Participatory Design – Beginnings
March 17, 2020
Image: Kkoba Community Meeting, December 2019
Purpose Projects has always expressed that we know we are putting our efforts where the community needs them because we are supporting our local partner organisation, Hope Line. Hope Line decide what projects to work on and we rely on their knowledge as the director of the organisation, Tony Wanyoike, grew up in the community and has worked very hard dedicating his time to improving living standards in the region.
This has worked well for our team because we appreciate that our knowledge can never be as acute as that of Tony’s. We are fortunate in this respect to work with someone that has such a long history of living and working in the community; and cares as much as him.
However, as we continue our research from other international sources, we continue to find alarming stories from the foreign aid world. Unfinished, unmaintained, and unused projects. Not to mention projects that could have been foregone in place for another that responds to real necessities of the community, these cases are found everywhere in the world. As an organisation, it is imperative that we want to assist with solutions, not contribute to problems, so we’ve been hard at work to make sure we’re putting in place the correct processes to avoid failure.
Through this research, we have partnered with a humanitarian engineering consultant currently working for Engineers Without Borders in Chile, Madeline Furness, who has been developing a framework based on participatory design. In terms of humanitarian engineering, participatory design refers to:
A design process for humanitarian aid projects that actively involves community members, scientists, researchers and engineers to ensure the results meet their needs.
We have been working with Madeline to understand common pitfalls in humanitarian work and we have now started to help Tony implement some of the community intervention strategies from the humanitarian engineering perspective that she has recommended. Mainly, this involves more discussion and documentation on our end, resulting in a more complete record and understanding of the work we’re doing, which will serve as useful data for Purpose Projects, Hope Line; while also contributing to the body of knowledge in humanitarian projects internationally.
During our recent trip, we began constructing our community map which lays down key landmarks and key players in the community on a real satellite image. This helps us to understand the layout of the land and build a mental and literal picture that can easily be referred to by community members as well as the volunteers. Key elements of this include water sources, healthcare facilities, education providers, churches, houses of important community members and trading centres. Most community members have never seen a satellite map of their own neighbourhood, so their input and participation had a big impact on the outcome of our work.
We also facilitated the organisation of a community meeting run by Tony. We have always trusted Tony as an effective communicator of the community issues and we know that he offers the best leadership to support the development of solutions. However, as an organisation, we would not be doing our due diligence if we did not consult and consider the response from the wider community before investing the funding into said project. We explained to Tony that we wanted to observe the community discussing the most important issues they face and take notes on the conversations to gain more insight, he understood this completely and set everything up so that we would just be in attendance.
He invited community members to discuss the most important problems that they face daily, possible solutions and also their needs regarding the Wellshine Junior School that Hope Line will be opening in 2020. This was very interesting for us and is the first step towards documenting a roadmap for the community development. The next meeting will focus more on these most important issues and will invite the community to brainstorm more solutions, all while more information is gathered,. We will then work with the community elders to take the community conclusions and decide alongside Hope Line where our funding is most useful for the community.
Adding this formality to our process has been a big development for us. We have seen that it has been extremely beneficial for deepening our understanding of the communities necessities, we hope we will be able to encourage community participation in implementing resilient solutions to real problems.