this process and also make it more inclusive?
Collaborative Design, like other open innovation methodologies, leverages the power of a group for collective problem-solving. In particular, it is a process that virtually convenes a diverse group of specialists to support the iterative development of an intervention.
Last year, the Inter-American Development Bank and the New York University’s Governance Lab hosted an initiative called “Smarter Crowdsourcing for Zika“, which brought together health specialists with experts in social media, predictive analytics, and water and sanitation during a series of online sessions to generate innovative responses to the Zika epidemic. Based on this experience, we have considered how to continue applying a similar collaboration-based approach to additional projects in different areas. The result is what we call a “Collaborative Design” approach.
Implementing a Collaborative Design approach along the course of a project can help to achieve the following:
1 Convert knowledge gaps into opportunities
In abstract, you might think, “I would like to achieve X, but I don’t know enough about Y.”
The response? “Let’s incorporate the perspective of someone with experiences achieving X, as well as someone who knows more about Y.”
In the case of Zika, health specialists recognized that in order to quickly tailor their prevention campaigns, they needed improved technology to measure the public’s understanding of symptoms and other factors. However, they also noted challenges to achieving this quickly within their existing capacity; their techniques were highly manual, slow, and the picture they delivered was incomplete. They collaborated with experts in social media to discuss cutting-edge strategies that could improve their traditional tools and methods.
We bring a lot of specialized knowledge to our work. However, in the search for a solution to a challenge, the best ideas may originate from areas outside our expertise. The recognition of this gap is the first step toward revealing new responses to a current problem. It’s also the vital first part of the Collaborative Design process: the documentation of a “problem brief.” By dedicating time to articulate and organize such knowledge gaps, we begin to understand the root causes of a challenge, and subsequently, recognize the complementary experiences that could be most helpful to us. Rather than spending hours and resources on a crash-course to a new specialty, this is an opportunity to reach out to other practitioners to exchange best practices.
2 Expand your community of practice across sectors
Typically when thinking of communities of practice, we consider alliances among professionals from a similar field. As our work becomes more interdisciplinary and our capacity for connecting virtually continues to grow, it is worth seeking out additional cross-sectoral perspectives to complement our own to confront relatable challenges.
Reach out to specialists beyond your team, organization, or area of expertise and invite them to your table for an online conversation (or a series of them) to address the insights you seek, framed by your objectives and the challenges faced. While gathering answers to your initial questions, this discussion may reveal opportunities for additional conversations or new ways to continue working together.
The collaborative discussions for solutions to Zika brought together over 100 specialists from various backgrounds who fused different ideas for new interventions.
3 Identify innovative and practical solutions
Knowing more about Y is helping me achieve X. We can respond better by using Z.
It is important to understand that collaborative design is an extended process that requires multiple sessions or discussions over the course of weeks or months, depending on the scale of your project or objective. As you consult iteratively with other specialists through multiple online sessions, your initial understanding of the original challenges and the ideal responses may also continue to evolve.
Innovative solutions will be unfamiliar by nature, so as they emerge, it is important to establish the criteria for utilizing a new idea in practice.
As promising ideas are identified, Collaborative Design requires documenting possible solutions within the framework of an implementation plan, protocol, or other actionable guideline to support their subsequent real-life application. This will help substantiate the most viable interventions that were previously unmapped and also prepare additional practical resources for other project teams in the future.
For instance, the results of the Zika Smarter Crowdsourcing initiative were structured with information related to the costs and timelines to facilitate their implementation in different local contexts.
Do you think Collaborative Design can help you in your work? Tell us more and add your comments below on how you can use it!