…but definitively makes you a better travel companion.

I spent the last 3 weeks traveling with 12 government counterparts to remote indigenous and afro-descendant communities in the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region in Nicaragua. Water was everywhere: lakes, rivers, and open sea. Naturally our main mode of transportation was a boat, which was so small that my Anthropologist’s passion for fieldwork was put to the test.

Elisa Mandelli, gets ready for 55 hours on a boat in the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region in Nicaragua @UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Laakso
AHOY! The brave Elisa Mandelli gets ready to log in 55 hours on a boat in the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region in Nicaragua @UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Laakso

These journeys were the first step towards a Regional Policy for Children. The policy-making process is grounded on a Human Centred Design approach. It asks policy-makers to think like designers and have empathy towards the end-users of intended policies and programs.

To gain this first-hand understanding of what is like to be a child, a mother, a teacher, we went on a field trip. In fact, we went to 22 communities from 6 different ethnic lines. Equipped with design research tools, my travel companions’ goal was simply to listen and observe. That was it.

Government folks become designers (and sailors!) to to implement a human centered approach in policy-making in Nicaragua @UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Laakso
Government folks become designers (and sailors!) to implement a human centered approach in policy-making in Nicaragua @UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Laakso

But nothing was as simple. At one point, we got lost in the middle of the Caribbean Ocean. Heavy rain pouring, huge waves rocking our tiny vessel, while the entire crew threw up their breakfasts away.

I started to wonder why hadn’t we done this in a traditional way… We could’ve hired an “expert” consultant to create the entire policy from her comfortable, tidy and dry desk…

Instead there we were: cold, sea-sick, and… LOST. Our supposedly ‘experienced’ Capitan, David, couldn’t find the path to the community of San Juan del Norte.

The calm before the storm... @UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Mandelli
The calm before the storm… @UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Mandelli

“Can you recognize something that could guide you?,” asked Loyda, the Program Officer from the Secretariat of Women and Children, as a huge wave splashed her already soaked body. “I can’t remember. Last time I was there was 18 years ago,” calmly replied David, the Captain.

“WHAT?!,” yelled the crew in perfect harmony and coordination, never seen before. Meanwhile I was busy fending off flying fishes from hitting me in the head (Captain David managed to catch some for his dinner later on).

This was one of many adventures and mishaps we shared as a group with different backgrounds, and even opposite political agendas. In fact, some people on our boat had never spoken to one another before, even if they had worked for years in the same building.

It’s often said that traveling brings people together. But next time, bring a GPS with you.

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Elisa Mandelli
Anthropologist, UNICEF Nicaragua
twitter: elisamandelli1
I'mpossible Policy
 

 

 

 

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