“Why would you want to learn about sex from the same person that teaches you about maths?!”
...“good point!” I said, laughing, picturing my awkward 9th-grade maths teacher trying to illustrate how to put a condom on a banana (oh, the joys of sex ed). We were midway through a Human- centred design process with Thai youth (check it out here) and the awkward, uncomfortable and hilarious stories kept on coming. Along with them came insights about what really mattered to Thai Youth and what would really make a difference in for sexuality education in their country.
How might we redesign sexuality education with Thai
Youth to make it powerful and effective?
Just like any innovation process, we started by better understanding the challenge from a youth perspective by beginning with questions (a lot of questions), collecting data and stories as building blocks to that understanding. We also were intentional about the project design and went against the grain of many other projects in the international development sector who seem to fall into the trap of designing FOR, not WITH. That means we didn’t stop at Step 1- or just asking questions. Instead, during this cross-sector collaboration project with UNICEF, we put Thai youth at the heart of the design process, bringing them all the way through the different phases of co-creation, ideation, prototyping, real-world testing and playing with the power of data.
Picture this... 91 Youth, 3 days of workshops, 19 prototypes tested and refined over a month long process; and a whole lot of honest conversations about all things sex and sexuality.
So, what did we learn about sexuality education and
the human- centered design process itself? Heaps.
1. Walk the talk! Putting the people you are designing with at the heart of the work is not only respectful, it also builds more sustainable solutions at the end.
At DSIL, our values of respect and agency guide everything we do, so we knew that putting Thai youth at the centre of every step of the design process would create effective solutions with less need for buy-in; after all they created them and proved to us why they would work. Hopefully, some of the other solutions may create a less awkward future for sexuality education and move the conversation into a meaningful space that is even comfortable too- right where it should be.
2. Teaching the process of HCD builds creative confidence in youth, and the development sector.
We know that process is as important as deliverables, so by teaching the process of innovation we saw creative confidence growing in theThai youth every day.
Now dozens of youth are continuing to use HCD and innovation processes like it to build solutions for the issues they care about and practicing new ways of thinking, relevant to their own cultural context. People like Moh, whose story you can read about here.
We taught the adults involved -from the UN to our own organization- a thing or two about creative confidence too. The youth drove that learning because let's face it, in big structured orgs it's easy to forget how to breathe, create, let alone have fun while you do it!
3. Youth have more courage to be creative over (many) adults, with the skills to back it up!
Youth are creative thinkers and often unafraid to develop out-of-the-box (or out of the adult box) ideas. You already know that - right? We were strongly reminded that they also a wide breadth of skills to back up; design; website and app development; grassroots organization methods; project management; and film-making, just to name a few.
Check out one of the innovative 2D prototypes below by our Bangkok Winners. This prototype was built with a high degree of technical skill and not only were the design specs professional, but also 3D! At the final pitch, the girls 3D printed and presented the whole product for the crowd to interactive with.
Durex and Trojan- watch out for these young women! Everyone else, hire more youth! They got skillz.
So what now?
We are noticing that human-centered-design is often a buzzword thrown around the International Development sector to sound innovative or be up with the trends; however, if you want it to be rich process teams must hold true to the core values of HCD - building empathy with the people you’re designing with and for; keeping those people at the heart of the process and deeply listening (and learning) all along the way. For now, I see it happening on more consultative ways and with very little time to go through a whole and healthy process.
This is dangerous, really dangerous. Why? Because skipping steps, listening poorly, excluding voices, forgetting important details of the process with people who know it well, will only equal hollow or failed results. In turn, Human-Centered-Design gets a bad name, and the consequence is that we can continue to passively encourage organizations to justify their lack of collaboration, co-creation and innovation, “It doesn’t work, it's messy, it’s a waste of time”. We dissolve a huge amount of potential for the futures.
So, my question (and challenge) for the sector is…
What might happen when if we get more intentional about HOW we are going through innovation processes, and with who we allow in?
What might happen if we see ‘beneficiaries’ as more than their stories and instead invite them in as a core member of our design teams, co-creating a solution that honors their vast experience, skills and expertise?
This project and Thai youth proved we can create new solutions and test them quickly with many different minds. It also proved that there are a lot about the challenges we don't really know about unless we ask those experiencing it. Finally, it proved that there are many many adults and organizations around Thailand who are ready to not only fun this kind of inclusion and innovation but also be at the table too.
As we all work on diverse projects that span the many complex issues we face, from sexual reproductive health to agriculture and farming, to building new products- co-creation is a damn good way forward.
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