I've been contacted by a grad student who has asked me (and other designers) to talk about our design process as part of her thesis research. More to the point, she wants to know how our processes differ when working cross-culturally. Because of her inquiry (and all the dialogue going on around humanitarian design these days), I've been hammering out some visualizations for her.
As I began to draw my process, I was reminded of a diagram I created during my own research. It arose while reading an article where Gui Bonsipe was interviewed. He points out a dichotomy that can impact design: there is a difference between the centre and the periphery. The simple sketch (above) was a way to visualize how my design process required that I understand the political structure in which it resides. In the case of my recent project in Rwanda, I spent a fair amount of time meeting with stakeholders within the Ministry of Health. All this before putting a pen to paper! Take a look at the layers that the MOH are collaborating with on various projects. We didn't meet with all of them but had discussions with at least 50%:
So as I continue to create a diagram for this student, I am forced to assess how this complexity fits into the design process. The centre (often representing governments and authorities) may not be aware of the periphery (non-profits, field workers, communities) at any given time. To only target periphery projects may miss important aspects as they relate to systems and infrastructure, which will be necessary to understand if one wants to make a lasting impact. In my case, the design solution could affect over one million people, which requires an adjustment in my thinking and research when it came to engaging my overall process. In order to see this project be implemented, I will need to work with both the centre and the periphery and find ways to address both similarities and differences. I think I take this part of the process for granted in my own context but then again, I've not had the chance to work on something for one million Canadians. Yet.