Chaotic and stressful… It was our first co-creation workshop with folks from civil society and the autonomous government in the southern Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. We were co-creating the design research tools to develop an “empathy-driven” regional policy for Indigenous and Afro-descendant children.

I’m used to workshops where: tons of participation, albeit with someone always in control of the process. The government officials are used to crafting strategies based on external consultants’ research and on best practice recommendations. We are all used to performing the role of ‘experts’ in our fields of work.

Applying a Human Centered Design process in a policy-making context is, however, disruptive. First, because it’s based on co-creation, which means that there’s no predetermined idea of the end result. Second, because looking at the world from a designer’s perspective requires us to abandon the old adage of “the doctor knows best,” compelling ourselves to see things with ‘beginner’s eyes.’ But honestly, at some point during the workshop, I must confess I thought there was just ‘a bit too much co-creation’ going on: people going into different directions, lots of diverging suggestions, not to mention an disturbing feeling we’re not going anywhere after all…

Regional Government officials debating over design interview techniques, author in the middle. Photo: M. García Terán, UNICEF 2014.
Regional Government officials debating over design interview techniques, author in the middle. Photo: M. García Terán, UNICEF 2014.

The following day, the team headed to two communities in the region’s capital, Bluefields, to test out the methodologies co-created the previous day. I was nervous, wondering what people could have possibly have internalized from the chaotic experience the day before. How wrong was I! Because they were part of the process of building the research tools from scratch, our partners came up with creative ways to make the design tools much better: more context-specific and prone to building trustful relationship with the interviewees. They did an amazing job in observing unspoken messages and body languages and communicating with children through photography.

Children of Barrio Beholden, Bluefields photographed their neighborhood giving the design team invaluable insight into children's realities through their eyes. Photo: Isaac Quijano, Onisha Allen, Dalia Nelson, Nair Martínez 2014.
Children of Barrio Beholden, Bluefields photographed their neighborhood giving the design team invaluable insight into children’s realities through their eyes. Photo: Isaac Quijano, Onisha Allen, Dalia Nelson, Nair Martínez 2014.

The policy design process is just beginning and we’re eager to see how it evolves. This is a real experiment, both for UNICEF as for our counterparts. In this case, letting go of our so-called ‘expert’ role and looking at things from a beginner’s perspective really seemed to bring fruit. I’m eager to see how it will work during the next steps as we put these tools into practice in over 20 indigenous and afro-descendant communities in the beautiful Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. Meanwhile, I’m embracing chaos with open arms.

By Milja Laakso
Social Policy Officer, UNICEF Nicaragua

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